Friday, December 11, 2009

Dallas Design District's second redo takes shape

Justin Tamayo did a double take as he was driving through the Dallas Design District a few months ago."I was amazed to see the all apartments they had built," Tamayo said. "I didn't know all of that was there."

Tamayo was so taken with the neighborhood that he moved there. "I bring my friends down there, and they're surprised at what's here," he said.

Indeed, if you haven't taken a recent spin down Hi Line Drive – or don't even know where it is – the trip will be eye-popping.

Developers have built three big apartment communities just west of Stemmons Freeway, and hundreds of residents have moved in.

Restaurants and shops are on the way.

"Obviously having 1,000 apartment units with a lot of people makes it more of a 24-hour environment," said Mike Ablon of Pegasus Ablon Properties, which is marketing the redevelopment. "There's a lot of excitement about the overall Design District."


Not its first redo

The former commercial neighborhood between Stemmons Freeway and the Trinity River started out as a warehouse district. In the 1980s, it began morphing into a neighborhood of design and furnishing firms.

Now the Design District is being remade into an urban village just northwest of the Victory Park complex.

Developer Wood Partners is the biggest player in the nascent rental market, finishing construction on two projects with more than 500 units between them.

"There's a pretty dramatic metamorphosis in that area," said Wood Partners' C. Todd McCulloch. "With every passing month, the Design District is more of an established neighborhood."

Wood Partners has leased about 60 percent of its Alta Design District project on Inspiration Drive just west of Victory Park.

The apartments rent for an average of $1,400 a month.

And the first tenants are about to start moving in at Wood Partners' 214-unit Alta 1900 Lofts building at the corner of Hi Line and Oak Lawn Avenue.

"We've been working on these deals for a long time, and it's surreal to see them open and people moving in," McCulloch said.

Trammell Crow Residential has rented more than half of its 355-unit Alexan Design District complex on Oak Lawn.

"The renters are coming from all over," said Crow Residential's senior managing director, Darren Schackman. "We are right in the middle between downtown and the medical center."

With rents that average more than $1,000 a month, the Alexa complex is vying with other new rental options in the area.

"Competition is good and bad," Schackman said. "But we are getting a good critical mass of people, which is bringing other development into the area, including restaurant and retail."


Eats on the way

Dallas businessman Shannon Wynne will start work soon on a restaurant at Hi Line and Oak Lawn.

"I still think it's a big secret," Wynne said. "Some people think we are absolutely crazy to go down there."

Still, Wynne said he's been impressed with the streetscape and landscaping upgrades in the area.

His new restaurant will be "a gastro-pub, for lack of a better term."

Three more restaurants are in negotiations, he said, but the retail and restaurant market in the Design District won't take off overnight.

"People think you put up a couple of apartment buildings, and it's going to be instant customer base," Wynne said. "It isn't that easy."