Friday, August 12, 2022 Aug 12, 2022
94° F Dallas, TX
Publications

BUSINESS To the Urban Village!

Robert Bagwell sprinkled pixie dust on the West End. What’s next?
By Mark Henricks |

WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT WEST End Marketplace creator Robert Bagwell, a certain word inevitably comes up.

Dennis Martinez, city director of economic development: “He is the person we look to for visionary ideas.”

Developer Trigg Dealey: “Everybody has a vision. The thing about Robert is, he’s coming from the right place.”

Residential agent Meg Read: “He’s one of the leaders of a generation of visionaries. He has an instinctive insight as to what will sell. He’s one of the most brilliant minds in real estate in Dallas.”

The forty-two-year-old developer himself admits, “I’m good at visions,” but adds that he dislikes details, never saw himself as a manager, and tends to lose financial control of his ideas once they become concrete.

It’s a reputation based on one legendary call. In 1978, Bagwell started buying options on decrepit warehouses in a section of Dallas cherished for history even as it was abandoned by the economy. Bagwell gathered the first investors, signed Lombardi’s and other early tenants. He scouted places like Boston’s Faneuil Hall for ideas, ignored droves of doubters, and was the driving force behind the West End.

It’s a long way from Borger, Texas, where he was born, and far removed from studying agricultural economics at Texas Tech. Like everyone else in his family, Bagwell wanted to be a farmer. Instead, he married a Dallas woman, moved to the big city, and learned to keep the dirt flying with something other than a plow.

It’s a reputation based on one legendary call. In 1978, Bagwell started buying options on decrepit warehouses in a section of Dallas cherished for history even as it was abandoned by the economy. Bagwell gathered the first investors, signed Lombardi’s and other early tenants. He scouted places like Boston’s Faneuil Hall for ideas, ignored droves of doubters, and was the driving force behind the West End.

It’s a long way from Borger, Texas, where he was born, and far removed from studying agricultural economics at Texas Tech. Like everyone else in his family, Bagwell wanted to be a farmer. Instead, he married a Dallas woman, moved to the big city, and learned to keep the dirt flying with something other than a plow.

He put together land sates north of LBJ during North Dallas’s high-flying Seventies. He met Trigg Dealey, now managing partner of Trinity Investment Company, and acquired the capital and connections that would allow him to put together the West End deals.

Bagwell left the city in 1988 to help Lucas, returning in February after he decided that the filmmaker was more of a dabbler than a developer. Six months after Bagwell’s divination, Skywalker Development officially dropped the Luminair retail project that was to go on Houston’s Buffalo Bayou.

All of which reinforces Bagwell’s oracle image, but it’s old news.

The question today is. now that he’s back in Dallas, what does the city’s resident real estate seer envision in its future?

“An urban village is very much desired right now,” Bagwell says. “A place where you can live and walk to a corner grocery store, go to a restaurant, or jump on public transportation.”

What else?

“An urban living experience that has a strong pedestrian orientation. A real estate development that is not built around the automobile.”

If all of these plans are starting to sound more retro than futuristic, then you’re on the right wavelength.

Inside Bagwell’s crystal ball is a network of narrow streets and buildings set close together. What’s wrong with Dallas, he maintains, is too many soaring skyscrapers separated by too many expansive plazas and wide boulevards.

“It’s not a pedestrian scale,” he observes. “I’m not saying automobiles are bad. But enough’s enough.”

Specifically. Bagwell has been talking up a concept called the “Latin market.” Something more than a West End Marketplace, with strolling mariachis, it would be a cultural as well as entertainment, dining, and shopping facility.

“We see it as a Band-Aid for the culture,” says developer Trigg Dealey, who’s known Bagwell since the early Seventies and worked with him on many deals. uIf you look at Dallas, you see a lot of transients and diverse ethnic groups. There seems to be a need for a specific cultural identity to bring Dallas together.”

A Latin market could do that, Dealey maintains, if it has a literal museum of Mexican, Indian, and Central and South American civilization along with the inevitable fajita restaurants, woven basket vendors, and clay pot-spinners.

“It’s going to be fun and festive,” continues Dealey. “But it’s also going to be an authentic replica of the rich Latin American culture and heritage. It’s going to educate people. It’s going to dignify the Latin American culture.”

As visions go, that’s a good one, according to the city’s economic development specialist Dennis Martinez.

“I like his concepts,” says Martinez. “He really needs to carry it to the next step, which is obtaining financing and a location.”

Finding money for a real estate project in Dallas is not the snap it was in the Seventies or early Eighties. But Bagwell is not just anybody. His record as a contrarian who can succeed while all around him fail is possibly better known outside Dallas than in.

Meg Read, who met Bagwell when she was with the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, likes to recall the skepticism that originally surrounded the West End Marketplace.

“I remember taking some city officials through back in 1985 before it opened that fall,” says Read. “They looked at Bagwell and Levine and said this was the most speculative project they’d ever seen. Within three months it was open.”

The Latin market location is another matter; Bagwell is considering sites in Oak Lawn, downtown, and North Dallas, but nothing is firm yet. Not even the concept. With no tenants to select, signage to design, or security to arrange, Bagwell is left to refine his vision. Instead of getting smaller, it’s getting bigger.

“The concept is still evolving in my mind,” he says. “The twist I’m feeling it might to take is more Indian, more international than just Mexican or Latin American.”

Indeed, the shape of the vision depends on how recently you’ve talked to him. What Bagwell had in mind the last time we spoke was more like an indigenous peoples’ bazaar, drawing from Morocco and the Mideast as well as New Mexico and Colombia.

The dreams and the man are, clearly, closely tied. And not all Bagwell’s visions have to do with buildings and bulldozers.

For his own sake, he wants to do another high-profile retail development tike the West End. But this time, he wants more than the 15 percent interest that allowed his more powerful financial partners to force him out of the Marketplace. And he wants to stay on and manage the project after it’s built.

“It’s not like a film that’s in the can,” says Bagwell, showing where he’s been the last two years. “A market like the West End MarketPlace is something you edit daily.”