Monday, January 30, 2023 Jan 30, 2023
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Publications

The Possible Dream

Downtown living is an idea whose time has come
By Katherine Dinsdale |

CHARLES ANDERSON, city manager: There is a moment in the life of every city when the needs and wants of the citizens unite and make planning possible and great projects achievable. We’re at that moment and time in Dallas. If we handle ourselves responsibly and with the public’s interest in mind, we will not fail. That’s inspirational for me, and I hope it is for others because we’ve got some great projects on the drawing board, in the minds of people and in the private and public sectors.

Soft-spoken Goldie Brockwell lives alone in her little one-bedroom, one-bath haven with a giant, shiny-leafed schefflera and a beautiful, dust-less collection of cups, saucers and knickknacks from around the world. She’s never been happier, she says, and she never thinks of being afraid.

Five floors above Goldie live Hugh and Susan Scanlen. For a while,Hugh had to be at his job at WFAA Radio by 2 a.m. Lucky for him,though, Communications Center is only a three-minute bike ride away.Hugh was never mugged or threatened on those wee-hour rides; his wifeSusan says she feels safer in their present apartment than she ever did living in the heart of North Dallas.

Imagine that. Goldie Brockwell and the Scanlens live smack-dab in the middle of downtown Dallas, catty-cornered to One Main Place, across the street from Mobil’s flying red horse and a stone’s throw from Neiman-Marcus and H.L. Green. Their residence has gained a certain amount of notoriety of late: It’s Dallas’ one and only downtown apartment building. Most people assume that the complex is an old hotel or maybe a nursing home since it has a Commerce Street address. But the Manor House, which was built in 1963, was ahead of its time-the golden years have just begun. Of the 252 apartments on 18 floors, less than 3 percent are vacant. The building is home to about 350 people who choose to live downtown. Most of the time the building manager must keep a waiting list of prospective tenants for the efficiency apartments.

Many Manor House residents, along with a growing number of developers and city planners, possess a certain visionary gleam, a notion that downtown living is the only way. Canadian architect Jack Diamond, who is helping the Oak Lawn Forum put together a master development plan, says that all the cities in which people enjoy living-Boston, London, Philadelphia and Toronto, to name a few – have a healthy downtown residential community. And Diamond says that such a community in downtown Dallas should be our goal in maintaining the health of the city.



Anderson: Housing in the Central Business District is the only way to get people down here and make this a 24-hour activity center where we live, work, shop and recreate. I believe we’re on the way to establishing important recreation facilities and cultural facilities… the problem is the economics of [residential] land development. It’s very difficult because of the [high] price of land in the Central Business District.



THE COMPUTER at Lincoln Property Company (LPC) has constructed a financial model that shows the possibilities for developing an apartment complex downtown. Armed with this model, LPC chairman and chief executive officer Mack Pogue says he knows the ideal location for housing: in and around the Arts District. The problem, Pogue says, is that it’s too expensive to ever be profitable. LPC’s second choice is in the West End Historical District, another area that Pogue says is now out of his company’s price range. The next best location -and the most reasonable of the three -is a spot between the Mansion on Turtle Creek and Woodall Rodgers Freeway, where land is now going for $25 to $35 per square foot. Pogue says that land prices in this area need to be between $15 and $20 per square foot before housing would be profitable.

If LPC builds between Woodall Rodgers and the Mansion, the complex won’t be a quick walk from downtown, but Pogue says it still could be considered downtown housing. After all, he says, “Rome wasn’t built in a day… development at that location would begin the process of building downtown. It would prove that it can be done.”

Other developers might disagree with him, but builder Dave Fox argues that it’s already been proven that downtown housing can be successful. In 1977, Fox & Jacobs announced that it would develop a residential area near downtown. Bryan Place, its carefully planned, Disneylike neighborhood, grew out of one of the city’s poorest areas within the general boundaries of Ross, Gaston and Haskell avenues and North Central Expressway.

With a safety net provided by the city in the form of restructured zoning and a buy-back guarantee, construction began two years later. During the next year, Fox plans to build 200 more units; he has room for 500 to 600.

Half the Bryan Place residents are in their 30s or older and are typically career-minded singles or married couples with grown children. Single and married young professionals without children comprise the other percentage of people living in Bryan Place. Salesmen project that 800 residents will live in the community within the next two and a half years.

Bryan Place is undoubtedly a success, but it is hardly a diverse living environment. Sales manager Dick Gilmore estimates that fewer than 25 school-age children live within the 230-home community. Less than 10 percent of the development is black.

Aiming for diversity of residents near and in downtown may be too lofty a dream at present. “Fort Bryan,” as the Scanlens call it, is a pioneer complex. It remains an oasis in an area known more for its current poverty than for its rich past. But Fox & Jacobs has done everything possible to eliminate the amount of cut-through traffic in Bryan Place and to protect its residents. Gilmore insists that young women who live in the community feel safe jogging alone around the adjacent park after dark.



THIRTY-ONE-year-old Bob Bach’s booklet, Central Business District Housing Prospects, began as a term paper for a graduate course in real estate at SMU. Now, as Dallas’ senior city planner, Bach is full of enthusiasm for downtown development.

Bach’s Utopian Dallas is built using the best ideas from the best cities. Picture this: The vacant land surrounding the Central Business District has been developed, giving downtown one and a half times its present footage. The retail core of downtown has been redeveloped so that the increased number of boutiques and specialty shops can depend upon the strength of the major department stores. Shuttle buses whisk shoppers from store to store or drop them off for espresso and beignets at the sidewalk cafes along Main Street, which is furnished with a light-rail system. Old-fashioned trolley cars rattle through the streets, making stops at Town Lake, Marsalis Zoo, Old City Park and Fair Park. Housing is comfortably wedged into buildings of all shapes and styles -town houses, midrises, high-rises – in a variety of price ranges.

Bach believes that this kind of magic can be worked downtown. It is a possible dream. The Majestic Theatre, Market Street Mall, the Dallas Public Library and City Hall Plaza, as well as Aston Park and the Arts District, show that downtown Dallas is already moving in a positive direction.



Anderson: It is my view that the real pulse and lifeblood of the city emanates from the Central Business District…. What has stifled the CBD is that it’s just a place to work and to go to and from. It’s got to be more than that….”



Dr. Robert Sardello, the quiet director Of studies at the Dallas institute of Humanities and Culture, verbalized his hopes for downtown in a similar fashion: “There is a need for the city to be an inhabited place instead of just a marketplace; it’s hard to care for a marketplace. But I fear sanitized, deodorized high-rises,” Sardello says. “La Tour Condominiums isn’t what downtown housing means to me. Now there exists a feeling that the city doesn’t belong to anyone; there are only permanent, monumental structures [downtown] – proof that a city can be very busy and very productive but still not alive. A variety of housing would bring mortality into downtown.”

Mortality is a nice concept for the downtown area, no doubt, but when so much money is involved, most people become coldly objective. Developer Harlan Crow says that while he’d like to be building downtown, “You can’t force the market to change; you can’t make it successful just as you can’t sell pink bow ties for people to wear to work. And I hate to say it, but if we ever do build housing downtown, it’s going to be for the affluent. I don’t like that, but it’s reality.

“I believe things will come around,” Crow says, “but we can go on without [downtown housing]. We are a vibrant, healthy city, and we’ll stay that way. We aren’t going to die without downtown housing.”

Anderson: The problem is that the economics of land development for housing are very difficult because of the price of land. So, through some public/private cooperative ventures, we must figure out a way to make housing affordable in the Central Business District.

City planners working with Anderson have come up with a long list of options that, if implemented, would encourage development and habitation downtown. Options include financial incentives and subsidies that would hold down developers’ land and mortgage costs and would allow developers to rent apartments at competitive prices.

But a recent Dallas Times Herald editorial said that some of Anderson’s suggested incentives constituted “government interference in the marketplace, a drag on efforts to reduce burgeoning federal deficits and an easy vehicle for political abuse.”

Anderson: By helping the private sector, of siuuies ai tne Danas institute 01 Humanities and Culture, verbalized his hopes for downtown in a similar fashion: “There is a need for the city to be an in-habited place instead of just a market-place; it’s hard to care for a marketplace. But I fear sanitized, deodorized high-rises,” Sardello says. “La Tour Condomin-iums isn’t what downtown housing means to me. Now there exists a feeling that the city doesn’t belong to anyone; there are only permanent, monumental structures [downtown] – proof that a city can be very busy and very productive but still not alive. A variety of housing would bring mortality into downtown.”Mortality is a nice concept for the downtown area, no doubt, but when so much money is involved, most people be-come coldly objective. Developer Harlan Crow says that while he’d like to be build-ing downtown, “You can’t force the market to change; you can’t make it suc-cessful just as you can’t sell pink bow ties for people to wear to work. And I hate to say it, but if we ever do build housing downtown, it’s going to be for the afflu-ent. I don’t like that, but it’s reality.”I believe things will come around,” Crow says, “but we can go on without [downtown housing]. We are a vibrant, healthy city, and we’ll stay that way. We aren’t going to die without downtown housing.”Anderson: The problem is that the eco-nomics of land development for housingspirit, folks are keeping the government from providing the impetus that [private enterprise] needs. Common sense dictates that people should live downtown. It is not healthy for the retail and commercial soul of a city to have moved from downtown.”

Meanwhile, life goes on at Manor House. Goldie Brock well does some part-time typing at a desk in her apartment. Hugh and Susan Scanlen regret that their neighborhood -downtown -is boarded up every night at dusk. They’re tired of watching conventioneers roam the streets. past dark and peer in the windows of darkened shops and restaurants during the weekends. Instead, they’d like to see a developer show his love for Dallas by taking a risk on a new residential or retail complex; they’d like to see the city lend a hand.

But until then, says Hugh, it’s pretty depressing to walk the deserted streets ofdowntown.