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Commercial Real Estate

How CBRE’s Jack Gosnell Helped Build Uptown

Few people have had as profound of an impact on the growth and success of urban Dallas as D CEO's 2024 Legacy Award winner.
| |Photo by Bret Redman
Gosnell has been the exclusive retail leasing agent for The Crescent for many years and through its recent $12 million renovation.

In 1978, Jack Gosnell was about a half-dozen years into his retail real estate career when he reached a turning point. His boss and mentor, industry icon Henry S. Miller Jr., had a heart attack and decided to retire. He told his young associate that he’d happily find him another opportunity within Henry S. Miller Co. But instead, Gosnell opted to go out on his own.

“Henry’s philosophy was that you either work real estate horizontally or you work it vertically,” Gosnell says. “What he meant by that was you either become an expert in a particular product type or focus on a geographic location. We talked about that a lot. He said if he were me, he would go down to the Oak Lawn and the McKinney Avenue area and just take hold of it—do land listings, building sales, and leases of different varieties—just start investing in the area and get savvy with it.”

And that’s exactly what he did. Before Uptown had even become a thing, Gosnell was there. He ended up assembling land for projects that led to the creation of what’s currently known as the State Thomas area. He also was a force in the development of Uptown as a district and helped brand and market the area. He has been the exclusive leasing agent for The Crescent for many years.

“What winds up happening is you sell the land, the building gets built, and you lease the building,” he says. “Eventually, just by your presence there, you become ‘the guy.’”

To recognize Gosnell’s consequential impact on urban markets in Dallas and his public service to the industry, the editors of D CEO have selected him as the recipient of the 2024 Power Brokers Legacy Award.

Real estate wasn’t his first calling. He grew up in Virginia and attended Vanderbilt University, where he studied geology, biology, and physics, then served in the U.S. Army, achieving the rank of Captain. A geologist, he interviewed with various oil companies. But when he learned more about the type of work he’d be doing—and the rural areas where he’d be doing it—he switched course. “I wanted the city, and I wanted people,” Gosnell explains.

He visited a college roommate in Dallas who was working at Henry S. Miller and Gosnell was able to snag an interview with Henry S. Miller Jr. He also talked with Miller’s contemporaries, Ross Perot and Trammell Crow. “I met with them; I didn’t meet with HR,” Gosnell says. “In Dallas, everybody I called saw me. Other cities were socially stratified. Dallas was a perfect fit—a wide-open city.”

Gosnell was hired by Henry S. Miller Jr. and became his right-hand man. During his tenure, Miller bought Highland Park Village. Gosnell leased the property and helped upgrade its tenancy. After launching his own firm in 1978, he concentrated on what’s now Uptown, leasing properties like the Quadrangle, piecing together development tracts, and doing leases. 

But, an Urban Land Institute report inspired him to expand his focus. “It said a city will never become a gateway city, which I hoped Dallas would aspire to be, without a vibrant downtown,” Gosnell recalls. “Our downtown was in shambles. The city had made a bunch of critical errors—the one-way streets, the tunnel system. So, I began working in downtown, trying to figure out how to help.”

He worked closely with what’s now Downtown Dallas Inc. and with Stanley Marcus and other executives at Neiman Marcus. A pivotal moment came when the Mercantile Building began falling apart. Gosnell got it under contract three separate times, but the deals never came to fruition. “Dallas developers couldn’t make it make sense,” he says. “It was a whole city block and involved ground leases; it was incredibly complicated.”

Gosnell had been learning about urban redevelopment deals Forest City had done, and called an executive there named David Levy to make a pitch for the Mercantile Building. Levy told him, “I have no goddamn interest in Dallas,” and hung up the phone. But Gosnell didn’t give up. He made regular calls and sent newspaper clippings, convinced that Forest City was the savior of the Mercantile Building. Eventually, he succeeded and brokered the sale. Forest City’s redevelopment of the property into multifamily and mixed-use space is often credited with sparking a renaissance in downtown Dallas.

After a string of successes, Gosnell began to realize that he could have even more of an impact if he had more resources and support. So, in 2004, he joined Mickey Ashmore’s UCR to create an urban team for the firm. Eleven years later, the company was acquired by global leader CBRE. Since then, he and his CBRE Urban team have leased more ground-floor space in downtown Dallas than all other local real estate firms combined.

His achievements have not gone unnoticed. Among other recognitions, Gosnell was honored in 2017 with the NTCAR Stemmons Service Award, considered the highest industry honor in North Texas. In true form, he credits others for the success he has had.

“I was lucky to get to work with Henry S. Miller Jr., who taught me about integrity and always taking the high road,” he says. “And with Mickey Ashmore, who taught me about being enthusiastic about what you do. Jean Smith, a partner at UCR, is an amazing guy with tremendous dignity, and Newt Walker for teaching me about the visceral business of negotiation. Most of all, my wife, Leslie, who has never wavered in her belief that we are blessed in every way. She is a miracle.”

As he thinks about the future, Gosnell says what has him most excited is the ongoing reinvention of downtown Dallas. When he began focusing on the market, only about 300 people were living downtown, he says. Today, that number is closer to 16,000. 

“It’s coming,” he says. “Urban redevelopment of a city truly begins to happen when you get to 30,000 residents. Then you start getting retailers and grocery stores. … It’s hard to reenergize a downtown. But now, [investors] have acknowledged that it’s a necessity. I think downtown is going to fix itself. Eventually.”   


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…

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