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Two Things Driving Downtown Dallas To The Top And One Thing Pulling It Down

Downtown Dallas is coming into its own through residential development, infill remodels and city initiatives. Experts say they have seen Downtown morph over the last decade from a vacant place to a viable and (almost) vibrant place.

JLL President, South-Central Region Brad Selner, Downtown Dallas Inc. President and CEO Kourtny Garrett, Genesis Real Estate Group President and CEO Gordon Ip, TriArc Construction President and co-owner Shane Deville, Stream Realty Vice President Sara Terry and Corgan associate principal Matt McDonald at Bisnow's Future of Downtown Dallas event

“Ten years ago, we wouldn’t have been having this conversation. We didn’t have the choice of lifestyle to live [in] this urban environment in Dallas. It just didn’t exist, and so it’s so cool, from a market maturity standpoint, watching little Dallas grow to a level that now you have a choice,” JLL President, South-Central Region Brad Selner said at Bisnow’s Future of Downtown event. 

Here are two things that are pushing Downtown toward the global stage and one that is holding it back.

Population Growth = Vibrancy

There are 11,000 people living within the loop of Downtown, Downtown Inc. CEO Kourtny Garrett said. Open the compass to encircle the 2 miles surrounding the Downtown core and there are 70,000 people living in the area. According to her, this was not the case until recently.

Genesis Real Estate Group founder Gordon Ip, a national multifamily developer, said he has seen this sea change show up directly in leasing activity for one of his Downtown Dallas properties. In January alone, a notoriously slow month for leasing, there were 30 leases signed in his community of 463 units. This month, they have already beaten the January numbers, he said.

“Dallas is becoming a truly viable option for companies. Honestly, from a personal perspective, I’ve worked in Dallas since 1980. I’ve been in the development business since 1983. But all of my personal life I’ve thought of, ‘well, I’ve built in San Francisco; should I live out there? I’ve built in L.A.; should I live out there? I’ve built in Florida, in Miami; should I live out there?’ Well, you know what? This last five years, I can tell you: that thought no longer occurs to my mind,” Ip said.

Ip also pointed out that supporting services, like grocery stores, are starting to surface and become sustainable businesses as the new residential product and the new grocery stores form a symbiotic relationship. 

“We have two Royal Blue [Groceries]; the Commissary is doing phenomenal … Dallas Farmers Market, do not forget about Dallas Farmers’ Market, and, since the privatization, the number of vendors we have there now,” Garrett said.

She also said not to forget that Amazon’s grocery delivery from Whole Foods is solving a lot of the access issues for urban dwellers, making physical grocery stores less crucial and more about the desire for experiential shopping in the area. 

Downtown Dallas

The Infill Evolution = Less Dead Space

“Twenty years ago, we had 40 vacant buildings in Downtown … now, our vacant buildings sit at zero thanks to Statler, Drever and Dallas High School,' which were our last three. The next evolution is infill,” Garrett said.

The push for infill remodels has breathed new life into Downtown Dallas. These projects are creating buzz and potential for formerly unused old product, and bit by bit, changing Downtown’s image for the better.

Garrett said adaptive reuse of old product as mixed-use product is one of the best ways to deal with the plethora of 1980s product in Downtown.

“I think our adaptive reuse story has been sort of you take an entire vacant property and you give it a new life, which is wonderful … but we’re also seeing some interest in taking certain blocks of these buildings and turning them into mixed-use from that standpoint,” Garrett said. “Quite frankly, we’ve almost been overbuilt from day one because of all the construction in the '80s. So, we’ve got a lot of ground to make up, and I think there are some really creative trends that are lending themselves to really ensure that.”

Drever Capital Management Director of Asset Management Jerry Tonn, KDC Senior Vice President Collin Fitzgibbons, NewcrestImage CEO Mike Patel, CBRE Associate Elizabeth Herman, Dallas Innovation Alliance Executive Director and co-founder Jennifer Sanders and Perkins+Will Director of Interior Design Courtney Johnston at Bisnow's Future of Downtown Dallas event

Downside: Downtown Needs Schools

Experts point to a lack of Downtown schools and a lack of faith in DISD as an integral reason Downtown Dallas is struggling to change its image at the national level.

Corgan associate principal Matt McDonald asked audience members at the event to raise their hands if they had children and lived in DISD. Many of them raised their hands but when McDonald asked how many of them enrolled their children in DISD, all but a handful of people lowered their hands.

“You can tell right there. That’s the issue I think is what we’re seeing. As a proud DISD parent myself, we’re seeing that parental participation and that kind of thing is the key factor,” McDonald said.

“One of our issues, aside from the citywide issues we talked about related to Dallas ISD … we have simply a supply-and-demand issue in Downtown. Within the CBD, within the loop, there is not one single public elementary school. The Uplift Charter system, last year, put 1,800 kids on the waiting list … we just simply don’t have schools,” Garrett said.

“If you’re a booster of Downtown, I think you should be a booster of DISD,” KDC Senior Vice President of Development Collin Fitzgibbons said. “Because on the office side, our clients are looking for locations and office buildings where their people can have affordable housing and great schools within 30 to 45 minutes of their buildings, and the better that DISD is, the more companies will be willing to relocate down here.”

CORRECTION, March 1, 12:45 P.M. CT: A previous version of this article misstated Gordon Ip's company's name. The article has been updated.