Commercial Real Estate

CRE Opinion: How AIA Dallas Has Been an Urban Pioneer

From 1985 to 2018, AIA Dallas' real estate decisions show how forward-thinking the professional organization is.

The American Institute of Architects Dallas (AIA Dallas) has a more than 30-year history of leasing chapter office space in urban areas before they become “hot.” This urban pioneering history is particularly interesting when you realize its decisions are not made by one person. All its decisions are made by the volunteer chapter leadership after much research and discussion. The number of people involved can easily exceed 20.

AIA is a professional association with more than 2,300 members. Its typical approach is to form a real estate committee composed primarily of members of the executive committee of the AIA Dallas board and the executive director to research potential locations and make a recommendation to the board.  Occasionally, they may add someone to the committee who is not a board member. However, the majority of the committee members are architects, each with their personal and professional perspective on architectural trends, design and use. Reaching a decision can sometimes be quite a challenge.

So where have they been urban pioneers?

McKinney Avenue in 1985

In 1985, AIA Dallas signed a lease at the new 2811 McKinney Ave. building on the first floor.  Seeing the vibrant environment of McKinney Avenue today, most people may find it difficult to visualize or remember the area more than 30 years ago with few office buildings, apartments, restaurants, or retail.  It did have a lot of charm, and development was starting to take place. However, their space was so unusual and visible that I occasionally still have people ask me if its current location is on McKinney Avenue, but they moved out in 2000!

Dallas Design District in 2000

When I started working with AIA Dallas in 1999, it made the decision that it had outgrown the McKinney Avenue space and needed to be in a location with more parking for its members.  AIA seriously considered staying at the McKinney location. However, the group already realized that the Dallas Design District was going to be trending area. Ultimately, AIA signed a lease in the Design District at Harwood’s 1444 Oak Lawn property which gave them ample parking and a back door on Dragon Street. That area is now flourishing with art galleries, design studios, new retail, housing, and more.

Woodall Rodgers Across from Kyle Warren Park in 2008

In 2005, the AIA decided to explore options that would give them more visibility. Its very strong preference was to locate in the new Dallas Arts District as well as consider other locations in the Design District, Uptown, and Oak Lawn.  Unfortunately, the office rental rates in the Dallas Arts District were already too steep for AIA’s budget. AIA decided its best option was to move to another location in the Design District. At the last minute, AIA decided to consider a location on Woodall Rodgers across from the planned park. They realized that while they couldn’t be in the Dallas Arts District, they could have a spectacular view of it along with the rest of the Dallas skyline. With that decision, AIA moved to 1909 Woodall Rodgers, more than doubling its space and situating itself across from the proposed new park, where plans had not been finalized. Quite a risk, but it paid off in spades! In 2012, they found themselves across the street from Klyde Warren Park, an innovative park built on top of Woodall Rodgers Park connecting downtown Dallas, Uptown, and the Dallas Arts District.

Republic Center in 2018

Like most professional organizations, AIA Dallas/Dallas Center for Architecture (DCFA) found its programming and member services evolving. DCFA is the nonprofit arm of AIA Dallas. It wanted to do more public programming, exhibitions and member meetings in its space. In addition, it desired outdoor space that would flow from its office space into the nearby urban area. It also believed that it should consider architecturally significant buildings in the urban core of downtown Dallas. The temptation to stay on Woodall Rodgers was strong especially with the enormous success of Klyde Warren Park.

Many wonderful buildings were considered. However, the lure of the legacy Republic Center with its first and second floor space, outside meeting area and situated directly across from the soon-to-be constructed Pacific Plaza Park became the desired vision for a new location. (This will be the second time AIA has located across from a not yet constructed park.)

AIA/DCFA hopes to open in its new premises by late summer 2018. The public will be welcome to visit its location and enjoy the very special space they will create.

AIA/DCFA Leadership

None of these major real estate decisions could have been made without the leaders AIA has been fortunate to have over the years. These leaders have been not only visionary, but skilled consensus builders who understood the importance of listening to the organization’s members and staff. We are fortunate to have an organization that has contributed so much to leading and confirming a variety of areas in our city to be wonderful places for others to locate its offices and services. It has been a great pleasure working with them over the years.

Eliza Solender is president of Solender/Hall Inc. and serves on the board of directors of Origin Bancorp.

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