If you wanted to build the perfect high-density, walkable, mixed-use development in Dallas, where would you begin? You’d look for a large site—let’s say 16 acres—one that serves as a gateway to a prominent, historic neighborhood with a pre-WWII street grid, one whose bones feature stout construction, vintage signage, and a history worth retelling. If we’re allowed the full-monty fantasy, it even has a fantastic view of downtown and is nestled among similar new-urban developments. And if the area is chockablock with hipsters? Mega-bonus!
Lucky for Dallas, that dream site actually exists. The historic Oak Farms Dairy plant, once used to produce milk for 7-Eleven stores, was purchased just months ago by local developers Cienda Partners. What they have in mind for the land would be a high-profile addition to the Oak Cliff Gateway, a TIF district conceived as a “ ‘people place’—where people come to work, live, shop, and enjoy the parks, dining, entertainment, and historic district.”
The proposed mixed-use development (apartments and retail, with a nearby streetcar, similar to Uptown; a tentative groundbreaking is set for next May) would fit in with other Gateway projects, current (Lake Cliff Tower, the Alexan Trinity, Pavilion III at Methodist Medical Center) and theoretical (the historic Burnett Field site next to Oak Farms). It’s a vision of what Dallas can be, seen by looking toward the core neighborhoods where the city began.
“We need more of these kinds of neighborhoods for a variety of reasons, both short- and long-term,” says Patrick Kennedy, an urban planner in Dallas. “We need the tax base. All good things follow rooftops, including jobs. And if we want to compete for and attract talent, young workers are looking for interesting, authentic places.”
Those kinds of places are often stifled by dumb, outdated ideas. One example cited by Oak Cliff Councilman Scott Griggs: the plan pushed by state transportation agencies to raise and extend the Jefferson Bridge and turn it into a four-story highway that would choke walkable development in the Gateway.
“It would set us back 100 years,” Griggs says. “You’d get two big-box stores, one on Oak Farms, one on Burnett, and that would be it. So my No. 1 priority is to stop an elevated highway there. … We need to exhibit leadership. We need to show [state transportation agencies] that the people of Dallas can build a better neighborhood than they have in mind for us.”