Jim Lob: A Tenant for Every Space—Downtown Tunnels

Jim Lob

After nearly 30 years of experience in the commercial real estate business here in Dallas, I have come to the conclusion that there is probably a user for every single space out there in the marketplace. Big or small, great location or poor location, Class A quality or Class F quality. Someone, somewhere can likely use that space.

So a recent newspaper article on the decay of the Central Business District’s underground tunnel system made me think. Great things are happening above ground in downtown Dallas; what to do underground?

Clearly things cycle in this world, as evidenced by all the talk about this generation’s perspective that everything must be focused on the street level, adding vibrancy to the scene, bringing energy, and therefore adding real  value to properties. It wasn’t always that way, especially on days with triple-digit heat. But things change.

Problems with the tunnels today include fragmented ownership groups, no rent-paying tenants for all of the spaces in the tunnel underneath all of those downtown buildings, etc.

Often the solution is not easy to see for those in the middle of the story. If I was  the decision-maker and controlled the entire tunnel system, I would once again politely ask for everyone’s input into possible solutions. Use social media outlets and solicit feedback outside real estate circles. Look at adaptive reuse scenarios in cities all over the world.

I asked my wife. She is a big proponent of helping causes. Her list of solutions, not surprisingly, included donating or offering the space at a discount for:

• Arts Groups. Provide the space for artists, performances, painters, musicians, etc. It will fill up vacancy and also create more pedestrian traffic.

• Childcare. Create a destination, with space for everything from daycare to education to counseling for the children of employees working downtown—and parents who are drawn there if the services are safe and of the highest quality.

Me? I was a simpleton and thought about things we always need downtown? My list:

• Parking. How can we open up the underground areas for parking for workers during the day and bars, restaurants, entertainment, etc. at night? Convert the entire tunnel to one big lot.

• Business Incubation. Why not donate some space to business development entrepreneurs. Create that synergy seen in other suburban incubators, downtown. Heck, what I know about IT guys, they don’t even want sunlight!

• Storage. I come from Kansas City, where there is  a huge underground  tunnel system where everyone from the U.S. Army to private enterprises operate or store stuff.

• Education. This is my personal favorite. Why not move El Centro College down there and offer lots of room for growth. Heck the Tarrant County Community College system has sucked up almost every single square foot of the former Radio Shack campus in Fort Worth. Who knows , maybe we can help kids by educating more of them. Seems to me to be what the clamor is all about in political and social circles anyway.

Got an idea yourself? Send it to the mayor!

As senior vice president of UGL Services, Jim Lob co-manages the firm’s brokerage operations in Dallas. Contact him at [email protected]