Saturday, January 10, 2009

Celebration marks revival of 'The Merc' in downtown Dallas

More than 150 people are gathering downtown late Friday afternoon to celebrate the revival of a Dallas landmark.

They are former bank employees who worked in the Mercantile National Bank tower on Main Street.

Forest City Enterprises – which has turned the 67-year-old skyscraper into apartments – is holding the soiree and a spokeswoman said the developer has been startled by the response.

“There are so many people coming that we have actually had to move the party next door to our new building,” said spokeswoman Christine Rombouts. “A lot of people have such a close connection to the old building.

“This will be the first time that the group has met in many years, and it will be the first time that many of them get to see the renovated building.”

The 31-story stone and brick building with its neon-lit clock tower was built as the headquarters of Dallas’ Mercantile National Bank, which later became MCorp.

Opened in 1942, it was the only such project in the country completed during World War II.

The Merc – as it came to be called – was designed by noted New York architect Walter Ahlschlager, who also designed Manhattan's Roxy Theater and the landmark Peabody Hotel in Memphis.

When it debuted, the Merc was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River and billed as “a city in the sky.” It housed banking operations and other businesses until MCorp went out of business in the late 1980s.

Then the building sat vacant for many years until it was purchased in 2005 by Cleveland-based Forest City.

With the help of public sector funding, Forest City has redeveloped the original tower into a 213-unit apartment building with retail space on the lower floors.

Next door, the developer has constructed a 15-story, 156-unit apartment building that it calls Element.

“The new building is done and we just got our certificate of occupancy,” Rombouts said. “The first residents will be moving into that building at the first of the month.”

The landmark tower is now about 50 percent occupied, “which we are happy to achieve in this market,” she said.

At this afternoon’s party, guests will get a tour of both buildings.

The event will also raise money for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society