Monday, November 14, 2005

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News
Downtown homeless center plan passes easily

Battle over shelter site will continue, foes say

12:30 AM CST on Wednesday, November 9, 2005

By KIM HORNER / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas voters on Tuesday easily approved a $23.8 million downtown center to help the city's growing homeless population despite a fierce campaign to defeat the project.

"Dallas has got a heart and is going to do the right thing by the homeless," Dallas homeless czar Mike Rawlings said. "We've got to deal with this issue downtown. It's a serious issue, and I think everybody recognizes it."

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But Tuesday's vote probably will not end the fight over the project's location. While the City Council has approved a site in the southeastern part of downtown, opponents said they plan to continue advocating for something outside the downtown loop. They say that location will kill revitalization plans.

Mayor Laura Miller said she was thrilled with the outcome, adding that the city will immediately begin work on the plan.

"After three years of analyzing this issue, we feel strongly this is the solution," she said. "We are off and running."

Others on the council were less enthused and took a more tentative approach.

"I'm going to be pushing for a location change," City Council member Bill Blaydes said. "My fight has not been against the homeless assistance center, it has been against the location and the fact we don't have it [the center] planned out."

The bond proposition did not specify a location for the homeless assistance center. Ms. Miller said the city studied the issue for three years and found the approved site to be the best one.

"The only other feasible site, across the freeway from the preferred location, has strong opposition from Old City Park and the Cedars neighborhood. I support the existing site," she said.

The new assistance center will be the largest public project to address homelessness in the city's history. Mr. Rawlings said the facility will be the first step toward solving Dallas' homelessness problem, which has grown to an estimated 6,000 people in shelters and on the streets. Experts believe those numbers will continue to grow, especially as hurricane evacuees now in the area run out of assistance.

The bond measure, Proposition 14, faced strong opposition from The Heart of Dallas Partnership, a group of downtown business owners. Larry Hamilton, a developer who led the political action committee, said he was disappointed at the election's outcome, adding that his group will continue to seek an alternative site.

"I'm amazed at the turnout. We gave it a good shot," he said.

Mr. Hamilton said his group faced a challenge getting its message out because many people are compassionate and inclined to vote for something they think will help the homeless.

The Heart of Dallas Partnership raised more than $160,000 to defeat the bond measure and sent out several mailers, used automated phone calls and posted signs throughout the city.

The project's supporters led a quiet campaign by comparison, with just one mailer and fewer political signs. Separate from the homeless czar's campaign, homeless people rallied downtown Monday to support the project. Mr. Rawlings said the well-funded opposition campaign put a dent in support for the project.

Despite the vigorous opposition, it is difficult to fight a ballot measure in such a low-turnout race, said Cal Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University. Voters appeared to support the city's message that the project would help, rather than hurt, downtown by giving police a place to take homeless people instead of jail.

"If you think about the issue of downtown, there does seem to be some momentum," Dr. Jillson said. "The homeless presence has to be dealt with, and I think people took this to be a positive way to begin."

Dallas plans to build a 24-hour center that will provide shelter, restrooms, showers, job training, mental health treatment and an outdoor pavilion for those who refuse to go inside area shelters. The goal is to give homeless people a place to go instead of the streets, where they draw complaints from businesses for sleeping, loitering or urinating in public. The plan also includes funds for single-room-occupancy apartments.

The new facility would replace the city's nearby overcrowded and inadequate Day Resource Center. Voters approved $3 million for the facility in a 2003 bond election, but that was not nearly enough to build a center.

The homeless assistance center is part of a 10-year plan the city adopted last year to end chronic homelessness. The city has at least 1,000 people considered to be chronic homeless ? those who have mental illnesses or addictions and have been on the streets for years ? the most visible homeless people on the streets who often refuse to use shelters.

The decision thrilled homeless advocates, who have pressed for years for more programs to address homelessness.

"When the center opens, it is going to immediately provide a new entry to services in this community," said Cindy Honey, executive director of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. "No longer will people who are homeless have to struggle to find the place that will serve them. There won't be any question about where they can go."

Staff writer Emily Ramshaw contributed to this report.

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News
Dallas' new day

Performing arts center will redefine downtown, says ROGER NANNEY

12:00 AM CST on Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Among the many significant dates in Dallas' history, Nov. 10, 2005, will join the list. On this day, Dallas will forge ahead on the final phase of its 25-year journey to complete the Arts District, with the official groundbreaking for the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts.

But it's not going to be a self-congratulatory day for those who have worked on the campaign; instead, it will be known as a day when Dallas began to determine its destiny.

Campaign fundraising for the center is approaching the $200 million benchmark ? the most raised for a cultural arts project in North Texas.

Dallas is filled with benchmarks. In the late 1800s, city leaders worked hard to bring the railroads to town and ensure a successful economic future for Dallas. In the mid-1930s, while other cities were reeling from the Great Depression, Dallas was on center stage as the host of the Texas Centennial celebration.

Groundbreaking for the performing arts center provides the city's first major benchmark in the 21st century. The center will become a cultural icon and will give Dallas what no other city in the world has created ? four buildings in one contiguous block that have been designed by Pritzker Architecture Prize-winning architects.

The Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House, designed by Foster & Partners and led by Norman Foster, and the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, designed by the Office of Metropolitan Architecture and Rem Koolhaas, will join the I.M. Pei-designed Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center and the Nasher Sculpture Center, designed by Renzo Piano.

But these architectural gems represent only part of what the performing arts center will mean to this city. The scheduled completion of the Arts District in 2009 will go hand in hand with bold plans to revitalize downtown Dallas and re-energize the city center. Just as Dallas redefined itself during the height of the Depression, these plans will redefine downtown as the city's central gathering place.

The performing arts center will include much more than an opera house and theater for live performances. The completely renovated Annette Strauss Artist Square will be a wonderful venue for outdoor events, while the Grand Plaza will provide a place to enjoy the outdoors and admire the surroundings.

With plans to create a Woodall Rodgers park over the nearby downtown freeway and the construction of One Arts Plaza, bringing in corporate, retail and restaurants, the Arts District promises to be the most attractive and popular location in the area. The performing arts center will be part of that destiny, providing a tremendous boost to the arts in this community. And, by generating an economic boost for Dallas, it will mean just as much to those who never attend a performance. More than $170 million in new financial activity and at least 2,000 new jobs in the arts and hospitality industry are expected to be created by this project.

The most recent economic impact study prepared by Deloitte & Touche USA LLP reported that the economic impact of the arts on Dallas is more than $500 million. This, of course, did not include this additional economic boost.

All of North Texas will be the beneficiary of a performing arts complex, for which more than 90 percent of construction funds are being raised privately.

City leaders were visionaries when they created the concept of the Arts District more than a quarter-century ago. Their dream was to design a place where downtown business and the cultural arts could grow together.

As ground breaks for the performing arts center and construction cranes surround the area with new office, residential and retail development, that dream will be realized.

So, the celebration tomorrow isn't simply for the vibrant new arts venues that the performing arts center will bring. It is also for the bold way this city is revitalizing its central core and preparing for the future.

Roger Nanney is vice chairman and regional managing partner of Deloitte & Touche USA LLP and a member of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts Foundation board of directors. His e-mail address is

Downtown Dallas & Uptown Real Estate News

For nearly 20 years, the 1 million sq. ft. Mercantile Bank complex has hung like an albatross around the neck of the downtown Dallas office market, dragging down occupancy rates and choking off urban renewal. Situated on Main Street in the heart of the central business district, the four-building complex has sat empty since the late 1980s, when tenants in older properties flocked to the shiny new glass skyscrapers built in Dallas during the market's heyday.

The complex, known locally as The Merc, was developed in the 1930s and includes a 33-story tower. Three different groups have tried to redevelop it over the years — into office space, residential units and even a fashion center. But, faced with exorbitant remediation costs, including about $6 million for asbestos removal and tepid city support, they couldn't make the numbers work.

Enter Forest City Enterprises, a Cleveland-based developer known for tackling complicated urban renovations. In mid-September, city officials approved $70 million in incentives to persuade the company to work its magic in Dallas. Forest City currently is redeveloping five other office towers nearby — the Continental building and the four-building Atmos Energy complex — into residential and retail space.

Of the 32 million sq. ft. of office space downtown, nearly one-third is vacant, but the vacancy is concentrated in obsolete buildings like The Merc. Class-A properties, meanwhile, have only 20% vacancy. Despite some of the lowest lease rates in the market at about $19.50 per sq. ft., the scarcity of an existing labor pool has made it difficult to lure new tenants.

About 3,000 people live in the 2,200 housing units that exist in downtown Dallas. City officials hope to have 10,000 downtown units and about 14,000 residents by 2010.

David Levey, executive vice president with Forest City, says Dallas should aim higher. “We think the city should shoot for 25,000 housing units downtown,” he says. Forest City will contribute about 840 units to the cause. Three of the four Mercantile buildings will be demolished, replaced by a parking garage, retail space and a new 12-story, 150-unit apartment building. The 33-story tower that remains will be redeveloped into 225 apartments. The Continental building will go condo, with 240 units. All are scheduled for completion in about two years. Forest City will then redevelop the Atmos Energy complex into 222 apartment or condo units, Levey says, depending on market demand.

Alice Murray, president of the Central Dallas Association, says anteing up $70 million for the Mercantile project is the boldest thing the Dallas City Council has ever done. “It's a giant leap of faith for both of us. Forest City wouldn't be coming to Dallas if they didn't think the company could find success here.”

If Forest City can get a good enough return on its investments in Dallas, other developers will be lured downtown, Murray says. There are 15 other vacant office towers in downtown Dallas, but no subsidy money left.