Will New Arts District Plan Fare Better Than Sasaki’s Original Vision?

Can we make the Arts District a lively place?

What Flora Street usually looks like.  (Photo: Flickr/the.urbanophile)
What Flora Street usually looks like. (Photo: Flickr/the.urbanophile)

The Dallas Arts District, the nonprofit organization that advocates for the northeast corner of downtown, put out a press release this morning announcing that it had selected design firm NBBJ to create a new Community Development Plan.

Whatever NBBJ comes up with will replace the Sasaki Plan, which has been the district’s planning guide since 1983. How much of Sasaki’s vision has come to fruition? Well, here’s the firm’s description of Flora Street:

Designed primarily as a pedestrian area, this 2,000-foot street is the city’s first downtown landscaped spine. Flora Street is the front door to major cultural institutions and to private and semi-private developments. Three distinct zones are thematically linked to prime cultural attractions. Museum Crossing is a collection of boutiques, galleries, and art shops, Concert Lights centers on the Dallas Concert Hall with theater-oriented restaurants and clubs, and Fountain Plaza creates an artists’ quarter ambience with gourmet shops and open air markets.

Much of Flora is landscaped nicely, but I haven’t had a chance to take advantage of the street’s theater-oriented restaurants or gourmet shops. (Probably because they’re not there.)

Sasaki also mentions something called Betty B. Marcus Park, which I had to look up because I’d never heard of it. It’s where those trees are planted in front of the Meyerson. Sounds a lot nicer on paper:

Park features include informal granite paving in a grid pattern, several dozen canopy trees planted in lawn and ground cover, an area for dining with tables, chairs, and umbrellas, and a linear fountain spilling water from a series of granite spouts. The park is a deckscape over a parking garage.

Of course the Sasaki Plan was merely a plan. The reality of Flora Street as a lively hub of downtown activity, rather than a dead zone except for when a show or concert is under way, was always going to be harder to accomplish. Here’s hoping NBBJ finds a way to make it work by some means that market forces can and will support.

Here’s the Dallas Arts District’s full release:

The Executive Committee for the Dallas Arts District today announced it has selected global architecture, planning and design firm NBBJ to create a new Community Development Plan for the dynamic downtown neighborhood. The Sasaki Plan (1983) is the current planning guide for the District, but is more than 30 years old. In the last decade, the Arts District has seen dramatic investment, growth and changes and has become a diverse magnet for businesses, development, residents and tourists.

“The Dallas Arts District has become a vibrant cultural and economic engine for our city and region, and we want that momentum to continue,” said Arts District Board Chair Kevin Moriarty. “The Community Development Plan will be our guidepost, helping us imagine what our neighborhood can become over the next 10 to 15 years.”

With NBBJ, the Dallas Arts District – a nonprofit neighborhood advocacy organization – will restructure the Sasaki Plan, determining where modifications are necessary and recommending specific new design standards for future development.

“We had responses from some tremendous firms. But in the end their proposal’s content, their understanding of what we need in the district, and the team they assembled really put NBBJ at the top of our list,” said Doug Curtis, chair of the Arts District’s Infrastructure Committee. “We felt NBBJ was best suited to position this visionary city asset, the Dallas Arts District, for future growth and success.”

NBBJ has worked on projects in more than two dozen American cities, including its home Boston, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Detroit, Charleston, New York, Seattle and San Francisco. In Dallas, NBBJ has created plans for the Trinity River, Fair Park and downtown parks. Most recently, NBBJ participated in a series of charrettes on the continuing development of the Trinity River Park and to reimagine the design for the parkway.

In addition to an evaluation of the Sasaki Plan, the scope of work for the Community Development Plan will include identifying and developing strategies to:

  • Enhance accessibility to the existing cultural assets
  • Achieve an optimal mix of uses for the District
  • Review current trends in building better blocks in other cities that would serve as examples for this project
  • Connect to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, mass transit, other existing/adjacent park land, and future hike and bike trail networks
  • Update Urban Development Guidelines for the future development of the District similar to those contained in the Sasaki / Fregonese Plan(s)
  • Create conceptual plans for key areas within the District where current urban infrastructure is deficient in serving the District’s goals now and in the future
  • Become a minimum of LEED ND Gold Rated

In May 2015, the Arts District issued a Request for Qualifications for the Community Development Plan. The District’s Infrastructure & Planning Committee reviewed a dozen RFQ responses, then the selected the top firms to receive the Request for Proposals. After the top proposals were selected, the Dallas Arts District created a Selection Advisory Committee, comprised of representatives from the District’s cultural and commercial stakeholders, DART, City of Dallas, residents, local artists, etc. Throughout this process, NBBJ emerged as the preferred firm.

Planning for the Community Development Plan will occur in collaboration with Downtown Dallas Inc. and its Downtown Dallas 360 Plan. The Dallas Arts District looks forward to working with NBBJ to continue to engage cultural, commercial, and governmental partners in this effort.

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