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Downtown Dallas

Jonathan Diamond: Has Downtown Gone from Good to Great?

Being involved in downtown over the last five years and watching how much our city has grown has been a fun and exciting experience. With the Farmers’ Market redevelopment and all the projects in the West End, I can’t wait to see what the next five years has in store for us.
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Jonathan Diamond

Back in 2008, we were given the leasing assignment for a large office and retail building on Main Street. The senior partner I was teamed with told me if I want to learn downtown, I need to walk every floor of every building and write down the names of all of the tenants. So I took his word and started walking buildings.

In downtown, you don’t just walk a building, get in your car, and drive to the next. You park your car, walk to one building, and then walk to the next. This helped me learn the streets, and I became very passionate about our great city. I eventually decided that I wanted to live downtown and moved to a great loft across from the Joule Hotel—the best place I’ve ever lived.

What is the real number of residents that live downtown? Back in 2008, the residential population was at 7,000; just recently I saw an article that reported 7,500 residents. I pulled up an old story from August 2008, where Kirby White talked about downtown becoming a true 24/7 urban environment, with a projected 10,000 residents by 2010. In 2008, of course, this was before 1407 Main, The Merc, The Element, phase I of Lone Star Gas Lofts, the Post Office lofts and a few other residential projects. Given all that, you would think we are much closer to the 10,000 residents projected for 2010. I strongly believe that downtown has surpassed at least the 8,000 mark—but I could be wrong.

Another issue that always comes up about downtown Dallas is the lack of parking. I think some people use parking as an excuse to not come downtown. Does downtown really have a parking issue? Yes, and no. There is a huge parking issue when it comes to commercial office buildings, and recently parking has become an issue for some of the residential redevelopments. I’m not sure why you would build a 1 million-square-foot office tower with a parking ratio of less than 1 space per 1,000 square feet. In my opinion, parking is what kills the Dallas CBD office market. Back in 2008-2009 during the downturn, when tenants were looking to cut costs, they could steal Class A office space in downtown. Instead, they relocated to newer buildings in the Uptown, Turtle Creek and Victory markets, where rents were double those of downtown.

On the other hand, parking is not an issue for people who want to come and hang out downtown. If you know your way around, there is plenty of parking available. If don’t know your way around, then you may have trouble because the garages and lots aren’t easy to locate unless they have an attendant out front waving you in with a bright orange flag. The best solution to parking in downtown is using the DART Light Rail line instead.

The last thing I want to talk about is the downtown Dallas retail space. There was a recent newspaper article about downtown retail still lagging as residential and office population grows. Over the past several years, all the buzz has been about the revitalization of the Main Street District, which is where a majority of the existing residential is located. When I speak to retail tenants they all tell me they want to be on Main Street, and I don’t blame them because Main Street is where all the action takes place.

But the retail space on Main really is only between Akard and Field streets. Head east down Main street from Akard, and on the north side you have DRG’s concepts, then you have the Kirby entrance, an eyewear place, a legal aid center, 1517 Main, a church, Sol Irlandes, Headington Cos. retail space creation, Downtown Paws, the Wilson Building entrance, Porta Di Roma, and then Comerica Tower. On the south side, you have Pegasus Plaza, Iron Cactus, The Joule, Neiman Marcus, and then the retail space at the Merc.

My point is that the retail space dies down on Main Street the further east you go. Where I see an opportunity to bring in a lot of retail to downtown is on Elm Street from Field all the way east. The problem is that Elm Street is one way and feels like a five-lane highway! If you look at 1401 Elm, if this building is done right, it can be a game-changer for downtown, along with what the Mid Elm Project and the LTV Tower redo will add to the street.

Recently, Downtown Dallas Inc.’s John Crawford said downtown Dallas has gone from good to great. In my opinion, however, we have not quite reached greatness. That will happen once Elm and Commerce catch up to Main Street. This is when the center of our city will quickly start spreading to the other districts.

Being involved in downtown over the last five years and watching how much our city has grown has been a fun and exciting experience. With the Farmers’ Market redevelopment and all the projects in the West End, I can’t wait to see what the next five years has in store for us.

Jonathan Diamond is assistant vice president in the corporate services division of The Weitzman Group. Contact him at [email protected].

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