On Monday, March 6, we will once again bring well over 1,000 business leaders, residents, community organizations, and the public sector together at the Downtown Dallas Inc. (DDI) Annual Meeting with one common interest: Downtown Dallas. This year’s theme may seem simple, “Great Strides,” but those two words encompass a remarkable amount of progress in the heart of our city, along with what we know is coming soon. It’s a play on words describing progress. Great strides are being made with transformative plans like high-speed rail, CityMAP, and 360; infrastructure projects like streetcar and a subway; and more than 100 developments (meaning countless cranes) under way. The theme also is a quip referring to street-level improvements like parks, bike lanes, and walkability improvements that give us even more reason to stride.
Since 2000, we’ve experienced $5 billion of investment in the city center through a variety of residential, hotel, commercial office, and public projects. Nearly 11,000 residents live in the center of downtown, where in 1996 only the 200 living in Manor House apartments called this area home. Within a two and a half mile radius, 50,000 now live, and over 7,000 units are under construction with another 6,400 impending.
Downtown’s employment base and office market remains strong with over 135,000 employees and positive net absorption in 2016. AT&T was a significant retention (and expansion) headline toward the end of last year, and work to advance the AT&T Discovery District will continue into this spring.
Over 100 restaurants and bars opened last year or have been announced to open this year, adding to the 420 already filling our bellies. Fifteen hotels are either announced or under construction, with four more that have opened in the last year. Retail is taking hold as well, with over 200 places to shop in the greater urban core. The opening of Forty Five Ten at the end of 2016 made headlines, and just last month another anchor in the Dallas Farmers Market, Urban Farmhouse Designs, was announced. Four additional large format grocery stores are on the way, and in the center of downtown we anticipate several announcements of unique smaller urban concepts this year—stay tuned.
No doubt the development numbers are impressive and are making national headlines. But what is it that knits our community together? What fills the voids between buildings and defines downtown as a neighborhood and no longer just an office park? In our 2017 DDI priorities, we call this fostering complete neighborhoods. It’s the destinations that unite those working in towers, living in lofts, and visiting our city. It’s our parks, public places, art, and cultural spaces. It’s schools and vibrant streets. And there are great strides to talk about here as well. Today, 52 acres of parks and public greenspace exist in downtown. The parks prioritized in the Downtown Parks Master Plan will add or improve another 17 acres. Our city is connected by nearly 150 miles of bike lanes and trails today, with over 50 miles funded and on the way. CityLab High School, downtown’s new public high school focused on design and community engagement, will commence classes this fall. And our higher education institutions, UNT School of Law, El Centro Community College, and Texas A&M Commerce continue to thrive and grow their urban campuses.
Trends worth noting
Reflecting on 2016, a few trends emerged that we expect will continue strong into this year.
New construction. In 2016, the last of our most challenging redevelopment projects traded, which means of the 40 vacant buildings we began with 20 years ago, only a handful remain and they are all in development. The Statler will begin opening its first phases in just a few months. Dallas High School/Crozier Tech and the West End Marketplace/Factory Six03 are moving quickly toward their new lives as prime office space. The Butler Brothers building is now leasing apartments, and 1401 Elm/The Drever construction progresses with recent announcements such as their hotel, Thompson Dallas Hotel. With the era of adaptive reuse coming to a close, we anticipate a surge in new construction, already indicated on the northern side of downtown along Klyde Warren Park and Ross Avenue. Vacant parcels and parking lots will begin to infill with mixed-use, high-density projects, making areas like the southern areas of downtown ripe for development.
Commercial office re-dos. Last year, several commercial office towers began massive improvements, from building infrastructure to transforming ground floors to engage with the street. Projects like Thanksgiving Tower, 2100 Ross, 400 Record, 717 Harwood, Bank of America Plaza, Ross Tower, and St. Paul Place are embracing the desires of today’s office worker—open floorplans, coworking space, and ground floor amenities shared with the public. And this year, we expect more to follow, like the announcements of renovations at Chase Tower and Trammell Crow Center.
Innovation industries. A third trend reinforced in 2016 that will carry into this year is the growing strength of innovation industries. Whether tech, startup, or a variety of coworking options, more than 350,000 square feet of commercial office space is inhabited by this sector. In fact, at DDI we see this as such an important factor in downtown Dallas’ future that we have adopted it into our mission: foster innovation and technology in all aspects of the urban experience.
Focus on mobility
Last year, we also spent a great amount of time on the update of the 360 plan. Building on the transformative strategies from the original plan adopted by the Dallas City Council in 2011, including housing, transportation, urban design, parks, and public space, the update will first set urban mobility principles to guide current and future local, regional, and state planning. Drafted in partnership with more than 40 local organizations and with input from more than 1,000 touch points through community partners and stakeholders, those guiding principles include:
- Create a balanced multimodal system that can support transit, bicycles, and pedestrians in addition to automobiles.
- Provide a system that does not require a car for short trips, while ensuring that the system is safe, well-lit, comfortable, and accessible for a diverse base of users.
- Improve inter-district connectivity for all modes of travel.
- Encourage mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented design and development.
- Ensure that both regional and local transportation systems support urban design and livability goals for Greater Downtown Dallas.
- Deliver a system that responds proactively to future trends in technology, demographics, and user preferences.
Ultimately, this spring the plan will deliver a pragmatic guide to improve connectivity between our intown neighborhoods, whether walking, biking, using public transportation, or driving, while also delivering vibrancy, continuity, and a “sense of place” at the street level. It will address mobility balance for every street in the urban core, and identify improvements to key connections with close-in neighborhoods.
Very much related, work continues on transportation and mobility issues significant to downtown like streetcar, bike plan implementation and expansion, the DART subway alignment, high-speed rail, and CityMAP.
Kourtny Garrett is the president and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc.