In 1875, Dallas lawyer Robert Cowart wrote a famous article in the Dallas Daily Herald about a fictitious panther freely roaming the streets of Fort Worth without anyone noticing this wild beast—Cowart’s jab at categorizing Fort Worth as a sleepy village. This, of course, sparked retaliation by the proud citizens of Fort Worth who took his criticism to heart and, in turn, adopted the panther as the city’s mascot, which is still evident throughout the city today.
After a 20-year commercial real estate career in New York City, I recently returned to my hometown of Dallas. My time away gave me a new perspective and appreciation of Dallas and the metro in general. A key change I noticed is that Fort Worth isn’t the Cowtown I remembered from my youth; my hope is that the city of Dallas is aware of this as well.
Since we returned, our friends who have visited us from New York all want an authentic Texas experience during their stay. They want to go to Fort Worth, to see Sundance Square and The Stockyards, and not downtown Dallas. As a proud Dallasite, I want to show them my city, but I get it.
I can’t blame them, Panther City has become a true destination–who wouldn’t want to stay at the Hotel Drover? The urban revitalization of Fort Worth is extremely orchestrated and accessible. What’s concerning is that downtown Dallas seems to be fading out of the conversation as a destination.
Dallas needs a vibrant downtown to compete as a world-class city; it needs to become a destination. The downtown revitalization efforts by developers such as Woods Capital, Todd Interests, and Hoque Global cannot be overlooked. Successful projects such as the AT&T Discovery District, office repositioning of Trammell Crow Center, hospitality renovations at The Adolphus, The Joule, and The Statler, and the mixed-use preservation of the mid-century masterpiece at The National are all excellent examples of what can be done.
As a downtown community, we need to rally around projects like these, but there is more to be done. Nationally, eyes are on Dallas as it continues to be the preferred headquarters relocation destination. Downtown Dallas needs to be part of that conversation—not just the overall North Texas region—with coordinated efforts to create a destination-driven area that continues to attract the best and brightest workforce nationally.
To use New York as an example, post 9/11, Liberty Bonds were given to developers to revitalize lower Manhattan and increase residential development. I witnessed an office-centric district transform to a work/live/play 24/7 community with stroller-pushing families, buttoned-up office workers, and nightlife patrons. Tribeca and Battery Park City became some of the most affluent ZIP codes in the United States. Many of these buildings were obsolete offices that were repositioned as residential apartments.
This balance of office and residential was evident during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when areas like Midtown were completely abandoned due to the lack of full-time residents, whereas lower Manhattan still bustled. We are seeing this type of transformation in the early stages in downtown Dallas—but we need the residential demand to follow suit.
The creation of a live/work/play community helps to ensure a vibrant environment. In successful urban revitalization, as the residential population grows, the office vacancy rate shrinks and more amenities are created to support those communities. Recently, we’ve seen interesting destination-driven developments in the Design District, and to a lesser extent in the Cedars, but similar additions to the downtown core would be beneficial as well.
Although I am thrilled to see Fort Worth thriving as a destination, downtown Dallas needs to sit up and take note. As proud Dallasites, we need to support our downtown. Doesn’t the iconic image of the Dallas skyline still mean something, or is it just imagery of what once was? The last thing we want is for a panther to be wandering around downtow—and for no one to notice.
Clayton Kline is executive vice president of Stream Realty Partners in Dallas.