Monday, June 23, 2008

Downtown's charm lies in its urban heart

Recently we've been hearing from suburban folks who've gotten rattled while visiting downtown Dallas.

They are frightened of homeless people, confused by one-way streets and put off by vacant buildings. One writer to the paper said he feared for his life walking in the West End.

What's up with this?

Sure, downtown Dallas doesn't look much like the blocks of strip malls and office campuses that line the streets up in Frisco and Allen. That's a good thing.

Urban districts aren't supposed to be theme parks. And if you want a secure, luxury entertainment environment, may I suggest a country club? Don't look for that in most central business districts.

If you think downtown Dallas looks scruffy now, remember how things were in the mid-1990s.

Rows of empty office towers lined Main Street, where most of the retail choices ranged from bail bondsmen to take-out food.

Thousands of full-time residents now live in converted downtown office buildings.

And downtown's shopping options are growing – albeit slower than city boosters would like.

Yes, there are panhandlers. But I see them on street corners in North Dallas, too. I've had beggars follow me to the car on Greenville Avenue asking for a handout.

And if you believe that downtown Dallas' homeless people are "aggressive," then come with me to Seattle or San Francisco, where I have seen bums actually chase tourists down the street screaming for a handout.

This is a nationwide problem, and the situation in Dallas isn't out of line with other major cities. It's just part of the urban experience.

Yes, that's a problem for some suburban visitors.

They may be used to manufactured downtowns like the Southlake Town Square or Plano's Legacy park. In those "urban-style" centers, the flowerpots are always full of blooms, the gutters are swept clean, and security guards ride about in brightly colored golf carts. Music plays from hidden speakers, and misters cool the air on hot days.

It's all great, but that's not a central business district.

Downtown Dallas is the real thing – warts and all.

Site gets attention

A Turtle Creek-area building site has attracted the attention of a luxury housing developer.

Real estate brokers say Drexel Development is shopping a vacant tract north of the Mansion of Turtle Creek. The property was previously earmarked for the Cresta Bella high-rise condo, but that deal didn't go forward.

Drexel has built high-density residential projects in Uptown, Oak Lawn and North Dallas.

And Drexel partner Robert Edelman was one of the original developers of the Plaza at Turtle Creek I residential towers near the Mansion.

Colliers International has been marketing the property. Newt Walker Co. represents Drexel.

Tower-top space

Office tenants who want a bird's-eye view of the West Village and downtown might consider 15 vacant floors on top of the Tower at Cityplace.

Stream Realty Partners is hunting tenants for the space, which previously housed the headquarters of 7-Eleven.

The 420,000-square-foot block of office space is one of the largest in Dallas.

A Florida-based investor who paid more than $125 million for the 42-story tower last year had planned to convert the empty offices into luxury housing. But with the home market on the fritz, the developer thought better of that plan.