If you did not attend our annual membership forum, sponsored by AT&T, you missed a great event with about 1,200 of our closest friends. Mayor Rawlings gave his annual “State of Downtown Address” to another record crowd at the Hyatt Regency Dallas. He spoke about accomplishments and momentum in the downtown area over the past 15 years, including exciting news in the area of public safety, but also challenges and competing interests we face regarding our Trinity River project, balancing new construction and development with historic preservation, the need for more parks and open spaces, and the need for growing transportation networks, homeless assistance and public safety, livability and mobility, and the DISD bond election.
Mayor Rawlins applauded the work that the Downtown Dallas 360 team has been doing to reboot downtown’s strategic plan as incredibly important, and said that it really speaks to the state of downtown Dallas in 2015—and what it holds for the future.
There are too many to list here, but some highlights Rawlings mentioned are the privatization and redevelopment of the almost complete Dallas Farmers Market (complete with a beer garden!), events like The Reunion, the fact that we have more than 60 restaurants opened or opening in downtown in 2015, the trolley extension into downtown’s core, the Oak Cliff Street Car completion, D-Link approved for another year of service, and 12 hotels currently under construction (and I might add that hotel occupancy is at an all-time high), and the regular headlines and announcements of new movie theaters, office buildings, and grocery stores. In fact, he said,“You know you’re in Dallas when there’s a building crane on every street corner.” The mayor touted the vibrant activity in the Dallas Arts District, including the recent event, Aurora, which brought more than 50,000 visitors to the district (and one he would like to see it happen each year!).
Rawlings then teased a big announcement about parks and open spaces, which we found out later that day was an announcement that the Belo Foundation changed its name to Parks for Downtown Dallas, and that it will commit up to $30 million in a dollar-for-dollar match to the City of Dallas to help complete the Downtown Parks Master Plan over the next 10 years.
Next, Rawlings noted that none of these achievements would be possible if our citizens did not feel safe when living, working, and playing downtown. He thanked the men and women of the Dallas Police Department, and spoke of making great strides when it comes to public safety across the city, including within the Central Business District (where overall crime in 2014 was down 12 percent when compared to 2010). “There is no question that Chief David Brown has continued to improve upon his predecessor’s success,” the mayor said. “But he would be one of the first to tell you that we still have room for improvement, which is one of the reasons why he is one of the best Chiefs in America.” Rawlings said it was his collaborative, community-friendly approach that led Chief Brown to support DDI’s request for a first watch. That shift will add 25 more officers to the CBD from the hours of midnight to 8 a.m. And we’re all pleased that the “first watch” is actually starting this week, ahead of schedule.
As Rawlings spoke about public safety Downtown, he also pointed out challenges we’re still facing. The first issue is homelessness vs. public safety. He told us it’s time for us to start thinking about an additional homeless assistance center, which has been the plan more than 10 years, as the Bridge cannot be the only resource. He also talked about the need for supportive housing for the homeless. The Continuum of Care Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance is beginning a housing priority list targeting people with the highest level of need for permanent supportive housing. Those are the answers that will help us both grow as a city and take care of our fellow human beings.
“We’ve got to be able to deal with seemingly competing issues, like green space vs. parking lots, D2 line vs. moving buildings or displacing people, highways vs. connectivity and walkability, and development vs. preservation. Rawlings believes the City Council and staff want to work together to find solutions to these issues. They all understand how important the downtown area is to the rest of the city.
The Trinity River Project
According to Mayor Rawlings: “There is no greater challenge for our city than what we face with the Trinity River Corridor Project, which will be the most important project in the 21st century. That’s because this is a project that I believe will reshape Dallas for generations to come. It will transform the corridor from solely a floodplain to a grand, uniquely Dallas and easily accessible core space. It will help make the lives of our citizens richer and better. We must endeavor to create something that the world has not seen before, something that attracts new residents and massive economic growth.”
Rawlings has listened to residents and understands they are united around the desire for a grand park. That’s why he recently asked the Trinity Trust Foundation and Deedie and Rusty Rose to contribute to this cause. And thanks to their generosity, Trinity Urban Park planning, including how the park interfaces with the parkway and surrounding neighborhoods, will be privately sponsored by the Trinity Trust, using up to $1 million in contributions from the Roses. The planning will focus specifically between the Margaret Hunt Hill and the Margaret McDermott Bridges. But we will have to raise a lot of private money … probably more than $200 million. The work has already begun with the Trinity Trust to make that a reality.
And on the parkway, last year Rawlings and his team convened a “Dream Team” of 12 urban designers, planners, architects, and transportation experts. Led by international consultant Larry Beasley, the team produced a report that included 20 design ideas for the road. The group believes in a smaller parkway for this generation; access to the park; landscape and park experience; and building connections to economic development.
A technical committee (many of whom were opposed to the original plan but are in favor of the Dream Team plan), working in concert with Sandy Greyson and Jere Thompson, has been hard at work studying how to make the Dream Team vision a reality. This is difficult, because it must be executed within the framework of the parkway plan that already has federal government approvals. The key is to bring both sides together on this issue and to make sure we stay true to the vision of the Dream Team. It’s a vision that our City Council signaled its support for with a unanimous vote in August to restrict a portion of the parkway to no more than four lanes.
This is all so important because of the huge economic development potential of the Trinity Corridor that is going to drive future growth in and around downtown. There is so much unused land that—once developed—could provide us with our own Central Park East and West.
The mayor explained that downtown Dallas and surrounding neighborhoods are important, but it’s part of a larger city. And what will change all corners of our city in the most significant way is our education system—our public schools. He has wishes for the children of our school district to graduate, go off to college, and come back home to Dallas to live, work, and lead. Since the mayor spoke about this, the DISD bond narrowly passed. Funds will be used to build new schools, construct additions to existing schools, and enhance libraries, gyms, science labs, technology, fine arts, and more. Downtown Dallas Inc. will now work very closely with DISD to ensure bringing additional school choices to downtown Dallas is a top priority.
Downtown Dallas 360
The Mayor reiterated the importance of the Downtown Dallas 360 plan, and closed by talking about how important “infill” projects are, those that will help complete blocks, improve connectivity, and make downtown a livable place.
As I hope all of you know, we are in the process of updating the Downtown Dallas 360 plan. The plan, originally adopted by Dallas City Council in 2011, is our blueprint to shape the next phase of downtown revitalization. As a part of the process, we’ve spent the last five months talking to residents, developers, business owners, neighborhood organizations, employees, visitors—just about anyone who has interest—about what they love about and wish for downtown.
Overwhelmingly, two themes have emerged—livability and mobility. We have spent the last five months in the community engagement and listening phase and are starting the technical phase of the project now. For more information, visit www.downtown dallas.com and www.downtowndallas360.com