Jack Gosnell: The Urgency for Urban Retail

Jack Gosnell

Carol Coletta, a dynamic and knowledgeable expert on urban trends, spoke on Jan. 24 to the most highly attended annual meeting of Downtown Dallas Inc. ever. She spoke about the evolution of downtowns, urban redevelopment trends, and the infamous “walkability” that has become the battle cry of mixed-use urban developers and planners.

Her talk was reaffirming and energetic, but two of her themes deserve our careful focus.

The first is that the American dream with respect to home ownership and the traditional suburban lifestyle is, and has been, changing. Coletta’s assertion, supported by a 30-year study of people between the ages of 25 and 34, was that these people are more likely to choose to live close to downtown than prior generations. The numbers look like this:

1980—10 percent more likely than other Americans to live within 3 miles of a Central Business District

1990—12 percent more likely

2000—29 percent more likely

2010—42 percent more likely; in fact, college educated 25—34 year olds were 105 percent more likely in 2010.

This demographic is seeking association with creative people, energy, access to the arts, public transportation and, yes, walkability. (Keep in mind that Coletta’s statistics represent a national trend, and not specifically tailored for Dallas.) She contends that this demographic will look for cities that provide these elements.

To me, her comment is a call to action. Dallas, as a city, is achieving some wonderful things downtown. I won’t list all of the grand accomplishments because you all know them. But we need to concentrate on delivering the things this demographic group is seeking. Some of the desired elements, such as the Arts District, parks and public safety, are in place; but we need to work on the retail component that’s necessary to complete the environment that will attract and serve these future inhabitants of Downtown Dallas.

The second point worth hearing from Coletta’s talk was that we need to “get going.” This was not a casual admonishment. We at UCR Urban have been studying the re-emergence of several blighted inner city areas across the country; they have reinvented themselves to become sophisticated urban retail neighborhoods. We are trying to determine how they achieved success, so that we can apply those methods to downtown Dallas. On average, the process of going from mostly vacant retail at very low rents to mostly leased, chic retail at very high rents has required 20 years or more of public-private effort.

In short, we don’t have time for standard practices if we want to capture these young future urban dwellers. We know what has succeeded in other markets, and what has failed. It’s time for us to aggressively pursue the simultaneous implementation of the common initiatives used by a handful of successful cities and deliver downtown retail spaces to the street wherever possible. This effort to accelerate retail development is in addition to, but compatible with, the 360 Plan and the amazing efforts and progress achieved by Downtown Dallas Inc. during the last 10 years.

We will lose some of our potential future residents if we start the retail initiatives today. If we fail to act soon, we could lose all of them.

Jack Gosnell heads up UCR Urban for United Commercial Realty. Contact him at [email protected]


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  • Resident

    We know that Tim Headington wants to add a high-end retail component to his Joule Hotel expansion, but will that be the kind of retail that attracts these 25-35 yr-old urban dwellers?

    It is my understanding that Headington owns a large empty block on Ross near Fountain Place (and soon the remains of the Praetorian Building), and that he also has close ties to the film industry. This sounds like a great opportunity to build a mixed-use retail/residential development anchored by a movie theater (AMC or Alamo Drafthouse or Studio Movie Grill). While the viability of a downtown Kroger or H&M in the near future is dubious at best, a movie theater is almost guaranteed to draw customers who don’t want to brave the crowds at NorthPark.

    City leaders and Downtown Dallas Inc should coalesce behind the idea of bringing films back to downtown Dallas (long ago found along Elm Street’s Theater Row and more recently in the West End), and Mr. Headington is in a great position to profit from this opportunity.

  • jack gosnell

    Great feedback. There are actually several potential mixes for the retail facing the street. Some are higher end shops but some are affordable urban brands from other cities. Without a doubt there will be personal service retailers and stuff we all need like dry cleaning, shoe repair similar to the new pet store going into the Wilson Garage on Main, Downtown Paws.
    I also agree with the theater comment. We have come close with an art theater twice and as you predict it could happen in the no man’s land between deep Downtown and Woodall. The nice part of that scenario is that parking could be decked either over or under the theater.

  • Mike Dunlap

    It would be nice if even half of the people at the DDI luncheon chose to live downtown. Easy to cheer on downtown from elsewhere.

    If people really want to change it, move there.

  • Mike Dunlap

    Could UCR do this with any of its downtown locations?:


  • jack gosnell

    Mike, do what?

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  • Mike Dunlap

    Do what the Popularise group is doing in DC. See the link I included above.