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the in-urb trend

DOWNTOWN APARTMENTS, LOFTS, AND CONDOMINIUMS REACH FULL OCCUPANCY BEFORE THEY’RE EVEN FULLY CONSTRUCTED.
By stephen g. michaud |

SIX YEARS ago, Dallas civic leaders were presented a set of survey data that strained their credulity. Although downtown Dallas, like many of the Sun Belt cities at the time, was essentially uninhabited-a so-called “single-purpose” community where people worked and sometimes played but did not live-M/PF Research reported to the city it had found as many as 25,000 Dallas County residents who were eager to move to the inner city if they could.

“Our response was shock,” recalls Larry Fonts, who as president of the Central Dallas Association was interested, to say the least. “We thought, ’My God! Cut it in half and you still have a bonanza.’”

The received wisdom in 1992 was that Westerners would never be fenced in willingly, that in Cole Porter’s phrase, a house on “land, lots of land” would always be a Texan’s first choice. But senior research consultant Susan McQueen at M/PF uncovered a wholly different reality.

Funded by the CDA, the city of Dallas, and a group of bankers, McQueen identified several apartment communities across the county where average rents equaled or exceeded the county average-then $470 a month. Economics dictated that most of those who would move downtown would have to pay a premium for the privilege. “We devised from these groups a representative sample of median and higher renters and sent them a questionnaire in the mail, essentially asking, ’What do you think of living downtown?’” McQueen remembers.

“And we got a tremendous potential acceptance level. People’s minds were open to the idea of living downtown, if appropriate product was available. We were surprised at how strong their response was.”

At the time of the survey, the Manor House on Commerce Street was about the only downtown residential address in Dallas. The Uptown Meridian and Worthington apartment high-rises accounted for most of the rest of the available near-in housing.

McQueen’s survey subjects, overwhelmingly single people and childless couples of all ages and various incomes-“It was really a very diverse group of people,” she says-further confounded expectations by saying they were untroubled by the long work commutes that downtown addresses would entail. After all, they said, they would be driving reverse commutes, against the traffic. No sweat.

“Their only negative perception of downtown was of crime and street people and that sort of thing,” McQueen explains. The respondents’ willingness to try living downtown was predicated on the assumption “that somehow those problems would be taken care of,” she says.

Dallas has been quick to capitalize on McQueen’s discovery. Aided by an array of incentives, including loan money from the city, developers are building or converting approximately 10,000 living spaces in and around downtown, and renters are paying more than a dollar per square foot a month-up to $3,000 in all for some penthouses-for the chance to colonize the canyons or inhabit funky artifacts out of the past, from the old Adam Hats factory at 2700 Canton St. to the American Beauty Flour Mill at 2400 S. Ervay St.

Who are these people?

According to a subsequent MP/F Research survey, they are mostly young, well-paid professionals, “ready to get down into a cool, trendy place,” as Alice Murray, a consultant to the Hall Financial Group, puts it.

Robert Matthews, director of research at MP/F, says (hat of the approximately 4.000 new urban dwellers polled by his firm, the overwhelming majority live alone or are couples without children. Roommates occupy about one in 10 of the lofts, and ^percent or so of the apartments.

Loft renters average 30 years of age and $80,000 in annual income, according to the survey, while an apartment renter is apt to be older, 35 on average, and a bit better off at $90,000 a year in income. Among loft dwellers, those who live alone are divided evenly between females and males. Single apartment renters are more likely to be females.

Just as interesting as who these transplants are is where they come from. About half moved downtown from an address somewhere else in Dallas County. Another 25 percent or so previously lived nearby in communities such as Piano or Fort Worth. However, most of the rest of Dallas’s new downtowners-nearly one in four-came to town from out of state.

Before the building boom, these same immigrants probably could be found in apartment complexes sprinkled all over, says Murray. “A huge percentage of those who’ve moved to Uptown actually came from north of LBJ,” she points out. “You get a lot of people out of Irving-the Las Colinas people-and Piano who are leaving large tracts of apartments and moving downtown for not much more money. They can be near Deep Ellum and the arena and the train and stuff. I’m 45 and single and live on Forest Lane and I can’t wait to live in the Kirby Building. I think it’s going to be a blast.”

But possibly a short-lived one.

Robert Shaw, the former Dallas Cowboy and current developer whose projects include Uptown’s Columbus Square, says that the birth of community in downtown Dallas is a frail process that may easily fail. “Success is not guaranteed,” says Shaw. “We’re nowhere near where we need to be.”

Shaw worries that the inevitable run-up in downtown land prices, together with zoning practices that discourage residential building, will snuff out urbanization before the downtown population reaches critical mass, which Shaw guesses would be somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 permanent residents.

He also believes what he calls the “I own it, therefore I am” Texas attitude toward property will need to be subdued in order for a viable downtown to work.

“You cannot put up a big, blank wall in the middle of a community or plan your construction around maximum economic advantage for the date your development opens,” he argues.

Although Shaw says he’s more comfortable identifying potential problems than in voicing their solutions, he does support some sort of planning guidelines for the rejuvenation of downtown, as well as agreements or similar mechanisms for guaranteeing that today’s sparkling new development of garden apartments does not decay into tomorrow’s uninhabitable derelict.

In the meantime, the available new apartments and lofts being built in downtown Dallas have hardly even begun to till with residents when a whole new phase may be about to start-the advent of ownership.

Alice Murray remembers walking around the new Coors Field ballpark in Denver and marveling at the number of historic buildings surrounding it that were being converted directly into condominium complexes.

“We haven’t even started on the condo market yet,” she points out. “We had to have so many incentives and abatements and subsidles to make any of these deals work thai no one had the option of making them condos. You don’t get incentives for condos. But as soon us the market stabilizes and becomes less risky, the condos will move in and open up a whole new market.”

But for now. renters have the option of apartments or lofts, and the options are vast and growing. Here’s a list of several converted buildings and constructed complexes for those people who are interested in living downtown:

CITI OF DEEP ELL1JM 101 S. Walton St.

Number of units: 23 units currently; another 20 units under construction Occupancy: 100%



CHINA ALLEY LOFTS 2425 S. Central Expwy.

Number of units: 20 units currently; another 24 units underway Occupancy: 100%



MANOR HOUSE 1222 Commerce St.

Number of units: 249 Occupancy: 100%



THE FARM & RANCH LOFTS 330O Main St.

Number of units: 35 Occupancy: 95%



JEFFERSON AT GASTON YARDS 2752 Gaston Ave.

Number of units: 480 Occupancy: 90%



TITCHES BUILDING 1900 Elm St.

Number of units: 159 Occupancy: 98%



THE MURRAY LOFTS 3401 Commerce St.

Number of units: 29 lofts Occupancy: 95%



CEDAR PARK 2001-2013 S. Ervay St.

Number of units: 12 units Occupancy: 100%



MAGNOLIA STATION 1607 Lyte St.

Number of units: 69 Occupancy: 97%



AMERICAN BEAUTY MILL 2400 S. Ervay St.

Number of units: 80 Occupancy: N/A



ADAM HATS 2700 Canton St.

Number of units: 90 Occupancy: 100%



2220 CANTON LOFTS 2220 Canton St.

Number of units: 90 Occupancy: 99%



PIGGLY WIGGLY BUILDING 1108 S. Akard St.

Number of units: 20 Occupancy: 100%



CITY PARK 1707-1721 S. Ervay St.

Number of units: 16 Occupancy: 100%

COMING SOON:

SOUTH SIDE ON LAMAR LOFTS 1409 S. Lamar St.

Number of units: 460 lofts



SANTA FE II 122 Jackson St.

Number of Units: 205



THE PARK AT FARMERS MARKET

Canton Street at Good-Latimer Number of units: 1.8



MAPLE VILLAS 3200 Maple Ave.

Number of units: 252



THE WILSON BUILDING 1621 Main St.

Number of Units: 140



JEFFERSON AT BRYAN PLACE 910 Texas St.

Number of units: 420



KIRBY BUILDING 1509 Main St.

Number of units: 157



JEFFERSON AT NORTH END 2323 Field St.

Number of Units: 540



7-UP LOFTS 2700 Live Oak St.

Number of Units: 13



1925 CEDAR SPRINGS 1925 Cedar Springs Rd.

Number of Units: 12