Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News

City has other tools to spur downtown renewal
Dallas: Facing loss of tax abatement option, officials cite alternatives
12:00 AM CST on Friday, February 10, 2006
By DAVE LEVINTHAL / The Dallas Morning News
The tax abatement is among the most effective tools in Dallas' downtown economic redevelopment toolbox. It has helped spark the renovation of numerous old skyscrapers and the creation of new towers, too.
But as city officials acknowledge that they may shelve downtown tax abatements for decades to secure financing for the Mercantile Bank redevelopment, some also say it may not matter much when it comes to attracting and retaining businesses or renovating long-vacant historic structures.
Combinations of business personal-property abatements – which apply to office equipment – sales tax reimbursements and various grants, they explain, could provide significant incentives in the absence of tax abatements, which generally allow businesses to keep some or all of their property taxes over a fixed duration.
"It depends on the project; their incentives could equal or exceed a tax abatement," said Jim Wood, assistant director of downtown initiatives for Dallas' Office of Economic Development.
Myron Mims, chairman of the Downtown Dallas Development Authority, a quasi-governmental body appointed by the City Council, said the lack of tax abatements will not stop development.
"Because of the projects we've already approved, and the projects that are going to be part of the 2006 bond program, you'll see progress," he said.
Alice Murray, president of the Central Dallas Association, which represents dozens of downtown businesses, agreed that the city must be financially creative when attempting to attract and retain downtown businesses. "We're going to have to find any public way to get these done," she said.
Bill Blaydes, chairman of the City Council's Economic Development and Housing Committee, said he's exploring all options, although he's not ready to say what those options are.
"We are running a couple of things by our city attorney to make sure we're within the guidelines of the law," he said. "We, as a council body, are bound and determined to come up with a program."
Council member Angela Hunt, whose district includes much of downtown, says she sure hopes so.
Ms. Hunt hadn't yet been sworn in to her seat when the council in May struck its $70 million tax incentive deal with Cleveland-based developer Forest City for the Mercantile project. Had she been, Ms. Hunt said, she probably would have opposed the deal.
Meanwhile, Ms. Hunt says she hopes the council will approve a plan to allow historic downtown buildings first access to tax increment finance dollars through Dallas' Downtown Connection Tax Increment Finance District.
While city officials expect that the Mercantile project will monopolize this money for nearly a decade – the tax increment district funnels property tax payments back into the area for various improvement projects instead of into Dallas' general fund – other projects should be eligible sometime next decade.
"I'm frustrated, and I do sense some frustration among my colleagues," Ms. Hunt said Thursday. "Until now, though, none of us were aware of the fact that the Mercantile would preclude us from using tax abatements."
So why can't the city use tax payments to secure funding for its portion of the project?
The city is selling about $65 million in bonds to obtain its funding, and officials say continued abatements would drain downtown's property tax base, thereby concerning investors. Such wariness could lead to a downgrading of the bonds' ratings, meaning the city would have to pay higher interest rates or worse.
"You don't want to do tax abatements if you need that revenue to pay off the projects that are getting TIF money," Mayor Laura Miller said. She added that she agrees that property owners will have other incentives to use.
The city's proposed 2006 bond program could also inject large sums of money into downtown to create parks, rebuild streets, and extend the McKinney Avenue Trolley line, among other enhancements, the mayor noted.
Last year, Forest City ended negotiations with Dallas when Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans presented company leaders with an incentive package they didn't consider large enough. Mr. Evans had argued that Dallas couldn't effectively fund all of its key downtown redevelopment projects with too large an incentive package.
But the majority of the council disagreed, and a contingent of city leaders led by Ms. Miller reopened talks with Forest City and struck a deal the company accepted.
"Forest City insisted they get their money up front, and the other projects would have to wait many years to get their money," Ms. Miller wrote in an e-mail. "But that's what the three council members and I and staff negotiated. And that's what the whole council knew when we voted to accept the deal."
"Everybody's eyes were wide open," said David Levey, Forest City's executive vice president. "We told the city from the first day: We need to know the money will be there. If they didn't have the money, they didn't need to do the deal. But they did the deal."
Mr. Levey added that the discussion over tax abatements is not affecting the development of the Mercantile and other nearby buildings, which began in December. If completed as designed, Forest City will have redeveloped nine now-vacant high-rise buildings on the eastern end of downtown.
By next month, the council is expected to approve the bond sale, with conditions that it not use tax abatements in the Downtown Connection district for 30 years.
Could this change yet?
"You never know," Mr. Mims said. "But it'd be highly unlikely. The best way to proceed is the way we've outlined."
E-mail dlevinthal@dallasnews.com

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News


Financing deal OK'd
for 2 downtown projects
The Downtown Dallas Development Authority has approved a developer's request for $12 million in tax increment financing to build a 200- to 250-unit residential tower at 1900 Pacific Ave. and renovate the nearby Tower Petroleum Building for use as a boutique hotel.
The tax increment funds may be used to reimburse environmental remediation, demolition, facade restoration and other such costs but are not guaranteed, said Dorcy Clark, downtown coordinator for Dallas' Office of Economic Development.
Dallas' Mercantile Bank complex redevelopment project, which is slated to monopolize downtown TIF money for a decade, would probably mean the Pacific project, with an estimated cost of more than $116 million, wouldn't see the money for years. Pillar Group, led by Lawrence Sweeney, is the developer.

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News


Tony Hartzel:DART on faster track with federal aid
09:57 AM CST on Sunday, February 12, 2006
What a difference $700 million will make.
Dallas Area Rapid Transit officials heaved a collective sigh of relief Tuesday when federal authorities announced that they'd recommend that the agency receive $700 million to help build 21 miles of light-rail lines.
The transit agency had planned for several years on receiving that amount but never could bank on it until now.
The funding pledge still must pass through Congress this spring, but little opposition is expected.
Construction could begin by early summer, and DART's 45-mile rail network would double in size by 2013.
With dozens of stations on the drawing board, possibilities abound for new ways for North Texans to travel.
When expansion is complete, DART will have new stations at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and adjacent to Dallas Love Field.
Stations in the hospital district and near Baylor will connect six major medical centers.
Fair Park and the Cotton Bowl area will have two stations. Southeast Dallas and Pleasant Grove will have a new rail connection to jobs along the DART network, which will include new stations near the Interstate 35E corridor and in the Las Colinas area.
"It links markets in an efficient and fast way," said Sean Libberton, chief of the Federal Transit Administration's analysis division.
DART initially asked for $500 million in federal funds but upped its request when it came up with better cost estimates.
The higher request trod new ground, as requests from light-rail agencies usually top out at $500 million.
But that didn't stop the agency from continually refining its figures to show that the project was worth $700 million in federal funds.
One of the keys in its refinements, DART officials said, involved something as simple as timing traffic lights. Recently, DART and the city of Dallas agreed to give full or partial priority to trains at signal lights in downtown.
Trains already have full priority at some intersections, where traffic signals stop vehicles and allow approaching trains to keep moving. Most signals could have at least partial priority, allowing train operators to extend their signal time by a few seconds, by 2007.
That agreement will shave several minutes off every rail trip, resulting in more efficient service. In turn, that is expected to attract more riders and reduce the cost per passenger.
DART originally received a "low-medium" ranking on cost-effectiveness, but was able to raise it to a "medium" ranking.
According to federal guidelines, that means DART's costs are expected to be between $14 and $21.99 per trip.
"When we got priority through downtown, it pushed us into a comfortable ranking," said Gary Thomas, DART's president and executive director.
In conjunction with the federal funding, local funds will pay for half of the cost to build 21 miles of lines from Pleasant Grove to Farmers Branch. Rail lines or extensions in Carrollton, Rowlett and Irving will be paid for with local revenue.
When 2013 rolls around and all the new rail lines are open, the attitude of many current motorists may change, Mr. Thomas said.
"Now you can get where you need to go on the train," he said.
Rail transit means different things to different people, Mr. Thomas added. To some without vehicles, it's the easiest way to get from one point to another. To those stuck on the freeway, it's about relieving road congestion. And to others, it's about improving air quality or providing the stimulus for economic development.
"This is about giving people choices," Mr. Thomas said.
Tony Hartzel can be reached at thartzel@dallasnews.com and at P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, Texas 75265.

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News


Visualizing a deck park for all
Dallas: Residents offer ideas to make Woodall Rodgers area enticing
12:00 AM CST on Sunday, February 12, 2006
By DAVE LEVINTHAL / The Dallas Morning News
Downtown Dallas is lame. There's nothing to do and less to see. Summer heat is too hot.
And this crazy idea of covering canyonlike Woodall Rodgers Freeway with a "deck park"? It'd become a pale white elephant on parade. We're Dallas – not Chicago or New York City.
So go the standard knocks on the center city. And more than 100 downtown workers and residents gathered Saturday morning at the Nasher Sculpture Center to roundly reject them.
In doing so, they dreamed up visions of what this proposed $60 million downtown deck park should look like, feel like and offer.
They agreed that it should be unlike anything in the city.
Some wanted activities – music, festivals, outdoor movies. Others sought serene, shady spaces and fountains. How about wireless Internet connections, restaurants, games and even a carousel?
"Dallas does have some green space, and activities and good restaurants," said Candace Weinberg, who lives a few blocks from the proposed park. "But you don't really have a merging together of them. We should be making the park a place that encourages social interaction, that brings us together."
For William Baker, a Deep Ellum architect, the park represents downtown's best opportunity to break through the ring of freeways that surrounds it.
"The biggest problem with downtown is that it has a noose around it," Mr. Baker said.
The plan
The park concept calls for linking Uptown to downtown's Arts District over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway between St. Paul and Pearl streets. Designers are considering extending it beyond Pearl Street to the east and past Akard Street to the west.
But alone, that's hardly enough, said Dan Biederman, a Woodall Rodgers Park consultant whose company, Biederman Redevelopment Ventures Corp., most notably led the cleanup and renovation of once-crime-infested Bryant Park in New York City.
"Forget the saying, 'If you build it, they will come,' " Mr. Biederman told the group. "If you build something, and don't do much more, they will not come."
The Woodall Rodgers Park should first be "built with women in mind," he said, generating a few odd glances from the audience.
But lots of women, Mr. Biederman explained, are barometers of a park's health and safety.
"If she thought she was unsafe, or that something would happen, or someone would not come to her aid, she would not be there," he said.
Woodall Rodgers Park should also feature litter crews, park security, restaurants, vendors, abundant lighting, flowers, gardens and movable chairs instead of benches, Mr. Biederman said.
Several people also lobbied for the park to connect the Katy Trail, which is slated to extend from Uptown to the Victory neighborhood near American Airlines Center.
Council member Angela Hunt, whose District 14 includes the area where the park would be built, suggested extending the Katy Trail from Victory to the park via Olive Street. She also recommended – contrary to plans that call for Harwood and Olive streets to be open to traffic – that the streets be closed.
"We need to be visionary; we have to be bold," Ms. Hunt said. "If that park had been there over Woodall Rodgers from the beginning, we would not be talking about cutting streets into it."
Redefining downtown
While still a concept, the park has its share of powerful backers who believe it will redefine how people live and work in downtown – to say nothing of boosting the value of nearby property.
City Hall is expected to include $20 million for the park in its proposed 2006 bond program. Park supporters are counting on an additional $10 million in federal money, coupled with private fundraising efforts, led by Jody Grant, chairman and chief executive officer of Texas Capital Bank.
"It's the only project in Dallas that seems to have uniform support," Mr. Grant said.
But a year after the concept's initial announcement, a construction start date remains elusive and full funding is still uncertain. Engineering obstacles also remain.
"Designing a park that is affordable – that's the challenge," Mr. Grant said. "We don't have an open checkbook."
E-mail dlevinthal@dallasnews.com

Woodall Rogers Park

Monday, February 13, 2006-->
Woodall Rogers Park
On Saturday, I attended a public meeting at the Nasher Sculpture Center about the Woodall Rogers Park. The plan is to create a deck park on top of Woodall Rogers freeway between Uptown and Downtown. The park would span from Pearl to Akard in four sections. The first three sections, from Pearl to St. Paul, are the priority. Check out the presentation (17.5 MB) from the meeting, which was attended by over 175 people. Please note that the presentation is a very early conceptual draft, and may change between now and completion of the park. I think that this is one of the most exciting projects in our city right now. Currently, Woodall creates a moat around Downtown, and we have no central park for our city. We are in desperate need of greenspace as our Downtown and Uptown areas become more densely populated.There are a couple of issues I feel strongly about related to the park. One, we need to close down Harwood and Olive streets within the park, rather than having the park sliced into three sections. A single piece of parkland is much more useable than three sections with cars whizzing past. The street closure won't create a serious traffic burden because those two streets are the least traveled between uptown and downtown, and folks can simply drive either one block to Pearl or St. Paul to reach their destination. In fact, Harwood is currently closed for construction, and has been for several weeks, with no noticeable increase in congestion. Two, we need to create a link from the Katy Trail terminus at the American Airlines Center to Downtown. I've been working on this for months, riding my bike from the Katy Trail to the Arts District, looking for the best link, talking with developers in the area, talking with our Park Department. It appears to me that Olive is the best route for an Uptown trail for several reasons. First, it cuts through the middle of the Arts District, which is a very walkable/bikeable area. Second, it will cross the middle of the Woodall Rogers Park, creating a great route to a Downtown park. Third, the land along Olive is largely undeveloped, creating an opportunity to build into those new developments a wide trail instead of teensy, tiny sidewalks. (I've already gotten two major properties along the route to agree to 5' parkways with 10' sidewalks). Fourth, there is a new trolley route recently adopted by the City Council that will go along Olive between McKinney and Downtown, creating a nice pedestrian/alternate transportation route. Fifth, if we create a lane of traffic dedicated to the trolley south of McKinney, we could continue that dedicated lane north of McKinney for pedestrian and bicycle use.Overall, the Woodall Rogers Park project is expected to cost $60M, split equally between the private sector, the city, and state/federal/grants. The city's part of the cost will be included in the proposed 2006 bond program.
Downtown, Parks & Recreation, Uptown
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Posted by Angela at 0:17 am on Monday -->Permalink
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Wednesday, January 11, 2006-->
New Uptown Trolley Line Approved
Today the City Council voted to approve a new trolley line connecting Uptown to Downtown. The trolley line will run from the current McKinney trolley line, turn south down Olive Street, and end at Bryan Street. The line will run down the west side of Olive, go through the Arts District past the Nasher, and connect to the Pearl Street DART light rail line on Bryan Street. Right now, the plan is for the trolley to return along the same line. In the future, there will likely be a separate return route.There is currently a trolley line from McKinney Avenue down St. Paul , the line ends at Ross Avenue. The McKinney Avenue Trolley Authority, a non-profit that supports the Uptown Trolley, analyzed various ways to extend the trolley line to a DART light rail line in Downtown. In particular, MATA examined extending the St. Paul line, but due to underground utility problems, could not do so.I'm very excited about the new connection to Downtown, into the Arts District. Just yesterday, the Economic Development Committee was briefed on the final report of the Inside the Loop Committee. The Inside the Loop Committee is a group of Downtown stakeholders who, at the City's direction, have developed a comprehensive plan for Downtown that includes transportation, parks and trails, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, and improved signage. One of their primary objectives is to link Downtown to nearby areas, including Uptown, and this trolley line accomplishes that.This resolution was important. While we did not allocate funds to this project, we ensured that a state grant that was given to the City years ago did not expire.VOTE: The new trolley line was unanimously approved.
Downtown, Transportation, Uptown
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Posted by Angela at 9:59 am on Wednesday -->Permalink
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Monday, October 17, 2005-->
Proposal to Create "Trinity Crossing Entertainment Complex"
On Wednesday, the Council will be briefed by the Economic Development Department on a proposal to create an entertainment complex near the Convention Center in Downtown Dallas. You can read the briefing here: Council BriefingThe terms of the proposal have not been hammered out yet, but the tentative plan looks like this:-The City owns Reunion Arena, but is losing over a million dollars a year on it. The arena's total land area is about 360,000 sq. ft.-The City owns half of the Convention Center's Parking Lot E. Hunt Consolidated owns the other half, about 331,000 sq. ft.-Lot E is where a company named Dallas City Limits is interested in creating an entertainment complex.-The proposed deal would entail a land swap between Hunt Consolidated (Parking Lot E) and the City of Dallas (Reunion Arena). The City has received two conflicting appraisals on the properties, so we're doing a third appraisal. At that point we'll have more details about the possible land swap.That's part one of the deal. The second part of the deal proposes that the City sell Lot E to Dallas City Lights for fair market value to build the enterntainment complex. As proposed, the entertainment complex would house retail shops, restaurants, and a horse racing track with "Video Lottery Terminals." That's a fancy way of saying slot machines.I am supportive of the idea of consolidating the land at Lot E in order to create an entertainment center. I am also supportive of creating an entertainment center in our Downtown. HOWEVER, I am very troubled by the idea of allowing slot machines at the race track. Slot machines are highly addictive, prey on the poor, and in general create a seedy atmosphere that I don't think is right for our Downtown.Many cities that once permitted slot machines are now putting constraints on them or getting rid of them altogether. If our city becomes dependent on slot machine revenue, it would be nearly impossible to get rid of that form of gambling down the line. (The State Legislature would have to approve such slot machines before Dallas could proceed.)I am less troubled by regulated horse racing if slot machines are excluded. However, race tracks without slot machines are in decline. Successful new racetracks, called "racinos," incorporate slot machines and other forms of gambling into the mix. When these racinos are financially successful, it is due to the non-race gambling income, such as slot machines. So the question becomes, can our proposed race track stand alone, without slot machines, and still make money? If not, can Dallas City Limits put together an entertainment package that doesn't include a race track or slot machines?
Council Briefings, Downtown
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Posted by Angela at 0:07 am on Monday -->Permalink
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Tuesday, March 22, 2005-->
Downtown Residents Council
This evening I spoke with the Downtown Residents Council about the upcoming projects to improve our central business district: the Master Plan for Downtown Parks, the new grocery store, the new DART rail alignment, and new mixed-use developments.After I graduated from law school, my husband and I became urban pioneers, living in downtown Dallas for two years – in the old Titche-Goettinger/Joske’s building (now known as 1900 Elm). Living in such an urban environment, I saw firsthand the need for revitalization to create a livable downtown neighborhood. I am committed to redeveloping our downtown, and will continue to work towards creating the residential “critical mass” needed to spur further development. It is crucial that downtown become home to more rental and owner-occupied housing, restaurants, and retail development. In addition, we must consider creating a Local Government Corporation to further our goals downtown.
Downtown
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Posted by Angela at 8:19 pm on Tuesday -->Permalink
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Thursday, March 3, 2005-->
Central Dallas Association Annual Meeting
This afternoon I attended the annual meeting of the CDA where Richard Baron, chairman and CEO of McCormack Baron Salazar, was the keynote speaker. Mr. Baron discussed the importance that quality schools play in the economic revitalization of downtown areas. The CDA has done an exceptional job of reorganizing and consolidating many of our disparate downtown groups, and I look forward to working with them to create a vibrant downtown.
Commerce, Downtown
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Posted by Angela at 5:29 pm on Thursday