Monday, August 11, 2008

West End Station complex opens this month

It's been more than a decade since the first light-rail trains started running through downtown Dallas.

But the West End Station won't open until late this month.

This "station" at Lamar Street and Ross Avenue is bringing 146 high-end apartments and ground-floor retail space to the West End entertainment district. The rental community sits next to DART's busy commuter rail stop.

Besides providing new digs for transit-oriented urban dwellers, the apartment community and some other things in the works will give the neighborhood a shot in the arm, downtown boosters and West End property owners hope.

"Having those new apartment renters move in will be a big plus for the area," said John Crawford, president and CEO of DowntownDallas, the business and economic development group. "That will help it again become a booming area.

"All of the pieces are in place in the West End."

Along with the new residential space, a Georgia-based educational organization – the Savannah College of Art and Design – is considering the vacant West End Marketplace on Market Street and an adjoining office building for the site of a downtown Dallas campus.

"The impact of that decision is definitely huge, relating to the West End and all of downtown," Mr. Crawford said. "Just that one move could be pivotal in revitalizing the area."

The college is expected to decide on the deal later this year.

Regardless of what happens with the school, increased emphasis on mass transit and renewed interest in the center city are refocusing attention on the West End.

The district of restored early 20th-century commercial buildings on downtown's northwest corner is popular with tourists and convention visitors but has been less of a draw with locals.

Even so, with more than a dozen restaurants and watering holes, office and retail space, the West End has been one of the liveliest sectors of downtown for years. It was one of the first areas of the central business district to be revitalized, starting in the 1970s.

But with the construction of the nearby Victory complex and addition of restaurant and retail space on Main Street, there's been concern about the prospects for the West End.

New developments that bring additional residents and workers are no doubt welcome.

"Our West End Station project just opened the leasing center last week," said Brad Taylor, developer JPI's senior vice president and regional manager. "However, we won't have any units available until Aug. 20, so we don't have anything to show yet."

JPI also owns the 3-year-old 1000 Ross apartment and retail building just across the street from the West End Station. Apartments in the complex are rented, but interest in the ground-floor shops has lagged.

"Our retail activity is slow, but we are hopeful that once we get some residential occupancy we will have more retail interest," Mr. Taylor said.

The biggest block of empty building space in the neighborhood is in the West End Marketplace – a 240,000-square-foot retail, restaurant and cinema building that's been closed since 2006.

Building owner Ecom Real Estate has been marketing the property to potential tenants.

"We continue to believe the West End Marketplace is a very good single-tenant building," said Ecom's Bill Nabors, who is talking to office tenants about the property. Mr. Nabors wouldn't comment about discussions with the Savannah school.

Ecom also owns several other buildings in the West End.

"We have seen a little uptick in our restaurant and retailers' sales down there," Mr. Nabors said. "This year, I've done over 20,000 square feet of net leasing down there."

He scoffs at the notion that the West End has been hurt by construction of the huge Victory development just to the north.

"In the short term, it did cause us some pain, and we lost a couple of tenants," Mr. Nabors said. "But in the long term, it's fabulous.

"Someone builds $3.5 billion of stuff across the street from you – come on, why wouldn't that be good?"

Another major West End property owner – Dallas real estate investor Edward "Bubba" Tomlinson – recently purchased more land in the district and has landed a new restaurant tenant for his Dallas Alley building at McKinney Avenue and Lamar Street.

"It appears to me that the area has now developed some synergy," Mr. Tomlinson said.

He's optimistic that a new office high-rise and another condo tower opening later this year at Victory will bring more customers to that corner of downtown.

"We were always hopeful that more people would start looking at the West End," Mr. Tomlinson said. "Hopefully, that will occur."

By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News