One of the city’s most active developers, Gabriel Barbier-Mueller, was the featured speaker at NTCAR’s recent Young Professionals Forum’s “Up Close and Personal” event. It was held at one of his Harwood district’s newest venues, Happiest Hour.
“You should never think that you cannot do something,” said the founder and CEO of Harwood International. “Because one of you or several of you has some ideas that will be the next big idea.”
The Swiss native shared his story of moving to Dallas as a 20-something who barely spoke English. Growing up, he spent most of his time buying, fixing, and selling cars, which drove his father crazy. He went to law school but it wasn’t the right fit, and dropped out. “I had very few limited options left in Geneva, so I decided I should be looking around the world for a place to go,” Barbier-Mueller told the audience. “I looked at Indonesia, I looked at Mexico City, and I chose the United States.”
He went to work for Henry S. Miller Co., but dreamed of becoming a developer. He saw an opportunity in the area north of downtown Dallas, a sleepy little neighborhood known as “Little Mexico.”
“I decided I needed to make some money, somehow. So I got an apartment and I went to the city and, for a dollar a sheet, I bought remnants of this area, from Mockingbird to Main Street to Ross and Center Express Way to the Design District,” he said. “I stuck [the map] on the wall across my bed. I had a bed, a top sheet, a bottom sheet, and pretty much nothing else.”
He began meeting with lot owners at night and on weekends. His big break came when he persuaded Rolex to build an office tower. The building, which opened in 1984, was the first office building in Uptown, which has since grown to become one of the most successful commercial real estate markets in the United States.
Barbier-Mueller has been a big driver of that growth; his Harwood district is now home to 2 million square feet of office, residential, and retail space. At full buildout, it’s expected to top 7 million square feet.
The developer said Dallas is finally coming into its own as a global market. “I think it’s less about countries now and more about cities attracting companies,” he said. “[Dallas is] one of the best and fastest growing cities, probably the fastest growing city in the largest economy in the world.
“I’m sure that some of you will one day will be sitting [here] 35 years from now, looking back at what you’ve accomplished, and saying to yourself, ‘Wow. I never even dreamt I would get this far,’” Barbier-Mueller told the young NTCAR brokers. “And that’s pretty much the way I feel today. I never thought that map on the wall would turn into what is today called Harwood.”