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Downtown Dallas' Livability: What's Mattered Most In Revitalization And What's Yet To Come

In recent years, the story of Downtown Dallas has been one of epic change, from a 12-hour business district to a 24-hour urban core. That has helped attract residents and corporate relocations, but there is still more to be done.

HKS Vice President Bob Bullis, who moderated, Hamilton Properties CEO Larry Hamilton, Hoque Global CEO Mike Hoque, Downtown Dallas Inc. President and CEO Kourtney Garrett and Headington Cos. President Michael Tregoning at Bisnow's Downtown Dallas event 2019

More change is ahead as the DFW region becomes the nation's third-largest metro and takes its place on the international stage as a business and cultural hub, according to the speakers at Bisnow's Rise of Downtown Dallas event. 

In the last 15 years, there has been roughly $6B in investment in Downtown Dallas, and 70 commercial and residential projects are underway now. In 2018 alone, there was more than 668K SF of net commercial absorption in Downtown, rounding out a strong year for the Metroplex as a whole.

About 12,000 residents now live within the highway loop, up from virtually none within living memory, and there are 52 acres of new green space Downtown, with more parks on the way. 

Why such a surge? Livability: new amenities, parks, grocery stores, restaurants and other retail, the speakers said. Over the last decade or so, Downtown has evolved from a commercial district into a neighborhood.

Downtown has also evolved into greater Downtown — a growing residential and commercial district well beyond the loop. The momentum started 20 years ago and now it is irresistible, speakers said.

Crescent Real Estate Managing Director John Zogg, Perkins+Will principal Brigitte Preston, Connectivity Wireless Solutions Director of Strategic Accounts Mark Niehus, who moderated, KDC Senior Vice President of Development Ryan McManigal, Dallas Area Rapid Transit President and Executive Director Gary Thomas and ZOM Living Vice President-South & Southwest Jason Haun at Bisnow's Downtown Dallas event 2019.

Downtown Dallas' livability is important because a more livable place is going to be primed to win more corporate relocations, the speakers on the Why Downtown panel said. Dallas might not have won Amazon, but it is going to land some other big fish in the near future.

Walkability and diversity of transit are important components in livability, the speakers said. Dallas' new parks, such as Pacific Park Plaza, which will be a link between Main Street Garden and Klyde Warren, are also adding to the area's livability. Three more Downtown parks are in the design stage.

Placemaking is also important for the future of Downtown. Talented professionals don't want to be just anywhere these days, the speakers said. They want to be somewhere distinctive, and Downtown Dallas is well on the way to being that kind of place.

For instance, revitalization of existing structures has been a major part of the growth of Downtown Dallas in recent years. Design professionals committed to making Dallas more livable have spearheaded the design component of those projects, the speakers said. There are at least 15 large architecture firms headquartered Downtown, which has proven to be an attractive place for the design community.  

There has been a wave of downtown revitalization nationwide, and Dallas is part of that wave — with some features that make it locally distinctive. For instance, unlike in most major cities, Dallas' Arts District is concentrated in a small and walkable area.

Connectivity is also important because it creates community. The renovation of Thanksgiving Tower made it a connector to the surrounding area. Before the area felt isolated, but now it is a brighter environment, the speakers said.

Dallas Regional Chamber President and CEO Dale Petroskey and AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens, who gave the keynote at Bisnow's Downtown Dallas event 2019.

The early stages of revitalization snagged one fish that keeps recommitting to the area. AT&T relocated to Dallas about a decade ago, bringing about 1,200 people to the company's Downtown headquarters. As Downtown has become more vibrant, AT&T has thrived with it, growing its employee base to 6,000, AT&T Chief Financial Officer John Stephens said.

"About 10 years ago, I came Downtown on a Saturday evening with my wife to show her our new office building," Stephens said. "The area wasn't very active and there weren't a lot of restaurants or other places to do. In the last 10 years, Downtown has become a much more lively place."

Last year, the company kicked off work on the AT&T Discovery District, which will be an an urban green space not only for employees, but anyone who works Downtown, local residents and visitors. The district is part of $100M the company is spending to upgrade its headquarters, inside and out.

"We expect it to be a destination," Stephens said. "We decided that the best way to serve our employees was to stay Downtown and upgrade our surroundings."

Stephens gave the keynote at the event, which was moderated by Dallas Regional Chamber President and CEO Dale Petroskey. 

Other changes have already occurred at AT&T's HQ.

"We've moved all the executives to lower floors and have turned all the upper floors into meeting and lunch space for all of our employees," Stephens said. "Our thinking is that the focus of our space should be for our employees." 

The company's investment in Downtown is ongoing, Stephens said, like the changes occurring in Downtown itself.

Stephens said that AT&T wants to be part of making the area more lively.

"It's core to us to be part of the Downtown Dallas community," he said.

Naturally there will be challenges ahead for Downtown. One is improving the area's connectivity. The Main Street District is solid, but there are voids in the urban fabric, such as getting from the Main Street District to the Westin.

Also, other parts of the city need to evolve into complete neighborhoods to complement Downtown — evolve through residential and commercial development, but also via the growth of services, shops, schools and other amenities that make a diversified urban fabric, including the hard task of providing a diversity of price points for multifamily

Another missing piece of the puzzle is that Downtown Dallas' demographics are now something of a barbell, at least in residential terms. There are young residents who don't want a house yet, as well as empty nesters.

Families aren't as evident Downtown as these other groups. Living has to be easier — including more affordable housing and competitive schools — to get that demographic to move Downtown, panelists said. Family-friendly areas are scattered around the city, and it is important that Downtown become one of them, the speakers said.