Perhaps there is a silver lining in every cloud. The Dallas real estate bust was probably the best thing that ever happened to Deep Ellum, says Bart Wade, vice president of marketing and sales for Elm Development Company, which owns several large buildings in Deep Ellum.

“If the boom were still going strong, people would be buying up property and building multistory office towers there,” says Wade. That, he says, would have destroyed the character of what has become the “Soho” side of Dallas, the heart of Dallas’s counterculture. Neal Farris, a photographer who lives and works in Deep Ellum, agrees. He says that after the real estate bust of 1985-86, a fairly stable base of landlords and property owners were left in Deep Ellum.

But they were in a bind. They had bought high in the boom and now were stuck with properties that often were in a “bombed-out” condition that the owners couldn’t easily lease.

Enter the artists, who have a knack for making “unusable” space more attractive. Landlords rented cheaply to the artists, who would upgrade the space. When the artists moved on, they left a more valuable property behind that could be rented at a higher price for living space or retail. Given the vast space available in Deep Ellum (ten times the warehouse space of the West End, says Wade) the artist-renovation cycle will continue for a long time.

Meanwhile, people and businesses are trickling into the area. The SMU art department is considering moving its “dirty” art labs, such as print-making, sculpture, and ceramics, to Deep Ellum. “We really like the serious factory-like space out there,” says Mary Vernon. head of the art department, That move would likely attract even more artists to live and work in Deep Ellum. Wade says his company is planning on renovating its large buildings into second- and third-story apartments, with enclosed parking and small retail shops on the first floor. “The problem with the West End,” says Wade, “is that it doesn’t have that stable base of people who live and work there. That’s not going to happen in Deep Ellum.”


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