First, there were the master plans -the first- and-last-word blueprints for development in the city. It was planning done Dallas-style- big, bold and created behind closed doors in City Hall. Take it or leave it.
Today, it’s different. If anything is a sign of the changing times in Dallas’ government, it’s the departure from that rather authoritative method. The private sector is now invited into the hallowed planning chambers. Together, city staff members and private citizens are imagining the future of Dallas. Well, at least part of it.
That part is Deep Ellum, an area just east of downtown that, relatively speaking, hasn’t changed much since black R&B honky-tonks and sidewalk bazaars faded from the area in the Thirties. Within the past year or so, local developers have been quietly buying up property in the area now filled with brick warehouses. Property values in Deep Ellum range from about $5 to $35 a square foot.
At first, there were claims that there would be no “plan” for Deep Ellum, sometimes called the Near Eastside. Property owners were going to do with it what they wanted; and what they didn’t want was help -in the old, authoritative sense of the word – from the city.
Now, however, some tunes are changing. A Deep Ellum advisory committee has formed, with representative city staff members, property owners and several outside consultants. So far, the board has met three times and the members have set a rough agenda that extends to April of 1984. At that time, the committee tentatively plans to begin construction of Ceremonial Boulevard, a thoroughfare that has long been referred to as “the Fair Park link” because it will connect the park to the Central Business District (CBD). The boulevard will run through the heart of Deep Ellum. The tentative plan for the area is fairly complete, with thoroughfare amendments, bond elections and dates for construction bids sketched in.
The city staff members who have participated in the planning workshops include City Plan Commission Chairman John Evans, Park Board President Betty Marcus, City Manager Charles Anderson,Deputy City Manager Camille Barnett and Interim Director of Planning and Development Kathy Cunningham. Two property owners on the board are Lyn Dunsavage and John Tatum. Other private sector advisors are Gail Thomas and Dr. Robert Sardello, both of the Dallas Institute. Outside professional consultants include Rod Kelly of Barton-Ashman Inc.; Jim Pratt of Pratt, Box & Henderson; and Jack Diamond and Kevin Garland of A.J. Diamond and Partners.
Diamond is the planner who was hired by the city to help draft a plan for Oak Lawn. I he Oak Lawn project is the only other public/ private effort in Dallas similar to the plan for Deep Ellum. The main difference between the two is that the planning of Oak Lawn was the result of a cry for help from those who believed that Oak Lawn was losing its character because of a development boom in the area. Deep Ellum, in contrast, remains relatively untouched.
If you consider city planners and property owners in a small, run-down warehouse district to be strange bedfellows, think again. Both groups have much to gain from the venture: The city desperately wants to initiate downtown housing (Deep El-lum can provide housing within blocks of the CBD); the property owners want favorable zoning and street improvements.
To achieve both ends, each group must compromise. If either side pushes away from the planning table, they’ll be right back where they started.