As an organization, it is extremely important for Downtown Dallas, Inc. to take stock of the perceptions and realities of the rapidly-growing Downtown and the connected neighborhoods. Ahead of our recent mayor’s State of Downtown address, we put out a survey to gauge trends and how our workforce and residents perceive Downtown today, as well as what they wish for in Downtown. And as we wrap up 2018 in full implementation of The 360 Plan, no time is more important to benchmark progress and look forward into the next phase of Downtown’s growth.
Since 2000, $6 billion has been invested in Downtown. Downtown remains the largest workforce in North Texas with 135,000 employees in Downtown proper and 250,000 in Downtown and its connected neighborhoods. Nearly 12,000 people live Downtown, more than 70,000 live in the city center, and we celebrated nearly 300 commercial office deals, both renewals and new leases, in 2018. 1,200 hotel rooms have been added in the last five years in Downtown, four more parks are on the way, and with 400 restaurants and bars, 200 places to shop, 100 live-music venues, and seven new grocery stores open or opening-soon, livability in the core of our city has never been so vibrant.
As a result, Downtown is emerging as a hub for top talent and innovation. Companies ranging from major corporations like AT&T, Jacobs, and Goldman Sachs to co-working innovators like WeWork, Common Desk, and Serendipity Labs, recognize what a significant benefit locating in an urban center is to both attracting and retaining quality employees. Of all Downtown workers, 67 percent have a college degree, and the average household income is approaching $100,000 per year. The urban core now offers about 500,000 square feet of co-working space, and the diversity of employers has never been more apparent. We are home to the Dallas Innovation District, and as a region we now have the seventh largest high-tech job concentration in the country. That is almost twice the number of tech jobs in the Austin area. Dallas is ranked as the 11th most high-tech city in America and now has the distinction of being No. 1 in attracting skilled talent according to Emsi.
More than 70 percent surveyed said they have worked Downtown or in a connected neighborhood for three to five years; 82 percent of people working Downtown are leaving the office weekly for lunch breaks, and 72 percent are staying Downtown for happy hour or dining after work at least once per month. The Main Street District, Farmers Market, and Arts District all ranked high as areas where people are getting out and spending time. Our festivals and events continue to drive people Downtown outside of normal business hours, too. More than 80 percent told us that they get out of the office and enjoy the ever-growing number of quality restaurants at least one to two times per week, with over 50 percent adding to the vitality of the streets at least three to four times a week during lunch and when taking breaks. This demonstrates that workers are no longer driving in to the office in the morning, staying at their desks all day, then heading straight home at night.
Also, as part of our effort to get the pulse of Downtown, DDI conducted focus groups of residents and commuters that yielded constructive feedback that will help our organization continue to ensure that our urban core remains safe, clean and vibrant. The takeaway from some of the responses in those groups; Downtown has arrived. Reactions included quotes like, “There is so much energy around, and I can see that it is transforming into something special.” Downtown is a lifestyle, and with recent additions like Royal Blue Grocery, continued additions at the Dallas Farmers Market, and four additional signature parks on the horizon that will add to our current 52 acres of green space, Downtown has what it takes to not only attract companies and their workers, but also add new residents. They were a big part of our survey, too, with close to 80 percent telling us that they’ve moved Downtown just within the past two years. Living close to work is a driving force behind the major population growth we have seen.
As result, construction of new housing units is booming, more than 5,500 units are underway, to keep up with the demand. The survey response to the question, “What is the most important reason for your decision to live Downtown” revealed an overwhelming preference over suburbs because of the ability for people to live close to their jobs, nightlife, and events. Downtown boasts a walkability score of 90, and ever-more ways of getting around. That includes bike and scooter share, along with other modes of transit such as eFrogs and the DART.
Amenities are a big factor, with 89 percent of respondents saying they are extremely satisfied living Downtown or in a connected neighborhood. And there’s good reason to be excited about what’s to come to further enhance heart of our city’s attractiveness. The survey showed a desire for additional services like primary-care physicians, pediatricians, dentists, optometrists, and veterinarians to add to the professional services we currently have. We see this as further proof that workers, residents, and families are interested in the convenience that comes with not having to get in their cars.
Part of being the champion and steward of Downtown includes keeping the area safe and clean. DDI employs around 50 Safety Patrol officers who are there to serve as a supplement to the Dallas Police Department. They also are glad to help people looking for anything from directions to suggestions on good places to eat. Downtown workers, residents and visitors say they appreciate the services provided that add to a level of increased security like courtesy walks to your car or destination. Our Clean Team of 12 employees also scored high marks in the survey for the work they do keeping sidewalks clean, emptying overflowing trash cans and tending to Downtown’s ongoing beautification efforts. DDI has made it easy to report issues tied to the safety and cleanliness within the freeway loop by launching the See Say Now app. Through the app that’s available on iTunes and in the Google Play store, you can snap a photo and report non-emergency issues in real-time.
DDI will continue to rely on the crucial feedback to ensure Downtown remains an active, vibrant hub of commerce and an attractive lifestyle. From this survey, four overarching themes emerged that sum up where we are today and what we strive for in the future. Pride. Whether working or living in the area, people feel a great sense of pride about Downtown. Passion. There is a strong passion for the area from those who are here, every day, as a community. Progress. We feel a heightened level of focus on the progress the Downtown area has experienced. Practicality. The Downtown community has an engaged, realistic and thoughtful view on what solutions will have an impact on their quality of life, and that’s what makes Downtown such a wise investment.
Kourtny Garrett is the president and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc.Contact her to learn more about the market.