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Commercial Real Estate

Pioneer Award Winner Jack Matthews Shares His Community Investment Strategies

The Matthews Southwest founder and CEO has developed areas of Dallas others have eschewed and created partnerships with nonprofits and minority owners.
| |Project Photography Courtesy of Matthews Southwest

Last year, for the first time since growing Matthews Southwest into a global development firm, Jack Matthews brought together his full leadership team—everyone who owns a piece of the company. Because he’s one who believes in sharing the wealth, it wasn’t a small group. Leaders flew in from outposts in Dubai, Toronto, Vancouver, and Dallas. They met in Squamish, a stunningly beautiful small town in British Columbia. It’s where Matthews is underway with one of his latest projects, a 20-acre oceanfront parkthat opens to a green-focused, mixed-use development that will have residences, a hotel, and retail shops. “I realized we had been working in silos and thought, ‘We have all these talented people, let’s bring them together,’” Matthews says.

At the gathering, people shared details about projects they had been working on in other parts of the world. “Everyone was blown away because it’s generally one step beyond what the normal development would be,” Matthews says. “The Museum of the Future in Dubai is off the charts, but then some of the stuff we’re doing in Vancouver and Toronto—it’s not what people typically get to do. I got quite emotional seeing everything together all at once.”

The firm’s growth—both geographically and into various real estate product types—wasn’t in the developer’s mind when he moved from Canada to seek his fortunes in North Texas 30 years ago. Matthews had become president of his father’s Canadian construction business in 1982 while still earning his MBA. He shifted the company’s focus to development and grew annual revenue from $70 million to $500 million. In 1994, he bought the Southwest division, which he had launched in Dallas in 1988, and split from the larger organization.

Looking around for development opportunities in his new home base, he decided to focus on the area south of downtown. He couldn’t understand why other developers had eschewed the area so close to the city’s core. Soon, projects were springing up where they hadn’t been before: a new headquarters for the Dallas Police Department, South Side on Lamar, Gilley’s Dallas, and Alamo Drafthouse. 

“I was more ignorant than smart,” Matthews jokes. “What led me there was the value of the land. I couldn’t understand the great disparity in land prices between north and south. I knew that a longtime bias needed to be corrected and that the only way that was going to happen was for us to be successful. And so far, we’ve been pretty successful.”

More development has since occurred in the area, but not as quickly as Matthews had hoped. “It’s slower than I would like, but everything that has been done has continued to work and has stayed. And I think reorienting the Convention Center north and south, versus east and west, is really going to help. Of course, it’s up to us to put interesting things there.”

The “us” Matthews references is Inspire Dallas, a team he leads that was selected last September to oversee the massive redevelopment of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. Other members of the Inspire Dallas team include Kaizen Development Partners, Azteca Enterprises, and nearly 30 subcontractors. The redevelopment plan was updated just weeks ago after discussions between Inspire Dallas, the city, TxDOT, Union Pacific Railroad, and High-Speed Rail.

An initial deck park concept was killed and replaced by more urban open space. And the planned location of the convention center itself was shifted deeper into downtown to accommodate construction on Interstate 30 and existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks. The plan focuses on more than just renovating a building—it aims to elevate the city’s infrastructure, provide an economic boost, and create better connections with The Cedars, South Dallas, and Southern Dallas through urban development and various community initiatives. 

It was those possibilities that got Matthews so passionate about pursuing the project—the chance to further link South Dallas with downtown. “It will be incredible for Dallas,” he says. “The flow out of the convention center by visitors will go east, north, and south into other areas of the city. It will correct a lot of sins that happened when Interstate 30 was put in.”

Matthews was the obvious choice to lead the endeavor, given his development prowess, his success in bringing forth the Omni Dallas Convention Center in 2011, and his commitment to the city. Less obvious to most are his innovation, team-building, creativity, and problem-solving skills. That’s because Matthews likes to keep a low profile—and share the credit.

He also likes to share opportunities. In the last decade or so, he has formed about 10 different partnerships that involve nonprofits or minority owners—people who otherwise would be challenged to get financing or equity, he says. Matthews Southwest provides 100 percent of the funding for development projects but creates 50-50 partnerships. The company provides guidance on things like working through permitting red tape. The end goal is for his partners to achieve success by earning profits—and buying him out.

“I love working with people from the community who are going to invest in the community,” Matthews says. “They have to be able to make a profit; otherwise, they can’t be sustained. 

“You want to look after the place that has looked after you,” he adds. “I want people to know that you can do the right things and still be very successful. It requires patience, but you can do all the things you need to do for your family and still be helpful to others.”


Christine Perez

Christine Perez

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Christine is the editor of D CEO magazine and its online platforms. She’s a national award-winning business journalist who has…