Tuesday, February 14, 2006

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