WHY YOU NEED TO KNOW HIM: Because he’s one of the longest-standing and largest property owners in Deep Ellum, aiming to build about 2,000 multifamily units in the area over the next decade. Just now Joe Beard is finishing up the neighborhood’s Case building, which has 337 apartment units, while also spearheading The Epic, a $250 million high-rise complex stretching across eight acres off Good Latimer Expressway.
Beard, a Waco native, was originally attracted to Deep Ellum because of its cheap office space and the neighborhood’s uniqueness, including its reputation as a vibrant entertainment district. “It’s very original and authentic,” he says. “And because of its location, we felt it was a very good place to invest our money” over time.
Beard’s path to Deep Ellum real estate began after he graduated from Southern Methodist University—he has a history degree—and began working for an apartment developer in 1983. While he’d intended eventually to go back to graduate school, Beard recalls, he got married and decided to stay in the property field instead.
In 1991 he co-founded Dallas-based Westdale Real Estate Investment and Management as a startup and subsidiary of Canada-based Westdale. The Dallas company is owned and controlled with a large Canadian family office that serves as Beard’s co-investment partner. Together the partners began buying up existing properties, primarily apartments. Today the company has 1,200 employees and six regional offices (in Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Atlanta, and Charlotte, N.C.). It also boasts a portfolio of about 45,000 multifamily units, as well as approximately 3 million square feet of commercial properties, stretching from California to the Carolinas and throughout the Midwest.
Beard, the company’s president and CEO, says he’s been an “opportunistic buyer” and long-term holder of real estate since the get-go, heavily investing in the Deep Ellum area for more than 20 years. But it wasn’t until recently that he began dabbling in development there as well.
A good case in point is The Epic, a venture with KDC, Streetlights Residential, and Vine Street Ventures. The mixed-use development on Westdale-owned land will include a 10-story, 250,000-square-foot office building; a 172-room hotel; 40,000 square feet of ground-floor retail; and a 310-unit apartment tower. The latter will rise 20 stories, making it one of the tallest buildings in Deep Ellum.
The Epic will be relatively modern and “kind of staggered,” with a lot of accents of bare concrete, steel, and glass, Beard says, adding, “It’s kind of an art piece in and of itself.” And, rents will be slightly lower than those found in Uptown, averaging about $35 per square foot, Beard says. While The Epic is still in its first phase, he hopes to have the project completed by 2020.
Over the years, Deep Ellum has enjoyed a resurgence and become one of the most popular areas in Dallas. Beard says it’s exciting to work there, but admits the area’s uniqueness also presents some unique obstacles. He says it’s challenging, for example, to transition from the old to the new.
The historic Knights of Pythias Temple building, for instance, sits on The Epic property. So Beard says he consulted with local developers, architects, and designers who all have a deep respect and appreciation for the area. They found a way to incorporate the property into the project, making it part of the hotel. Beard says they’re building something new that “fits with the neighborhood, compliments the neighborhood, and hopefully adds to the experience of the neighborhood. Everybody wants to make sure they get it right.”
Getting it right, however, has meant quite a wait. But Beard is nothing if not patient. He says he waited years to buy a warehouse building that sits right in the middle of The Epic project, for example: “We’d been trying to buy it for the past couple of decades.” At one point he even considered building around the warehouse, but thought that would mar the development. So he held back until he could buy it a year ago.
Beard says he’s excited to continue developing in Deep Ellum and to watch its growth. Over time he believes the area will become more residential and will no longer be known strictly for its vibrant entertainment scene.