John F. Crawford: The man that brought Downtown Dallas back

Last night at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas, our Vice Chairman John Crawford was awarded the Dallas Business Journal’s Lifetime Achievement Award!  We couldn’t be happier to have John as part of Downtown Dallas, Inc.  We thank him for all the work he’s done throughout the years to make Downtown Dallas such a wonderful place.  Congrats, John!


John F. Crawford: The man that brought Downtown Dallas back

By: Candice Carlisle

The Dallas Business Journal


When Boeing decided to move its corporate headquarters to Chicago instead of Dallas in September 2001, John Crawford remembers the aerospace giant’s executives explaining the rationale behind the Dallas snub: “Downtown is dead and there ain’t no culture.”

Crawford, 74, remembers the exact verbiage of the communication, in part, because it set him on a new path. At that moment Crawford realized someone needed to step up.

“Downtown was at a time when something needed to be done and somebody needed to take the lead,” said John Crawford.

“If somebody or something didn’t happen, we were in deep trouble in terms of Dallas realizing its potential that could have and should have in the future,” said the longtime executive. “There was a lot of people in Dallas that had the perception that downtown wasn’t safe or clean. Some of it was true and some of it wasn’t, but we had to change that perception.”

The Memphis, Tennessee-native became intimately involved with an organization called the Central Dallas Association, which he changed the name of to Downtown Dallas, Inc.

That emphasis on downtown Dallas and rebranding the organization was part of Crawford’s plan. But becoming so intimately involved in its future was not part of the plan. That just happened.

Crawford, who was a volunteer chairman of the board of Downtown Dallas, Inc., began looking for the right executive to lead the revamped advocacy group through a nationwide search. Unable to find the right executive to pull off a win, someone asked Crawford, “Why don’t you just do it?” He’d been asked numerous times, but this request got him thinking.

“Downtown was at a time when something needed to be done and somebody needed to take the lead,” he said. “I saw myself coming to a point when it was time to lead. I had the relationships, I knew the territory, I could afford to do it and I was coming to a point in my life where I needed to do it.”

That was nearly 11 years ago. In that time, Crawford has had quite the impact on the city’s urban core, taking his commercial real estate background and bringing those relationships into the central business district to help develop the hub of the region.

Without Crawford’s stewardship, Dallas’ downtown wouldn’t be nearly as successful as it is today, said Mayor Mike Rawlings.

“He understood he had to be an advocate for developers for capital to be put back into the city, and he also had to make sure it was a place that was livable,” Rawlings said. “He was constantly going back and forth between neighborhoods and those developers to make sure he got the right equation.

“He had the ear of the people at City Hall and people took him seriously because he was always doing the right thing,” he added. “I’m so grateful for what he has helped the city accomplish.”

Crawford helped bring a nearly non-existent residential population to 11,000 residents in the inner core and more than 50,000 residents in the greater downtown Dallas district.

He also assisted in bringing a number of developments to fruition with the help of public-private partnerships. In the past year, more than 90 developments have either started or been announced in the central business district.

He also contributed in shaping the Downtown Dallas 360 plan, which gives residents, community stakeholders and developers a vision for the surrounding neighborhoods in the city’s urban core.

Crawford’s success at the non-profit advocacy group is rooted in the relationships he has made in North Texas, which began when he worked at the Henry S. Miller Cos. in Dallas and helped develop two office towers — Cityplace Tower and Bank of America Plaza.

“The greatest thing I have learned over my 40 years is the importance of relationships,” Crawford said. “No man or woman is an island, and success is a team sport.”

For Crawford, he’s been able to develop those relationships through his active civic and charitable career outside of work. He has served various roles in numerous organizations, such as the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association, the Greater Dallas Chamber and the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Much of what I have done has been with sweat equity,” Crawford said. “It’s about getting involved.”

Rawlings said he hopes other community and business leaders will follow in Crawford’s footsteps and get involved in the “gnarly, dirty world of creating a city.”

After leading Downtown Dallas, Inc. either as president or CEO for more than a decade, Crawford stepped aside for the group’s new leader, Kourtny Garrett. He will remain at Downtown Dallas, Inc. as vice chairman and serve as a spiritual thinker.

Garrett, who shares Crawford’s passion for the CBD, said he has been an instrumental leader for Downtown Dallas, Inc.’s history and helped reinvent the organization over the last decade.

“His saying of, ‘As goes downtown goes Dallas,’ is representative of when reinvestment really began in downtown Dallas,” she said. “Downtown would not have its place in the political scene as well as the economic and investment scene if it were not for John.”

Best Real Estate Deals’ Lifetime Achievement winner has record of service

Click here to read the article in Dallas Business Journal.

JCrawford color (High Res) cropped

This year, the Dallas Business Journal is pleased to honor John F. Crawford of Downtown Dallas, Inc. with a Lifetime Achievement Award, especially endowed with the title of “Public Service Award.” Crawford’s undeniable, palpable impact on the city of Dallas and the efforts he’s made to unite the area through his work led this year’s judges to create the “Public Service Award” distinction.

Crawford’s knowhow and positive attitude – he often espouses the saying, “The best is yet to come” – has led to a revitalization of Downtown Dallas with renewed efforts surrounding public safety, intentional branding and economic development.

In the past decade, Crawford has worked alongside the Mayor of Dallas and the Dallas Regional Chamber to coordinate corporate relocation and retention efforts, in addition to assisting in the facilitation of public-private partnerships and promoting residential, retail, and entertainment development.

Under his tenure at Downtown Dallas, Main Street Garden, Klyde Warren Park, and Belo Garden have opened, among other notable projects.

We look forward to honoring Crawford at this year’s awards event on April 20 at The Ritz-Carlton, Dallas.

2017 Matching Grant Program – Request for Proposals

Important Documents:

Matching Grant RFP

Matching Grant Application

Matching Grant Budget Summary Worksheet


Downtown Dallas, Inc. (DDI) is a private, non-profit organization funded through voluntary membership dues, assessment revenue from the Downtown Improvement District (DID), and contracts with the City of Dallas for specific projects and programs.

The Dallas Downtown Improvement District (DID) was created by DDI in June of 1992 to fund important supplemental services and visible improvements to our city center.  In 2001, 2005, and 2013, the DID was voted by property owners to be renewed, and has since embarked upon additional initiatives to make Downtown Dallas clean, safe, and fun for the entire community.  The DID has been renewed through 2020.

As part of the approved capital improvements program in the 2017 DID budget, DDI is soliciting proposals for projects to improve public spaces throughout Downtown.  If selected, proposed projects will receive a matching grant reimbursement from DDI in an amount up to $25,000.

The 2016 Capital Grant Matching Program was a success, supporting several beautification and enhancement projects within the public realm of Downtown.  Examples include sidewalk repairs and building entrance improvements at 1555 Elm Street and tree grate repairs near Bank of America Plaza.

IMG_4842.JPG  IMG_4836 (2).jpg

General Information

DDI is seeking proposals for projects that will enhance the appearance, safety, and functional quality of public spaces throughout Downtown.  Projects should address the “transformative strategies” found in Chapter 6 (“Implementation”) of the 2011 Downtown Dallas 360 plan, a City Council-adopted policy document that guides future development and investment in Downtown; access the plan at  Projects must demonstrate public benefit and must result in tangible, permanent improvements.  The following project types will qualify for the 2017 Matching Grant Program:

  • Security Project: the project will improve public security, help deter crime, and enhance the perception of public safety
  • Pedestrian Enhancement Project: the project will increase pedestrian safety and comfort in the public right-of-way
  • Appearance Project: the project will improve the outward appearance of a building or public space

All proposed projects must occur within the DID boundaries.

All proposed projects must be planned, constructed, and completed by the applicant.  DDI is not responsible for the completion of any proposed projects awarded matching grant funds.

If all or part of the proposed project is to be constructed on private property, the applicant must have the signed approval of the owner or owner’s agent or specific evidence that such approval has been granted prior to the award of grant funds.  Projects on public property may be submitted without formal approval of the relevant public agency, but the potential of obtaining such approval will be considered by DDI.

All applicants will be required to indemnify DDI and the City of Dallas against all claims.  In addition, liability insurance for the applicant, landlord, and contractors (as appropriate) will be required for proposed construction projects.  A Certificate of Liability Insurance must be submitted to DDI listing DDI and the City of Dallas as additional insured entities prior to the disbursement of grant funds.

DDI is committed to meeting the City of Dallas Good Faith Effort Plan, in which qualified minority- and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBEs) are involved, to the greatest extent possible, in construction or professional services contracts.  Project proposals should strive to include up to 25 percent participation from certified M/WBEs in the City of Dallas.  Upon request, DDI will supply a list of certified M/WBE contractors to those applicants wanting to meet the Good Faith Effort Plan.

DDI will accept multiple proposals per year from each qualified applicant.  However, the grand total of grant funding an applicant can receive each year will be no more than $25,000.

Design Requirements

Proposed projects must be consistent with the design guidelines found in Chapter 4 (“Transformative Strategies”) of the Downtown Dallas 360 plan.  Before commencing construction, projects may be required to undergo a design review with the City of Dallas and DDI.

Compliance with Laws and Regulations

 Proposed projects should comply with all federal, state, and local laws, ordinances, rules, and regulations.  The applicant shall obtain all required local, state, and federal permits prior to commencing construction.  DDI is not responsible for obtaining any required permits for the proposed project.

Grant Awards

Grant funds provided by DDI will be less than or equal to 50 percent of all costs related to the proposed project, including actual costs of supplies, materials, construction, labor, and associated taxes.  Grant awards will range from $1,000 to $25,000 per project.  DDI reserves the right to modify grant award amounts to meet program budget requirements; therefore, applicants may be offered an amount less than 50 percent of total project costs.

Projects must be completed no later than six months after the execution of the Grant Fulfillment Agreement.  Projects judged to have been substantially complete before January 1 will not be considered.

Once the project has been completed, and the applicant has submitted all required documentation, DDI will reimburse the applicant with its mutually-agreed upon share of grant funds.

Application Requirements

To be considered for an award, applicants must complete the application form, limiting responses to the space provided, except where additional materials are specifically requested.  Complete proposals must contain all information and materials requested in the Proposal Contents Checklist (see below).  Incomplete proposals will not be considered.  Proposals will be reviewed for required documentation upon submittal; it is recommended that each proposal be submitted prior to the deadline to ensure that it is complete and will be accepted.

Proposals for the 2017 Matching Grants Program must be submitted by March 24, 2017.

Proposals must be emailed (preferred) to or sent to:

Downtown Dallas, Inc.

Attn: Jacob Browning, Urban Planning Manager

Bank of America Plaza

901 Main Street, Suite 7100

Dallas, Texas 75202

Proposal Contents Checklist

  • Complete 2017 Matching Grants Program Application
  • Map of proposed project location
  • Signed approval from the owner (or agent) of property upon which the project will be constructed (if applicable)
  • Certificate of Liability Insurance
  • Budget Summary (to include job estimates or quotes, if available)
  • Copies of acquired permits and/or approvals (if applicable)
  • Color photographs of the project area
  • Schematic drawings of proposed project

Approval Process

All proposals will be submitted to the DDI Capital Improvements Committee for review and final approval of grant award recipients.  No Committee member with a vested interest in a proposal will be allowed to participate in discussions or votes concerning that proposal.

The Capital Improvements Committee will review all qualified proposals and make a final decision regarding grant recipients within one month of the application deadline.  The Capital Improvements Committee reserves the right to reject any or all proposals or to approve only a portion of the requested funds.

Finalizing the Grant

Following grant approval, individual grant awards are considered pending until the applicant and DDI sign a Grant Fulfillment Agreement.  The Agreement will describe the project, the project budget, and the amount of funding awarded by DDI.  Upon execution of the Agreement, the grant is considered finalized and grant funds may be distributed based upon the conditions outlined in the Agreement.

For more information regarding the 2017 Matching Grants Program, contact Jacob Browning at (214) 744-1270 or

Kourtny Garrett: Great Strides in Downtown Dallas

The urban core of the city has come a long way, and with new projects in the works the progress doesn’t seem to be coming to a halt this year.

On Monday, March 6, we will once again bring well over 1,000 business leaders, residents,
community organizations, and the public sector together at the Downtown Dallas, Inc. (DDI) Annual Meeting with one common interest: Downtown Dallas.  This year’s theme may seem simple, “Great Strides,” but those two words encompass a remarkable amount of progress in the heart of our city, along with what we know is coming soon. It’s a play on words describing progress. Great strides are being made with transformative plans like high-speed rail, CityMAP, and 360; infrastructure projects like streetcar and a subway; and more than 100 developments (meaning countless cranes) under way. The theme also is a quip referring to street-level improvements like parks, bike lanes, and walkability improvements that give us even more reason to stride.

Since 2000, we’ve experienced $5 billion of investment in the city center through a variety of residential, hotel, commercial office, and public projects. Nearly 11,000 residents live in the center of downtown, where in 1996 only the 200 living in Manor House apartments called this area home. Within a two and a half mile radius, 50,000 now live, and over 7,000 units are under construction with another 6,400 impending.

Downtown’s employment base and office market remains strong with over 135,000 employees and positive net absorption in 2016. AT&T was a significant retention (and expansion) headline toward the end of last year, and work to advance the AT&T Discovery District will continue into this spring.

Over 100 restaurants and bars opened last year or have been announced to open this year, adding to the 420 already filling our bellies. Fifteen hotels are either announced or under construction, with four more that have opened in the last year. Retail is taking hold as well, with over 200 places to shop in the greater urban core. The opening of Forty Five Ten at the end of 2016 made headlines, and just last month another anchor in the Dallas Farmers Market, Urban Farmhouse Designs, was announced. Four additional large format grocery stores are on the way, and in the center of downtown we anticipate several announcements of unique smaller urban concepts this year—stay tuned.

No doubt the development numbers are impressive and are making national headlines. But what is it that knits our community together? What fills the voids between buildings and defines downtown as a neighborhood and no longer just an office park? In our 2017 DDI priorities, we call this fostering complete neighborhoods. It’s the destinations that unite those working in towers, living in lofts, and visiting our city. It’s our parks, public places, art, and cultural spaces. It’s schools and vibrant streets. And there are great strides to talk about here as well. Today, 52 acres of parks and public greenspace exist in downtown. The parks prioritized in the Downtown Parks Master Plan will add or improve another 17 acres. Our city is connected by nearly 150 miles of bike lanes and trails today, with over 50 miles funded and on the way. CityLab High School, downtown’s new public high school focused on design and community engagement, will commence classes this fall. And our higher education institutions, UNT School of Law, El Centro Community College, and Texas A&M Commerce continue to thrive and grow their urban campuses.

Trends worth noting

Reflecting on 2016, a few trends emerged that we expect will continue strong into this year.

New construction. In 2016, the last of our most challenging redevelopment projects traded, which means of the 40 vacant buildings we began with 20 years ago, only a handful remain and they are all in development. The Statler will begin opening its first phases in just a few months. Dallas High School/Crozier Tech and the West End Marketplace/Factory Six03 are moving quickly toward their new lives as prime office space. The Butler Brothers building is now leasing apartments, and 1401 Elm/The Drever construction progresses with recent announcements such as their hotel, Thompson Dallas Hotel.  With the era of adaptive reuse coming to a close, we anticipate a surge in new construction, already indicated on the northern side of downtown along Klyde Warren Park and Ross Avenue. Vacant parcels and parking lots will begin to infill with mixed-use, high-density projects, making areas like the southern areas of downtown ripe for development.

Commercial office re-dos. Last year, several commercial office towers began massive improvements, from building infrastructure to transforming ground floors to engage with the street. Projects like Thanksgiving Tower, 2100 Ross, 400 Record, 717 Harwood, Bank of America Plaza, Ross Tower, and St. Paul Place are embracing the desires of today’s office worker—open floorplans, coworking space, and ground floor amenities shared with the public. And this year, we expect more to follow, like the announcements of renovations at Chase Tower and Trammell Crow Center.

Innovation industries. A third trend reinforced in 2016 that will carry into this year is the growing strength of innovation industries. Whether tech, startup, or a variety of coworking options, more than 350,000 square feet of commercial office space is inhabited by this sector. In fact, at DDI we see this as such an important factor in downtown Dallas’ future that we have adopted it into our mission: foster innovation and technology in all aspects of the urban experience.

Focus on mobility

Last year, we also spent a great amount of time on the update of the 360 plan. Building on the transformative strategies from the original plan adopted by the Dallas City Council in 2011, including housing, transportation, urban design, parks, and public space, the update will first set urban mobility principles to guide current and future local, regional, and state planning. Drafted in partnership with more than 40 local organizations and with input from more than 1,000 touch points through community partners and stakeholders, those guiding principles include:

  • Create a balanced multimodal system that can support transit, bicycles, and pedestrians in addition to automobiles.
  • Provide a system that does not require a car for short trips, while ensuring that the system is safe, well-lit, comfortable, and accessible for a diverse base of users.
  • Improve inter-district connectivity for all modes of travel.
  • Encourage mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented design and development.
  • Ensure that both regional and local transportation systems support urban design and livability goals for Greater Downtown Dallas.
  • Deliver a system that responds proactively to future trends in technology, demographics, and user preferences.

Ultimately, this spring the plan will deliver a pragmatic guide to improve connectivity between our intown neighborhoods, whether walking, biking, using public transportation, or driving, while also delivering vibrancy, continuity, and a “sense of place” at the street level. It will address mobility balance for every street in the urban core, and identify improvements to key connections with close-in neighborhoods.

Very much related, work continues on transportation and mobility issues significant to downtown like streetcar, bike plan implementation and expansion, the DART subway alignment, high-speed rail, and CityMAP.

Click here to be taken to the blog entry in D Magazine.


As reported here by BISNOW.

The Downtown Dallas that existed in 2000 is not much like the one that exists today. Downtown has transformed from vacant skyscrapers to mixed-use and from a few hundred residents to a few thousand. Here are four things that have transformed Downtown, and four more poised to do it all over again.

Four Things That Shaped Downtown

1. Outside Capital Investors coming from outside North Texas understand the revitalization happening Downtown — they do not need convincing to keep bringing capital, CBRE senior vice president Jack Gosnell said at Bisnow’s Urbanization and Future of Downtown event last week. It is Dallas residents who are slow to accept the new Downtown, Gosnell said.

2. Public And Private Development The combination of public and private dollars Downtown make this market dynamic, Spire Realty president Jon Ruff said. He has seen nothing like that relationship anywhere else in North Texas. Of the 180 developments happening Downtown, about 100 are private, and the rest are a combination of public, city and infrastructure developments, Downtown Dallas, Inc. president and CEO Kourtny Garrett said.

3. Redevelopment  Larry Hamilton has flipped several properties Downtown, including the Lorenzo Ascend Hotel (which is moments away from delivering), Mosaic, Lone Star Gas Lofts, Dallas Power & Light, the Davis Building and the Aloft Hotel. Granite will soon deliver Factory Six03. Alterra International’s Alto 211 has been renovated from its original 1958 roots. World Class Capital Group redeveloped 717 Harwood with lots of amenities and services. These developers prove that smart development is not just about getting product on the ground, but about using a city’s history to build for the future.

4. New Development Hall Group has been at the forefront of new development in the Arts District. After opening KPMG Plaza in 2015, Hall Group has two more phases planned in Hall Arts. More office space, a residential high-rise and a boutique hotel are planned for future phases, Hall Group director of leasing Kim Butler said. And ground-up buildings are not the only noteworthy developments. New green space, like Klyde Warren Park, shows the city’s dedication to creating a Downtown experience, rather than a string of office towers.

Four More That Could Change Downtown All Over Again

1. Dallas Independent School District More than 135,000 people work and 10,000 people live Downtown. Plano schools are the one thing we do not have in Downtown Dallas, Ruff said. But the less acclaimed reputation of DISD is still making progress. Education is a big part of Downtown’s complexity and authenticity, and it is evolutionary, Garrett said. City Lab High School will welcome the first set of students in August through DISD’s public school choice initiative.

2. CityMAP TxDOT’s hard look at the aging highway system Downtown is mostly talked about in the context of tearing down Interstate 345. It would be a challenge to balance regional and local needs upon overhauling the easternmost highway of Downtown proper, Garrett said. But many — including Butler — cannot help but imagine what tearing down I-345 would do for the connectivity of Downtown, the Baylor District, Deep Ellum and East Dallas. It is an ugly surgery to take on, but the result is commerce, Gosnell said.

3. D2 After the DART board voted to fund both the second Downtown light rail and the Cotton Belt rail line last October, the conversation has shifted to how the underground subway will impact Downtown. Though financing both projects has been a hot button issue, the future looks brighter since President Donald Trump has campaigned hard for infrastructure upgrades. Garrett said it is time to think about where the stations will go and how they will integrate with a walkable Downtown.

4. Reinvesting In ’80s Buildings  Dallas is one of the few cities still doing urban revitalization, Ruff said. Many of Dallas’ iconic 1980s skyscrapers — including Fountain Place, Trammell Crow Center and Thanksgiving Tower — are getting significant capital investments to upgrade and renovate, Garrett said. AT&T announced in October that it will spend $100M on upgrades for its Downtown HQ and add 1,000 workers.

The City as a Classroom- CityLab High School Plans to Take Learning into Dallas’ Downtown and Neighborhoods

The Dallas Independent School District (Dallas ISD) has approved plans to open CityLab HS, a new high school for students interested in architecture, urban planning, environmental science, and community development.  The school will open in August 2017 and will be located near City Hall in Downtown Dallas at 912 S. Ervay St.

CityLab is an open enrollment Transformation School that is part of the Dallas ISD Public School Choice program that aims to create a range of options so that all Dallas ISD students can attend a “best-fit school.” A “best-fit school” is a school where educators can more meaningfully and more deeply engage students by tapping into their specific interests, aspirations, and preferred learning styles.

The goal at CityLab HS is to allow students to use the city itself as a laboratory, and have students engage in hands-on, community-based projects with a host of industry partners and partner institutions.  At CityLab HS, students will develop a multidisciplinary understanding of the processes of the natural world, the built environment, and the social and economic systems of the city.

CityLab HS will provide a unique educational experience where learning extends beyond the classroom walls, allowing students to explore the community and the neighborhoods where they live, learn, work, and play.  Through real world, hands-on projects, students will develop their critical thinking and creative problem solving skills while focusing on character development and citizenship skills.

The new school was identified through the Dallas ISD’s annual Public School Choice proposal process that was open to educators nationwide.  The CityLab proposal was led by architect and veteran Dallas ISD teacher Peter Goldstein and local architect Lorena Toffer.

CityLab HS will be open to all incoming ninth-graders for the 2017-18 school year, and similar to other Dallas ISD Choice Schools, there are no academic entry requirements. Enrollment will be based on socioeconomic status, using a blind, randomized, computerized selection process. The admissions process is weighted based on a student’s socioeconomic status using federal and state guidelines – half of the seats at CityLab HS will be reserved for economically disadvantaged students, and half of the seats will be reserved for students who are not economically disadvantaged. To further encourage a diverse student population, thirty percent of the seats at CityLab HS will be open to students living outside of Dallas ISD boundaries.

The window for applications to CityLab HS and other Dallas ISD Public School Choice programs will be open from Nov. 28 to Jan. 31, 2017. Applications are available online at

For more information about CityLab HS, parents and students are invited to attend the information events listed below.  Or, contact Peter Goldstein at or the Dallas ISD Office of Transformation and Innovation at (972) 925-3306.

You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram at citylabhs.


CityLab HS Information Events

CityLab Information Night, Monday, Dec. 12


Pegasus Building, 912 S. Ervay St, Dallas, TX  75201


CityLab Information Night, Wed. Dec. 21


Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity, 2800 N Hampton Rd, Dallas, TX 75212


CityLab Information Night, Wed. Jan. 25


DISD Administration Building, 3700 Ross. Ave., Room 105, Dallas, TX 75204


Discover Dallas ISD, Sat. Dec. 3  (DISD School Choice and Magnet School Fair)


DA Hulcy STEAM Middle School (across the street from Ellis Davis Fieldhouse) 9339 S Polk St, Dallas, TX 75232


CityLab Summit!

Thur. Jan 12


Keynote Speaker- Lorena Toffer, AIA

Latino Cultural Center, 2600 Live Oak St, Dallas, TX 75204


Sat. Jan. 14


CityLab Summit! family activities and panel discussion

Pegasus Building, 912 S. Ervay St, Dallas, TX  75201

Downtown Dallas: A Turnaround Built on Parks, Arts, and People

Full Urban Land article here.

Dallas residents called it Stonehenge. This Texas version of the English landmark, like a monument to unfulfilled dreams and lingering failures, was an arrangement of heavy concrete pillars constructed in the 1980s to support an ambitious pair of 50-story office towers in downtown Dallas.

But the Texas real estate market went south in a hurry in the 1980s economic crash, and the developer, Metropolitan Ventures, pulled the plug on the twin towers, leaving behind the support columns dubbed Stonehenge. The 50-story buildings were never built.

Companies left downtown Dallas in droves in the 1980s, and it went on to have the emptiest office market in the nation in the early 1990s. Stonehenge stood as a negative symbol for years.

But that era is over. Today, downtown Dallas is a different place. Stonehenge has been replaced by Hall Group’s new 18-story Hall Arts office tower—the first office project built in the central business district in years. In downtown’s Arts District, new performance halls and museums have been erected. The new Klyde Warren Park, a transformative downtown recreational haven built over a below-grade freeway, attracts scads of people every day of the week. And perhaps most important, dozens of older office buildings have been converted to residential use, giving rise to a more active street life.

After decades of efforts—and some missteps—the core of Dallas has been transformed. No single strategy or project is credited for the turnaround. But the emergence of residential development is widely acknowledged as having been a spark plug.

Downtown Living

“The major driver for the change was the residential component,” says John F. Crawford, chief executive officer of Downtown Dallas, Inc., a nonprofit advocate for economic development. “In the urban core we’ve got about 10,000 people who live there, and in the greater downtown area there’s almost 50,000.”

In recent years, developers created thousands of residential units, primarily apartments for rent, from old office properties that were largely obsolete for corporate use but which held tremendous value as dwellings for young professionals who thrive in urban environments.

One breakthrough was the redevelopment that transformed the landmark 31-story Mercantile National Bank building on Main Street, which was redeveloped as apartments in 2008.

The Mercantile building had been an eyesore for years. “The windows were falling out of it. It looked like Beirut after the war,” says Jack Gosnell, senior vice president with CBRE | UCR Urban in Dallas. Gosnell convinced representatives of Forest City Enterprises to tour the art moderne Mercantile building, and everything started to click.

Forest City Texas, with the assistance of tax increment financing obtained through the city, created a 213-unit residential rental community out of the Mercantile tower. It and three other buildings that were subsequently developed by Forest City now make up Mercantile Place, which has a total of 704 apartment units.

Downtown Dallas had seen smaller buildings redeveloped, but the Mercantile project made Dallas residents marvel at the transformation. The project demonstrated the possibilities for the future.

“Forest City took this black hole on Main Street and turned it into a really cool apartment building,” says Ian Pierce, vice president of communications at Weitzman Group, a Dallas-based real estate firm.

Another key redevelopment at a separate site transformed the 1926-vintage Davis Building at 1309 Main Street into 180 loft apartments. The developer, Hamilton Properties, a prolific real estate firm led by Ted Hamilton and his father, Larry, has tackled a number of redevelopment projects in and around downtown Dallas. Hamilton Properties is currently transforming an old Ramada Inn on the south side of downtown into a 237-room boutique hotel that will be called the Lorenzo.

One of the largest redevelopment projects underway is the $220 million transformation of downtown’s historic Statler Hilton by Dallas-based Centurion American Development Group. The 19-story hotel will become the Statler Hotel and Residences, with 219 apartments and 159 hotel rooms operated under Hilton’s Curio brand for historic hostelries. The Statler, which opened in 1956, in its heyday presented performances by Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra on its ballroom stage before closing more than a decade ago.

But after scores of redevelopment projects, the game is changing in downtown Dallas, Crawford says.

“We no longer have any older buildings left in downtown anymore. They’ve all been converted to residential or some form of adaptive reuse,” Crawford says. “So we are now moving to new construction.”

Within walking or biking distance of the central business district, residential construction has been ongoing in full force in the districts and neighborhoods on the edge of downtown, such as Uptown, the Cedars, Deep Ellum, and Victory Park.

“That’s the big story in what’s going on in Dallas—the multifamily demand by the young urban professionals,” says Ken Reese, executive vice president of Hillwood Urban, part of the Dallas-based Hillwood real estate organization founded by Ross Perot Jr.

The 75-acre (30 ha) Victory Park, a mixed-use development started by Hillwood on a reclaimed brownfield site over a decade ago, is adding 1,800 units of new residential units to the downtown mix. Victory Park now has four new high-rise towers and a mid-rise apartment project under construction by a strong lineup of multifamily developers that includes Camden Property Trust, Novare Group, Greystar, Lennar Multifamily, and Genesis Real Estate.

Downtown’s residential boom eradicated that lonely, unpopulated feeling that had plagued the central business district for decades. “Our downtown used to evacuate at night. By 6 p.m. all the people were gone,” says Phil Puckett, executive vice president in the Dallas office of CBRE.

Downtown Dallas, like many downtowns across the country, lost momentum in the 1960s as new freeways and affordable homes for the middle class in the suburbs sucked growth out of the cities. Many businesses followed as office buildings rose on the suburban prairies.

Before the 1960s were over, the Dallas City Council tried to stop the outward tide by adopting the recommendations of urban planner Vincent Ponte, who designed a system of downtown tunnels and underground retail shops linking the major buildings. The city leaders were prodded along by Esquire magazine, which ran a headline on its cover in June 1968 reading, “Vincent Ponte Should Have His Way with Dallas.”

But Ponte’s way was the wrong way, city leaders later discovered.

Over the years, the tunnel system grew to more than two miles (3 km). It provided a convenient lunchtime amenity for downtown office workers but was blamed for choking off life and commerce on the street above.

“If I could take a cement mixer and pour cement in and clog up the tunnels, I would do it today,” said then mayor Laura Miller in a 2005 interview with the New York Times. “It was the worst urban planning decision that Dallas has ever made.”

In recent years, the downtown tunnel system has become disjointed and been deemphasized as some landlords closed off tunnel connections, breathing an extra measure of life into downtown streets and sidewalks.

“They have done a great job of turning it around,” says Dallas office broker Fletcher Cordell, a principal with the Transwestern real estate company.

A Spark from Parks

When it comes to the downtown turnaround, nothing has been praised like the catalytic Klyde Warren Park, which opened in October 2012.

Built over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, the 5.2-acre (2 ha) park effectively erased the barrier between downtown and the bustling Uptown district’s multifamily, retail, and office markets. Not only has Klyde Warren Park made it easier to walk to downtown, but it also draws large crowds to its heavily programmed activities of yoga and music performances, as well as a dog park and a playground. The success of the park, designed by the Office of James Burnett, a Solana Beach, California–based landscape architecture firm, has prompted city leaders to discuss a proposed expansion that could cover more of the freeway.

Klyde Warren Park generated a real estate boom. Rents for office buildings near the park have gone up as much as 60 percent since 2014, and prices for development sites, such as surface parking lots, have recently approached $400 per square foot ($4,300 per sq m) in some cases, says Puckett of CBRE.

Along Pearl Street, which borders the northern edge of the park, two office projects are under construction. A partnership of Trammell Crow Company and MetLife is building the PwC Tower at Park District, a 20-story, 500,000-square-foot (46,500 sq m) office tower slated for completion in 2018 with PwC occupying 200,000 square feet (19,000 sq m) of space. The building is part of the partnership’s mixed-use development, called the Park District, which also will have a 30-story residential tower and retail space overlooking Klyde Warren Park.

Across the street from the PwC Tower, Dallas-based Lincoln Property is developing a 260,000-square-foot (24,000 sq m), 25-story office project at 1900 Pearl Street.

The Lincoln Property site is adjacent to the Meyerson Symphony Center in the Dallas Arts District. The symphony building, designed by I.M. Pei, opened in 1989 and has been a cornerstone of an impressive collection of performance halls and museums built in recent years.

Downtown’s 68-acre (28 ha) Arts District, with more than a dozen visual and performing arts institutions, has been a growth generator in its own right. Nearby, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, designed by Pritzker Award–winning architect Thom Mayne, opened in 2012 and has been attracting 1 million visitors annually.

The buildup of the Arts District created a welcoming environment for new residential projects, such as the 42-story Museum Tower condominiums, which opened in 2013.

Dallas developer Craig Hall, chairman and founder of Hall Group, produced the Hall Arts Center, the first new downtown office tower built in years. The first phase was an 18-story, 500,000-square-foot (46,500 sq m) office project built on the so-called Stonehenge site on Flora Street. The office building, which opened last year, was renamed KPMG Plaza at Hall Arts after its lead tenant.

Hall expects to break ground next year on Hall Arts Center Phase II, a high-rise residential tower with 44 condominium units for sale and an adjoining mid-rise hotel. Hall owns another parcel of land for a yet-to-be conceived Phase III project in future years.

But Hall says his eye is truly focused on placemaking, not just erecting new buildings in the Arts District.

“We need to energize the street life. We need to get people to stay and walk around rather than just come in their car to a symphony event and then get back in their car and drive somewhere else,” Hall says. “That’s my personal goal.”

To that end, Hall created a half-acre (0.2 ha) sculpture garden featuring the works of Texas artists, which is located at the side of the new office building and easily accessible to the public. The Hall building also has a 30-foot-tall (9 m) glass-walled lobby that fosters engagement with pedestrians on the sidewalk, says Eddie Abeyta, principal and Dallas design director for HKS architects, which designed the Hall building.

Abeyta, a key advocate for urban walkability in downtown Dallas, is one of seven professionals on the city’s Urban Design Peer Review Panel, an advisory group that reviews proposals for new developments. “We try to put people first and automobiles second. Dallas itself is very auto-centric, like most big U.S. cities,” Abeyta says. “But we are trying to learn and we are trying to improve. We want to make sure developers, architecture firms, and landscape firms are responsible about how these buildings touch and engage with the public realm.”

The Art of the Skyline

Downtown Dallas goes above and beyond changing the city on the sidewalk level. The city’s skyline evolved significantly in recent years for those viewing it from afar.

New signature bridges, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, are becoming highly visible landmarks for the skyline. The 400-foot-tall (122 m), cable-stayed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, spanning the Trinity River, opened in 2012. It will be followed by another skyline-altering structure by Calatrava, the Margaret McDermott Bridge, slated for completion in 2017. Some believe the new bridges will become Dallas icons equivalent to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

The Dallas skyline has been taken a step further toward distinctiveness with several landlords’ approach to lighting that has been gaining wide notice. The use of LED lighting on the exterior of a number of the city’s towers has gone beyond regular decoration to becoming a nighttime public canvas for commemorating celebrations, holidays, and social statements. For example, last year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, the downtown buildings were lit in a rainbow pattern. Pink lighting supports breast cancer awareness, and patriotic red, white, and blue lighting comes on for the Fourth of July.

“I think Dallas was named one of the prettiest skylines of the world because of the lighted buildings,” says Linda McMahon, president and chief executive officer of the Real Estate Council, a Dallas-based nonprofit organization. “It’s beautiful. Every building is almost a work of art.”

In July, the downtown lighting conveyed a poignant message when the skyline turned dark blue as a sign of support for police after a sniper killed five Dallas police officers and injured seven others, plus two civilians. The racially charged killings wounded the soul of Dallas, but dialogue and healing are underway.

“It’s been a very emotional time,” McMahon says. “The police and the community are reaching out to each other. I think you’ll see positive things come out of it in terms of the strength of our community. We are a resilient place.”

Trey Bowles Appointed to National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship

On Monday, Trey Bowles, CEO and co-founder of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center and Cofounder of the Dallas Innovation Alliance, was appointed to serve on the National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE) by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker.

“It is an honor to represent Dallas as an incoming appointee of the NACIE. I look forward to working with my other appointees to suggest effective strategies to support tools, resources, policy and legislation, advocacy and priority around supporting entrepreneurship and innovation in the U.S.,” Bowles told Dallas Innovates.

Bowles is one of 30 private sector, nonprofit, and academic leaders who were selected from a pool of more than 200 accomplished applicants.

“Our charge is to make America second to none by way of innovation, entrepreneurship, job creation, and competitiveness. I plan to be an advocate and voice for early stage entrepreneurs and startups so we can provide ubiquitous opportunity to people all across our country to follow their dreams and build their own successful businesses,” Bowles said.

The council members will offer recommendations for policies and programs designed to make U.S. communities, businesses, and the workforce more globally competitive, according to a news release.

“The members of NACIE provide important counsel to the Department of Commerce on the types of federal policies that will support entrepreneurship, innovation, and job-driven workforce training, all of which are critical to American competitiveness,” said Secretary Pritzker. “As ‘America’s Innovation Agency,’ we value the expertise of our private sector partners and appreciate the opportunity to incorporate their views into our policymaking process.”

Established in 2010, NACIE operates as an independent entity managed through the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which is housed in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration.

The Economic Impact of Dallas Entrepreneur Center Tenants and Graduates

The Dallas Entrepreneur Center (DEC), is a nonprofit corporation that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. The DEC offers coworking space, organizes and accommodates numerous startup community events and hosts accelerator and training programs.

In 2015, the DEC surveyed existing tenants and graduates to measure revenue and employment growth and funding raised. The data was updated in 2016. The DEC made this data available to Axianomics to assess the overall economic impact of the DEC and its client firms.

Our analysis included 66 firms in the survey that provided the minimum necessary data. These results do not extrapolate beyond those firms to the larger population of DEC tenants and graduates. We have discussed the survey methods with the DEC and take the data at face value as being adequate to support the results presented below.

The companies in the sample contribute over $130,000,000 to the economic output of the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington Metropolitan area (DFW MSA). This includes their direct operations and the indirect impact they have on other local firms. This is an annual estimate based on their most recently reported revenue and employment. In the same period, gross regional product (GRP) for the DFW MSA was $424,000,000,000 ($424 billion). These firms accounted for about three hundredths of a percent of total GRP.

This activity supports over 1,350 full-time equivalent jobs in the DFW MSA. This includes employment at the surveyed firms (direct employment) and jobs created at other local businesses to support those companies (indirect employment). While a tiny fraction of total local economic activity, a single firm with this employment level would be among the 200 largest companies in DFW according to Census Bureau County Business Patterns data.

Based on the locations of the firms represented, most of this activity is likely concentrated in Downtown Dallas and north along the Central Expressway, LBJ and Dallas North Tollway corridors in northern Dallas county.

Interpretation and Meaning
The bottom-line interpretation is that companies representing a sizable amount of economic activity chose to spend at least part of their critical startup period in the DEC and to participate in its programming. Further, these companies were willing to participate in a follow-up survey and share sensitive information about their operations with the DEC. This is a good indicator of their attitudes toward the DEC as an organization.

It is possible that their DEC experience was a significant contributor to the growth and activities of these firms. Unfortunately, we cannot demonstrate that impact with the current survey data.

At a minimum, the continued participation by startup companies at the DEC demonstrates that these entrepreneurs believe it is worth their funds and their time. Combined with testimonial information from tenants and graduates, this information could make a strong case for the importance of the DEC to the DFW economy.

Economic impact analysis measures the “spin-off” activity from an initial business project. Money spent by a local company is income to other local companies. The initial activity supports additional business and employment beyond itself through these transactions.

This spin-off effect can be measured by economic multipliers. These multipliers are based on administrative data collected by the U.S. Department of Commerce from millions of companies in the U.S. and they trace where funding moves among over 1,200 defined industries.

We calculated the impact of these firms with multipliers created by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Regional Products Division. These multipliers are referred to as RIMS II (Regional Impact Modeling System II). The multipliers represent the entire DFW MSA for the 2013 calendar year. There are numerous assumptions with these multipliers found in the RIMS II User Guide:

We applied a five-step process to calculate these impacts. We:
1. Assigned a North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) industry code to all survey companies
2. Calculated total sales for each company using their reported revenue
3. Calculated the full-time equivalent (FTE) employment of each firm by converting part-time employees into FTE employees based on reported salaries
4. Applied Type I value-added and employment multipliers from RIMS II to the output and employment values from steps 2 and 3
5. Summed firm sales and employment with the multiplier generated results to create total (direct and indirect) value-added (output) and employment

About Axianomics, LLC
Axianomics, LLC is a public finance and economic development firm in Dallas, Texas. We help local leaders nurture their economies through discovery, strategy and implementation. Learn more at: