Once upon a time, back in the late 1800s, Oak Cliff was a city unto itself, a tony suburb of Dallas. But then came annexation in 1903 and a series of changes that led to a distinctly different identity. For a few decades now, the neighborhood has existed on the ostensible wrong side of the Trinity River. Even with the success of the Bishop Arts District, the demographics and geographic layout of the neighborhood didn’t mesh with the typical profile that Dallas developers look for. But in the last few years, all that has changed.
First came the Davis Street rezoning, which allows for dense, mixed-use development all along Davis and Zang Boulevard. Then came plans for the Oak Cliff Streetcar, which already has funding in place to extend from its first leg—Union Station to Methodist Dallas Medical Center—down to the intersection of Zang and Davis. The result has been a land grab, as developers from outside Oak Cliff rush to snatch up developable parcels.
“I think Oak Cliff could look significantly different in two to three years,” says Michael Feldt, a vice president with Peloton Commercial Real Estate, one of the interests that has been active in Oak Cliff. “Prices in the last 90 days have jumped 25 to 30 percent based on activity that we’ve generated.”
Most of the deals haven’t closed, so it isn’t clear what, exactly, the future holds. But some of the bidders’ names—Billingsley Company, for example—are not who you would associate with your typical Oak Cliff real estate deal.
The majority of the big pieces of available land are on Davis, concentrated near Zang. Officials with Dallas County Schools say they should soon close a deal for their large parcel on the northeast corner of Zang. Brokers in Oak Cliff say there are also contracts out for the Sonic at Davis and Zang, the land under Zoli’s NY Pizza, and the vacant lot at Elsbeth Street and Davis that was formerly the home of an apartment complex where Lee Harvey Oswald lived. With available land scarce, development is moving westward. Long-time Oak Cliff real estate player Rick Garza plans to build a five-story mixed-use development with two levels of underground parking at a site close to Tyler Street.
The most transformative single development, however, will be the Nazerian family’s $50 million development just south of Bishop Arts, which could break ground as soon as July. Over the past seven years, the family has acquired 32 parcels, about 12 acres, and their plans call for something like their Paseo Nuevo project in Santa Barbara, which incorporates public squares, alleyways, and outdoor dining into a mixed retail and residential development.
The Nazerians aren’t your typical developer. Michael Nazerian, the young, London-born scion of the family, traveled the world looking for design inspiration in places like Paris and Prague. He says his family sees the development as a legacy project they will own for 100 years, and they chose to dig into the difficult process of assembling land because they believe Oak Cliff, more than any other place in Dallas, could evolve into an authentic urban neighborhood, not the movie-set version of urbanism that characterizes places like the West Village.
But the recent arrival of the merchant builders concerns Nazerian. He hopes that they respect the authentic character of the neighborhood. Not doing so, he says, would be both “morally wrong and, from a business perspective, idiotic.”