CRE Opinion: Why Modern Streetcar is Important for Downtown and the City

As reported by D CEO here.

By: Kourtny Garrett and Dustin Bullard

This month, we will be faced with many critical choices related to public transportation in Dallas. Routes, funding, and priorities will be discussed and debated, ultimately making decisions that will have generational impact. Among these is the proposed next phase of Dallas’ modern streetcar system, currently operating from Oak Cliff to the southwestern edge of Downtown. Continuing to expand today’s system is a top priority for Downtown Dallas Inc. (DDI) as we plan for the future of our center city and its connectivity to all of Dallas.

Current Status

The current modern streetcar line, the “Dallas Streetcar,” was envisioned to be the bud of a comprehensive system that would better connect the urban neighborhoods of our city. Modeled after many great cities with aspirational qualities for our future, it also evokes Dallas’ past, a time when streetcar added to the depth, density, commerce, and experience in downtown—growing and connecting neighborhoods in Oak Cliff, Fair Park, South Dallas, East Dallas, and what is now Uptown and Knox-Henderson.

Today, an immediate opportunity exists to take the next step toward recreating that fully expanded system by connecting the Oak Cliff line of Dallas Streetcar through the core of downtown to the McKinney Avenue Trolley. Called the Central Dallas Link, the proposed line provides the necessary connections for further extensions, and with a $90M price tag comes a sooner-rather-than-later (est. 2019-2020) funding potential from the Federal Transit Administration and matching funds from DART. This is in addition to the benefit of expanded transit access to some of the highest job and housing concentrations in Dallas in the midst of unprecedented growth, catalytic development potential, and opportunity to enhance a sense of place in downtown.

The Central Dallas Link has four potential alignments undergoing study [see graphic] with ultimate decisions made by the Dallas City Council and DART Board. Of the four, DDI has previously supported the “Elm-Commerce” alignment, but with the recent emergence of a stakeholder-supported preference for a Commerce Street subway for the DART second light rail alignment (D2), factors related to construction, service coverage, and ridership are important to consider. Comprehensive planning is imperative with the many unique opportunities in front of us, from highway tear-outs to bike plans, however regardless of the specific route of the Central Dallas Link, two things are important: one, we must seize this immediate opportunity to advance a project that is long overdue and essential to advancing a larger system, and two, we must start planning future phases of that larger system now.

Vision and Value

In 2011, The 360 Plan, our strategic plan for Downtown and its connected neighborhoods, emphasized the importance of streetcar and introduced desire lines for a fully built-out system:

As the center of the city and one of the region’s most prominent employment centers, downtown is the place where freeways, arterial roads, commuter rail, light rail, bus lines, and trolley cars all converge. However, despite this range of transportation, most of the emphasis is on the automobile and there is a lack of connectivity between these different modes of travel…A modern streetcar network can be the glue that binds downtown’s established destinations together and the framework along which new development can rebuild the fabric of the central city.

The update to The 360 Plan, due out this fall, builds on this vision and provides a framework for further mode diversification by enhancing pedestrian, bike, and public transportation options, and stressing localized, high capacity, frequent, and reliable service.

The value of streetcar has been proven throughout the country, from established systems like Portland’s to new systems like Kansas City’s, which according to reports, has generated more than 2.4 million trips since its opening in May 2016. In Dallas, streetcar will similarly support existing and future growth. Since 2010, the central area of Dallas, including downtown, has continued to drive the highest rate of population growth in the city and remains the largest employment center in the region. Sustaining and amplifying this base of jobs and housing is greatly dependent on a robust multi-modal transportation network that creates inter-area connections that deliver equal access to housing, jobs, entertainment, education, services, amenities, and recreation.

Furthermore, streetcars are a proven transportation option that can reduce dependence on auto usage, especially for those making “short trips” within the central Dallas area or looking for complementary service to bus or light rail. In fact, in a recent study focused on a 2.5-mile radius of downtown (the geography of The 360 Plan), GPS data showed that nearly 20 percent of all trips never left the study area, instead moving between neighborhoods like Main Street to Deep Ellum, West End to Dallas Farmers Market, the Cedars to the Arts District, and so on. Streetcar gives an alternative to making these trips by car, thereby reducing automobile dependence, lowering congestion and parking demand, and improving walkability.

Finally, as a locally serving system, streetcar has tremendous placemaking potential. The investment in streetcar infrastructure can have transformational impacts on the public realm, creating more humane corridors that are proven to spur additional private investment and street life.

Economic Impact

Current study of the four proposed alignments includes a Comparative Economic Benefits Assessment conducted by HR&A Associates, commissioned by DDI. In cooperation, operations, maintenance, ridership, and cost recovery models are being led by DART and the City of Dallas. These studies will inform alignment preferences by all parties to be determined in concert with D2 LPA determination over the next 30-60 days. Regardless of the route, preliminary analysis of the economics proves streetcar as a net positive, as any of the four alignments:

  • Increase the number of blocks with transit adjacency by more than 100.
  • Deliver ¼ mile or less new access to rail transit to more than 62,000 current employees.
  • Better connect our entertainment districts and benefit tourism, serving more than 3,100 hotel rooms and 800,000 visitors, with a spending potential of over $136 million yearly.
  • Equal a commercial real estate premium. Projections show streetcar could have a positive net impact on leased office space, ranging from 0.5 million square feet up to just over 1 million square feet, depending on the alignment, with a corresponding increase in jobs, and an average $50 million increase in value.
  • Positively impact residential growth by stimulating more units and greater assessed value at a possible $17 million high, building Dallas’ tax base.

The Time is Now

For more than a decade, DDI has continued to advocate for the establishment and growth of a streetcar network. Strengthening multi-modal mobility options in our center city will enable us to be economically competitive, attracting new residents and talent who expect and are accustomed to high quality, well-connected urban environments. The importance of moving forward with the Central Dallas Link now cannot be stressed enough, with immediate attention also paid to the full network—north, south, east, and west—that will deliver a vibrant and robust system in the future that reconnects us with the past, for downtown and the city.

Kourtny Garrett is president and CEO of Downtown Dallas, Inc.

Dustin Bullard is vice president of public space and design at Downtown Dallas, Inc.

Downtown Dallas, Inc. Welcomes New Hire Matt Thomas

Matt Thomas Headshot 2017

Downtown Dallas, Inc. (DDI) warmly welcomes Matt Thomas to its team as Communications Director.  In this position, Matt will oversee the organization’s content creation, communications, media relations programs, and community relationships.

Matt Thomas has worked as a broadcast journalist in Dallas/Fort Worth for more than a decade.  His career started right out of high school with internships at two radio stations.  He then moved to New York City, where he attended college and spent time interning at some of the biggest radio stations and network news operations in the country.  Matt returned to North Texas, where he continued his broadcast career as an airborne traffic reporter and news anchor at local radio stations.  In 2005, he accepted a position as a full-time street reporter and anchor at the NewsRadio station in Houston.  There, he covered several high-profile stories, including all of the Enron fraud and conspiracy trial, the Andrea Yates murder retrial, and Hurricanes Rita and Katrina.  Matt spent weeks covering the aftermath of Katrina by providing live reports to listeners from New Orleans.

He returned to North Texas in late 2006 to accept a position at KRLD radio and the Texas State Network.  Matt’s street reporting, anchoring, and leadership skills in his more than a decade at the station resulted in numerous Texas Associated Press Broadcasters and Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for excellence in journalism.  Most recently, he was named “Best Reporter” by the Texas AP Broadcasters and he received the prestigious Charles E. Green award by the Headliners Foundation of Texas for his on-scene coverage of the deadly attack on police officers in Dallas in July 2016.

Matt is now transitioning to his new role as Communications Director for DDI. “I can’t think of a better way to continue to share stories that have an impact than joining the DDI team and using new media platforms to highlight the great things that are happening in Downtown Dallas and the surrounding districts,” Matt said.

Matt produced and hosted more than 200 original shows in conjunction with DDI and former CEO and current Vice Chairman John Crawford during a critical period of transition for the city’s core.  Each Sunday on KRLD, Pulse of the City highlighted an area of Downtown Dallas experiencing new development and activity.  “Downtown Dallas and the neighboring districts have come such a long way in my time here, and it is absolutely thrilling to be here to help DDI and this tremendous staff share all the great things that are happening now and are yet to come,” Thomas said.

Matt grew up in the Denton area, and has always had a great love for the buildings that make up what USA Today has named the “Best International Skyline.”  In addition to storytelling and Downtown, Matt is passionate about golf, the Texas Rangers, and animal rescue operations in North Texas.  For the past several years, he has helped emcee the annual “Basset Shuffle” event benefitting North Texas Basset Hound Rescue.  In addition to his three rescue dogs, Matt has a wife and toddler who are the joys of his life.

Remembering July 7, 2016

Today and through this weekend we will commemorate the tragic events of July 7, 2016, remembering those who were lost and express gratitude to those who dedicate their lives to keeping us safe.

Here is a list of opportunities to participate:

We continue to hold our fallen and wounded officers and their families in our hearts and are grateful to the Dallas Police Department, Dallas Fire-Rescue, DART Police Department, and El Centro Police for their diligence, courage, and strength.

We also express tremendous thanks to our own field teams, the Downtown Safety Patrol and Clean Team, to whom keeping Downtown safe and clean is always the number one priority.  They are led in an outstanding way by Martin Cramer, Dustin Bullard, and Jordan Jay who are never shy to go “above and beyond.”

Our community will never forget, we will not move on.  But we will move forward, carrying with us the strength and courageous spirit of our fallen officers and inspiration from those who remain dedicated to the quality of life of the citizens of Dallas.

We appreciate all of you and your support of our Downtown community.

DDI Job Opening: Communications Director

Downtown Dallas, Inc. is seeking a Communications Director to oversee the organization’s content creation, communications, media relations programs and community relationships. The position will be responsible for strategic planning including a communications program of work, as well as detailed execution of all related initiatives.   The position reports directly to the Chief Marketing Officer, and works hand‐in‐hand with the CEO, Marketing Manager, Economic Development & Planning Analyst, Member & Special Projects Manager and leadership team.

Essential Duties and Responsibilities: To perform this job successfully, an individual must be able to satisfactorily perform each of the essential duties and responsibilities listed below.  The duties and responsibilities include the following, though other duties may be assigned.

  • Digital content creation – produce short videos/podcast interviews with businesses, residents, members, entrepreneurs and organizations for blogs/social media/newsletters to help promote Downtown personalities and businesses. Strategically use content to elevate the perception and awareness of DDI as the go-to resource for all things related to Downtown. Work directly with CMO and Marketing Manager to ensure all content is distributed through appropriate communication channels including website.
  • Media Relations ‐ Maintain positive relationships with all local, regional, national and trade media outlets. Coordinate press tours, generate pitches, draft news releases and media alerts and produce press Identify stories that could get ‘mention’ coverage, as well as bigger events and features that might warrant full-blown packages or write-ups. Help position DDI as the expert resource for Downtown development, investment, data, retail, etc.
  • Community and Business Outreach – work with DDI leadership team to elevate individual profiles and feature expertise to help DDI reach our goal to become THE voice on urban issues in Dallas. Help frame our business-to-business story to include messaging aimed at executives and investors. Play a role in policy and governmental affairs work – help craft statements, positions and analyze issues. Maintain positive relationships with other organizations and like‐minded community partners through coordinated efforts, including communications surrounding the 360 Plan.
  • Social Media ‐ Grow DDI’s social media presence and engagement by creating relevant and interesting content by seeking out stories about the events, residents, members and business entrepreneurs that have led to the revitalization and now thriving status of Downtown and the surrounding districts. Work directly with the Marketing Manager under direction of CMO to program and plan the social media calendar.
  • Spokesperson/presentations – serve as spokesperson on various issues, participate in panel discussions and present to relevant audiences.
  • Special projects ‐ Manage special projects/ “mini‐campaigns” aimed at communicating specific issues to different audiences and DDI stakeholder

 

Qualifications: To perform this job successfully, an individual must be able to perform each essential qualification satisfactorily. The requirements listed below are representative of the knowledge, skill, and/or ability required.

  • Excellent verbal and written communications, including public speaking skills and ability to communicate within all levels of organizations
  • Working knowledge of social media platforms and best practices and CMS web site/blog management
  • Media savvy, both traditional press and social media with an understanding of news cycles
  • 10+ years technical broadcast and digital production skills
  • Familiarity with (and passion for!) Downtown

Physical Requirements:  The physical requirements and work environment characteristics described here are representative of those an employee encounters while performing the essential functions of this job.  Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions of the job.

  • Moderate stress level
  • Regular and predictable attendance
  • Some bending, crouching, stooping
  • Ability to work nights & weekends, as needed

Please submit resumes to info@downtowndallas.com with the title COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR in the subject line. For more about Downtown Dallas, Inc., visit www.downtowndallas.com.

CRE Opinion: Education Resources in Our Center City

In making Downtown Dallas a complete neighborhood, education options of all levels have become a top priority for DDI.

By: Kourtny Garrett

Published in D CEO

GarrettKourtny_DDI

I am a parent of twin 5-year-olds who will be in kindergarten next year. We live downtown. Where can I send my kids to school?

That was the opening question, and not a hypothetical one, that I posed last month at our Downtown Dallas, Inc. board meeting to a panel including Dallas ISD District 8 Trustee Miguel Solis, Dallas ISD District 2 Trustee Dustin Marshall, and Uplift Education Chief Administration Officer Ann Stevenson. It is also a question I get more and more often, not only from my downtown neighbors, but also from corporate decision-makers who are chasing the talent pool who craves urban living.

At the beginning of this year, Downtown Dallas, Inc. (DDI) realigned our priorities to take a more integrated approach to building our center city. One that has risen to the top is “Fostering the Growth of Complete Neighborhoods.” This includes thoughtful urban planning efforts that grow and diversify housing choice downtown, including product type and price point, while at the same time complementing it with essential services like grocery stores and dry cleaners, parks and cultural assets, and accessible, multi-modal, and efficient transportation. And yes, schools.  It’s not just about a race to build the most units or lease the greatest amount of space. What will sustain our urban core in the long run is filling in the gaps between towers to create complete places.

And education is a gap. As downtown’s pioneering population has grown and matured in recent years, demand has risen for more education options at all levels. We are “aging”—establishing careers and having kids—and we want to stay downtown. From 2000-2010 the number of 25-34-year-olds in the central business district (CBD) grew by 185.6 percent. I won’t make assumptions about anyone else’s life, but I know what I was doing at age 34, and those near-kindergarteners are the starting point for this piece. Furthermore, talent retention and recruitment have never been more important due to the increase of companies staying, growing, and moving to our urban core. So, our education platform at DDI is a simple brick and mortar strategy: We need more great schools in downtown.

From 2000-2010, the number of children ages 0-4 grew by 55.6 percent in the CBD. The projection for the next decade, from 2010-2020, predicts a similar trajectory at 45.7 percent growth. Then it slows to 27.9 percent from ages 5-14. The correlation with entering kindergarten is probably not accidental. Within the 2.5-mile radius of the Downtown Dallas 360 Plan geography, from 2000-2010, all age brackets between 0-19 declined by double-digits, but the story is a bit brighter from 2015-2020, as projections show modest growth of 2.7 percent. That said, we know that number can, and should, be higher.

Despite the undeniable need for more schools, it’s important to note the resources that are available today. We have options, great options. There are more than 30 schools of all levels within about two miles of downtown. So, when I asked the opening question to our panel about what I’m to do with my kids right now, there were answers.

Ms. Stevenson spoke about the Uplift Preparatory System, with 17 schools throughout Dallas and a mission to provide quality education in communities that are underserved with a focus on college preparation. In the downtown area, Uplift’s International Baccalaureate-authorized Luna Campus is split between the West End (K-5) and Deep Ellum (6-12), and will add pre-kindergarten in the 2017-2018 school year. Another charter school option, Pegasus School of Liberal Arts & Sciences, provides K-12 education through a highly experiential curriculum that utilizes all of downtown as its campus.

Trustee Solis was instrumental in the decision to locate CityLab High School in downtown, which will open this fall with its first class of 100 freshmen students. CityLab’s mission, fit perfectly for an urban campus, “is to establish an open enrollment inner-city high school where students use the city itself as a classroom to engage with the diverse social fabric and neighborhoods of the city.”

CityLab is just one creative way Dallas ISD is rethinking its approach to education downtown. Trustee Marshall’s district includes Ben Milam Elementary, located at McKinney Avenue and Fitzhugh Avenue, which, with the help of many neighborhood advocates, is now the school serving most of Uptown and downtown Dallas, giving our downtown families new options. Milam also offers pre-kindergarten, and is in the Alex W. Spence Middle School and North Dallas High School feeder pattern, with traditional as well as Talented and Gifted curriculum options at Spence Middle School. In addition, the incorporation of Public School Choice has allowed families to have better access to schools that are more streamlined to particular interests, including STEAM, Leadership, and Personalized Learning curricula. Schools of choice have also opened up geographic constraints, making schools like Solar Prep Girls STEAM Academy just north of downtown an option for many families.

In addition to CityLab, El Centro College, and Dallas ISD have a partnership in Lassiter Early College High School that allows students to graduate with high school diplomas and 60 or more college credits, in some cases qualifying for an associate’s degree. And, of course, downtown is home to the award-winning Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

First Baptist Academy also serves as a pre-k-12 option for private school. Preschool and early childhood development options are available at many downtown and nearby faith-based institutions, adding to a handful of traditional daycare options. Additionally, the T. Boone Pickens YMCA is growing its programming for children.

Downtown’s higher education institutions are robust and growing as well. Within downtown and a 2.5-mile radius more than 18,000 students are enrolled. The El Centro College campus celebrating 50 years, includes a rich core curriculum in addition to its specialty programs such as El Centro’s Center for Allied Health, Center for Design, and Food and Hospitality Services Institute. El Centro is also proud to be an HSI, a Hispanic Serving Institution. Downtown is also home to UNT System and UNT Dallas College of Law, as well as the Universities Center at Dallas and its partner institutions, including UNT, UNT Dallas, Texas A&M Commerce, and University of Texas Arlington. In the Cedars, the Bill J. Priest Institute for Economic Development provides workforce and business development training. DDI is also working with nearby campuses like Paul Quinn College to continue to grow the talent pool and opportunities in the center of our city.

I’ve chosen to live downtown with my family for a number of reasons. I live in a place where we spend our time enjoying life with front door access to art, recreation, food, events, and spontaneous run-ins. My children are exposed to a richness of culture, diversity, innovation, and history, supported by a community striving for the same. And now, as we weigh our options for education, the long-term viability of staying here feels pretty good.