Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Dallas likely to pay for 500 permanent housing units for homeless

The Dallas City Council has agreed that taxpayers should help fund the construction of 700 permanent housing units for homeless people who need consistent support to get off the streets.

Though council members haven't yet committed any money to the plan, their vote Wednesday signaled that they intend to use city money to pay for about 500 of the 700 units within the next five years. Federal funds will pay for about 200.

In today's dollars, the cost of the housing ranges from $7.2 million to $18 million. The project also will include about $4 million to provide support services like medical care and drug and alcohol treatment to residents.

Mike Rawlings, Dallas' homeless czar, told the council that providing permanent homes to people on the streets not only helps them but is cheaper for taxpayers in the long run.

"It's important to say to the public that this works," Rawlings said.

The city has worked aggressively in recent years to tackle homelessness, most notably with construction of The Bridge, a multimillion-dollar downtown homeless center that provides shelter and food with no questions asked.

Hundreds of homeless have already moved from The Bridge into homes, Rawlings said.

The permanent housing element of the city's plan to end homelessness is certain to draw heavy scrutiny, however, both because of its cost and concerns about where the city would place the housing units.

Council member Mitchell Rasansky noted that each unit the city builds would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

"I want to study the whole thing, but it would be a long time before I would support something like that," he said.

Hotel vote delayed

The council deferred a vote on approving Omni Hotels as operator of the planned convention center hotel downtown.

The deferral was caused in part by a delay in the completion of documents related to the agreement and in part because the council would have had little time to review the final agreement.

It comes, however, at a time when Omni's rival for the contract, Marriott Hotels, is heavily lobbying Mayor Tom Leppert and the council.

Though the council's economic development committee voted to give the contract to Omni, a vote of the full council is required.

Smoking law enforcers

On the heels of approving a sweeping municipal smoking ordinance expansion last month, the council voted Wednesday to spend $165,674 in contingency reserve funds to hire new smoking law enforcers.

The expenditure is necessary, City Manager Mary Suhm said, in order to adequately address complaints about smoking occurring within buildings such as bars, billiard halls and most other indoor workplaces.

Smoking in such venues will be illegal starting April 10. The expenditure will pay for three new "sanitarian" positions in the Environmental and Health Services Department.

Not all council members were convinced, however, arguing that the expenditure is unnecessary.

"You'll see a lot of initial complaints, and then you won't get a lot," council member Sheffie Kadane said.

The expenditure easily passed, 11-3, with Kadane and council members Mitchell Rasansky and Steve Salazar voting against it. Council member Vonciel Jones Hill was absent.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dallas City Council hears about benefits of planning denser neighborhoods

Four top urban planners from the U.S. and Canada on Wednesday urged the Dallas City Council to encourage development of dense neighborhoods where people have choices about the kind of transportation they use.

The forum with the planners came at an important time for the council.

In coming weeks, the council will consider a major overhaul of the city's zoning code with an eye toward encouraging development of the kind of densely populated neighborhoods that define cities with vibrant urban cores.

The proposed new zoning ordinance – known as form-based zoning for its focus on the look of buildings rather than their use – has stirred some controversy on the council over where and how it should be used in Dallas.

On Wednesday, urban planner and Brookings Institution fellow Christopher Leinberger urged the council to select about seven areas in Dallas of several hundred acres or more and to use zoning regulations to encourage those areas to densely develop with residences, shopping and offices.

Meanwhile, the city should also determine what neighborhoods it wants to protect from that kind of density, he said.

Compared with the traditional suburban-style development Dallas has seen for decades, "walkable urban places are unbelievably complex. You need to have a strategy," Leinberger said.

Larry Beasley, former director of planning for the city of Vancouver, said Dallas needs to do a better job thinking about its design and the look and feel of its future development, both on a neighborhood scale and on the scale of the entire city.

He suggested creating public design centers, possibly at libraries, where Dallas citizens could go and look at the proposed design of projects in their neighborhoods.

The idea intrigued Mayor Tom Leppert, who said it could be a good way to engage people outside of City Hall.

Mr. Leppert, a former construction company chief executive, said he is also interested in finding ways to make it simpler to build dense urban neighborhoods.

"Clearly we need to approach it in a different way. The traditional process is not getting what the city needs, but you better define the areas where you want this to happen," he said.

Council member Angela Hunt called Wednesday's forum "an incredible meeting" that brought forth a flood of new ideas about urban planning for Dallas.

"We need to focus on areas we want to develop [densely], identify them, put a boundary around them. Then we need to identify areas we want to protect. Too often it's a battle between developers and neighborhoods," she said.

If the city determines at the outset what it wants, those battles don't have to be so bitter, she said.

Also speaking before the council at Wednesday's forum were Los Angeles transportation planner James Rojas, and former Charlottesville, Va., Mayor Maurice Cox.


Construction of downtown Dallas' Woodall Rodgers Park delayed up to four months

Initial construction of downtown Dallas' Woodall Rodgers Park, scheduled to begin this spring, will be pushed back up to four months because of design delays, park officials say.

Specifically, park engineers are being slowed by changes in recent federal life safety standards that will require new construction designs to protect against fire and vehicle fumes, said Ed Fjordbak, a member of the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation.

"As a result, the design documents are behind. It'll be about four months," Fjordbak said. "But we think we're going to be able to make up the time."

Dallas Park and Recreation Department Director Paul Dyer says construction is now estimated to begin sometime in August.

Deck park officials are still planning to begin utility work within a few weeks, rerouting electrical systems and addressing storm water and sewer facilities, Fjordbak said.

The construction delay is still "very unfortunate," said Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt, whose District 14 includes the deck park.

"It's one of the key projects in the Arts District, but it appears the delay is unavoidable," Hunt said.

This is but the latest construction delays for the more than five-acre deck park, which when built will cover over canyon-like Woodall Rodgers Freeway between Akard and Pearl streets.

Upon the park concept's unveiling several years ago, officials estimated that construction of the park, which they say will help infuse the center city with vitality, would commence in mid-2007. The park will physically link two of Dallas' most burgeoning sections: tony Uptown and the Dallas Arts District.

At this juncture, the park is scheduled to open in mid-2011, Fjordbak said.

Despite the construction delay, "I don't think the opening will have to be pushed too far back," said John Crawford, president and chief executive officer of DowntownDallas, which represents center city business interest. "Obviously, the sooner we get started the better. But safety is safety - and safety is first."

There may not even be any further opening day delay at all, Dyer added.

In October, officials estimated that the park would cost $56 million to build, the funding bankrolled by a combination of public and private funds.

But the ultimate project cost has fluctuated in recent years, and will likely continue to do so because of changes in fuel and construction material prices.

If anything, the park's price could decrease because of lower material costs, Dyer said.
Dave Levinthal

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Veletta Forsythe Lill Named Executive Director of The Dallas Arts District

DOWNTOWNDALLAS, Mayor Tom Leppert and Council Member Angela Hunt Announce New Vision and Leadership for Arts District
Veletta Forsythe Lill Named Executive Director of The Dallas Arts District

January 21, 2009. 2:00pm. At a press conference held today at the Meyerson Symphony Center, Mayor Tom Leppert, City Council Member Angela Hunt and John F. Crawford, President & CEO of DOWNTOWNDALLAS, announced a new vision for leadership and management of The Dallas Arts District with the hiring of Veletta Forsythe Lill as Executive Director, working within the framework of the DOWNTOWNDALLAS organization.

In response to the rapidly changing environment in the Arts District, stakeholders have spent the last three years studying its future, assessing its needs as a vibrant urban destination. As a result, after incorporating consultant recommendations with feedback from existing Arts District organizations, the stakeholder committee finalized a vision and management structure for the future. That model utilizes existing assets of the Arts District and partners those strengths with the resources and programs housed within DOWNTOWNDALLAS.

John F. Crawford, President & CEO summarized, “Downtown has reached a pivotal point in its revitalization, with success abounding in each of our 13 Districts. And there is no denying that the Dallas Arts District is going to make a mark on our landscape for decades to come. We are thrilled to be expanding our services and capabilities within this key District.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Downtown Dallas plans major arts announcement

DowntownDallas, the nonprofit group that advocates for growth in Dallas' central business district, will make what it is calling a major announcement alongside city leaders on Wednesday about the future management of the Dallas Arts District.

A spokeswoman for DowntownDallas would not elaborate on the exact nature of the announcement, but in a statement the organization said the event is centered around the announcement of new leadership and management of the Dallas Arts District.

The announcement, which will take place at the Meyerson Symphony Center Wednesday afternoon, will include Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, City Council Member Angela Hunt and John Crawford, president and chief executive officer of DowntownDallas.

Leaders working for major arts district players, including the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, the Meyerson Symphony Center, the Crow Collection of Asian Art, the Dallas Museum of Art, One Arts Plaza and the Arts District Alliance are scheduled to be in attendance.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bush picks Preston Center high-rise for Dallas office

President George W. Bush will have a short commute from his North Dallas home to his new private office.

The General Services Administration said Wednesday that it's leased the soon-to-be-former president an 8,000-square-foot space in a Preston Center high-rise.

The Sherry Lane Place tower is just east of the Dallas North Tollway and less than three miles from the house the Bushes own in nearby Preston Hollow.

The government is paying almost $39 per square foot for a 10-year lease in the building.

Bush is paying top dollar for his new office digs. The average office rent in North Texas is only about $21.

The president plans to move into the space this summer.

In the meantime, he'll have a smaller temporary office in the nearby The Berkshire at Preston Center building.

By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News

Legendary Dallas real estate developer Trammell Crow dies

Trammell Crow, a poor bookkeeper's son who became the world's biggest commercial real estate developer, has died at age 94 after a long illness.

Mr. Crow died late Wednesday on his family farm in East Texas. No cause of death was given, but his family announced in 2002 that he had Alzheimer's disease.

During his career, Mr. Crow reshaped Dallas' landscape.

For more than 50 years after he built his first commercial building, he and his company developed six downtown skyscrapers, Dallas' largest hotel, the world's biggest wholesale trade center and millions of square feet of warehouse space.

"He was America's greatest developer," Mack Pogue, a longtime friend and former business partner, said Thursday. "Other than Erik Jonsson, I think Trammell is the most important guy that's come through this town based on the effect he has had on the city."

In its founder's lifetime, the Trammell Crow Co. built more than 100 million square feet of commercial buildings.

Mr. Crow was one of the first U.S. developers to expand his empire around the globe – office buildings in Germany, hotels in Hong Kong and luxury resorts in the South Pacific islands.

At home, he shifted the growth of downtown toward the northeast, with new skyscrapers along Bryan Street and Ross Avenue outside the old financial district. And he developed huge swaths of the Stemmons Freeway corridor.

It all started with a single-story warehouse he built on the banks of the Trinity River in the late 1940s. By the mid-1950s, Crow was Dallas' largest warehouse builder.

And in 1959, he constructed his first downtown building – the 13-story Hartford Building at Bryan and St. Paul streets.

By 1986, the Trammell Crow Co. had assets of more than $13 billion with 90 offices and more than 5,000 employees.

His company's skyscrapers – including Dallas' 50-story Trammell Crow Center and the 53-story Chase Tower – reshaped skylines in the 1980s in cities stretching from Charlotte, N.C., to Atlanta, San Francisco and San Diego.

"He would do things no one would do and get away with them 90 percent of the time," said Mr. Pogue, who's chief executive of Dallas-based Lincoln Property Co. "Trammell had courage."

When Roger Staubach was just starting in real estate in 1970, Mr. Crow was already a legend. "Everybody aspired to be Trammell Crow. He was my Tom Landry off the field."

Odd jobs

Looking at Mr. Crow's humble beginnings, it would have seemed far-fetched to predict his success.

Fred Trammell Crow was the fifth of eight children who grew up in a rented one-bedroom house off Fitzhugh Street in East Dallas.

His father, Jefferson Crow, worked as a bookkeeper for Collett Munger – one of Dallas' early real estate developers who built the Munger Place subdivision.

Unable to attend college because of the Great Depression, Mr. Crow worked after high school at odd jobs, cleaning bricks, plucking chickens and delivering new cars from the Ford plant near downtown.

Civic leader Ruth Altshuler's older brother, former U.S. Rep. Jim Collins, was Mr. Crow's lifelong buddy. "Trammell was such a poor boy, didn't have a car or anything and was one of seven or eight children, so he'd walk over to our house every day, and Mother would drive him and Jim to Woodrow Wilson High School," recalled Altshuler, who was in grammar school at the time.

In 1933, Mr. Crow landed a "high-paying" job as a runner for Mercantile National Bank in Dallas, earning about $13 a week. He took night classes to become a teller and later studied accounting at Southern Methodist University.

In 1938, at 24, he was the youngest certified public accountant in Texas.

Accounting carried him through the war years – during World War II, he was auditor for the U.S. Navy and was promoted to the rank of commander.

Mr. Crow married Margaret Doggett in 1942 while stationed with the Navy in Orange, Texas, and the couple had six children.

Returning to Dallas after the war, he worked as a manager for a grain sales and storage company owned by his wife's family.

While working at Doggett Grain Co., Mr. Crow got his first practical experience in construction, building grain elevators in West Texas and leasing out space in the company's downtown office building to wholesalers.

That early success would ultimately lead to the construction of the huge Dallas Market Center complex, starting in the late 1950s in a partnership with developer John Stemmons.

Mr. Crow built his first warehouse in 1948 and leased it to Ray-O-Vac Battery Co.

He was one of the country's first developers to build "speculative" commercial buildings, properties that had no tenants.

That construction sometimes caused problems for the far-flung Texas builder.

In the mid-1970s, a national recession and overbuilding in many markets threatened the Crow Co. with bankruptcy. Mr. Crow and his partners had to scramble to cover more than $600 million in debts.

"This was a tough time, and he had to hunker down," daughter Lucy Crow Billingsley recalled several years ago. "But Dad was clearly focused on what he had to do."

'Crow Eats Crow'

Mr. Crow was forced to liquidate his ownership position in several landmark properties, including the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco and the Allen Center in Houston.

In its October 1975 issue, Forbes magazine had a headline that read: "Crow Eats Crow."

But he was able to hang on to some of his more cherished assets, including Bryan Tower and the Dallas Market Center.

In the late 1980s, the Crow family again faced foreclosure of the 125-acre Market Center complex near downtown Dallas and the nearby Anatole Hotel when some high-interest loans went into default.

After months of negotiations with lenders, the property was recapitalized with cash and new loans.

Mr. Crow considered risk-taking part of the business.

"I once heard it said that the cat that is burned on an oven range will never touch a hot one again," he said in a 1980 interview. "True enough, but that cat won't go near cold ovens either. The same is true for business. Failures that transform a businessman into a super-cautious individual can cripple."

Ebby Halliday, the grand dame of Dallas residential real estate, called Mr. Crow "a giant among men" who "built an enduring and world-renowned real estate company with a family who carried it on. It was a privilege to be one of his many friends."

Mr. Crow was a confidant of business leaders, politicians and presidents, including Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush.

"He had the ability to form relationships with people that were enduring," said J. McDonald Williams, who succeeded Mr. Crow as manager of day-to-day operations of the Trammell Crow Co. in 1977.

Mr. Williams began his association with Trammell Crow in 1970 when he was doing legal work for the company. Out of the blue, Mr. Crow sent him to Hong Kong to oversee development of a new hotel.

"He was willing to take a bet on me at 30 years old," Mr. Williams said. "That inspired me, just as it inspired so many other people in our company.

"That's a much greater legacy than just his buildings," he said. "Throughout the world, there are ex-Crow people – that's his legacy."

Family business

Two of Trammell Crow's children have gone on to become major players in the real estate industry.

Mr. Crow's son Harlan runs the family's growing investment business, Crow Holdings. His daughter Lucy is building Arts Plaza, a mixed-use project in downtown's arts district, and several large suburban developments.

Mr. Crow had a knack for hiring young, smart people, many with no experience in real estate, and teaching them the ropes.

"His willingness to give young people a chance and let them make mistakes was quite rare in American business," said Marc Myers, a former Crow Co. partner who joined the company fresh out of the military and now has his own company. "He has been a second father to many, many young men beginning their careers in real estate.

"It would be impossible to say too much about that man's influence on the real estate industry."

Most of Mr. Crow's top officers and partners shared his relentless drive.

"He was always driven by the next deal," said Billingsley. "He believes clearly that if he wills it strong enough, he can make it happen.

"He also wants to make sure that the other guy succeeds," she said.

Mr. Crow's interests included almost anything that caught his fancy – parapsychology to mathematics, economics to poetry. "I have the vocabulary of a used car salesman and the feelings of Shakespeare," Mr. Crow told a biographer.

In 1998, Mr. Crow and his wife founded the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art on Flora Street downtown.

He also founded the National Tree Trust and turned the family farm in East Texas into a tree nursery.

Mr. Crow's family acknowledged his struggle with Alzheimer's and made large donations to fight the disease.

"It is a devastating disease, and we hope that we can play a part in finding a cure for it as quickly as possible to help other individuals and their families," Mrs. Crow said when the family donated $1.1 million to UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Mr. Crow is survived by his wife of 66 years; six children, Robert Crow, Howard Crow, Harlan Crow, Trammell S. Crow, Lucy Billingsley and Stuart Crow; 16 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A public service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Highland Park United Methodist Church at 3300 Mockingbird Lane.

Staff writer Cheryl Hall contributed to this report.

1914: Trammell Crow born in Dallas on June 10, the fifth of eight children

1932: Crow graduates from Woodrow Wilson High School

1938: Crow passes the C.P.A. examination at the age of 24, becoming the youngest person to do so at that time in Texas
• Crow accepts an entry-level auditor position with the accounting firm of Ernst & Ernst

1940: Crow accepts a position with Dallas' leading accounting firm, where he specializes in income tax work
• Crow enlists in the U.S. Navy and receives an officer's commission with the rank of Ensign

1942: Crow marries Margaret Doggett
• Having attained the rank of Commander, Crow leaves the Navy and returns to Dallas with his wife and family
• Crow builds his first commercial development, an 11,250 square foot warehouse in the Trinity Industrial District near downtown Dallas
• Partnering with John Stemmons, Dallas' legendary civic and political leader, Crow helps start a commercial building boom in the Trinity River Industrial District in Dallas, pioneering the construction of free-standing warehouse structures and through the early and mid-1950s constructs more than 50 warehouses with approximately 2 million square feet of space in the Trinity Industrial District
• Crow develops the Dallas Design District, the first building of its type to serve decorators and the design trade

1956: Crow develops the Dallas Furniture Mart, thereby helping to shift the focus of an entire industry from Chicago to Dallas
• Crow develops the 14-story Hartford Insurance Company Building, Crow's first office building in downtown Dallas
• Crow develops the Dallas Trade Mart, a 1 million square foot building featuring an atrium – the first in that kind of building in the nation

1962: Crow develops the four-building Stemmons Towers, constructed to stimulate high-rise activity near the Dallas Trade Mart

1963: Crow develops the Dallas Market Hall, one of the largest privately owned exhibition halls in the United States

1964: Crow develops the Dallas Apparel Mart, the largest building of its type in the world

1971: Forbes magazine names Crow the largest private landlord in the United States
• Crow is recognized in the Congressional Record as the largest developer in the United States, and he is honored as representing "the best of business leadership" in the United States
• Crow develops Embarcadero Center in San Francisco
• Crow develops the 40-story Bryan Tower, the first Dallas skyscraper built by a single developer

1974: Crow develops the World Trade Center in Dallas, instantly transforming Dallas into a center for international commerce

1975: Crow develops the Brussels Trade Mart, a facility that would eventually serve several industries including furniture, gifts, jewelry, apparel, toys, and sports equipment, among others

1976: Crow develops Peachtree Center in Atlanta, transforming the city's downtown area
• Crow develops the Anatole Hotel (now Hilton Anatole), a "Village Within A City," the 900-guest room hotel was designed and constructed to be one of the world's finest
• Crow develops the Diamond Shamrock Tower (now KPMG Centre) in Dallas
• Crow completes a 1.7 million square foot expansion of the World Trade Center in Dallas

1981: Crow founds Wyndham Hotel Company and begins developing first-class business hotels around the country, primarily at Trammell Crow Company office park developments

1982: Crow develops the San Jacinto Tower (now 2100 Ross Avenue) in Dallas

1983: Crow develops the "Tower" addition to the Anatole Hotel in Dallas, a 27-story structure that increased the total number of guest rooms at the hotel to 1,620

1984: Crow develops the Dallas Infomart, a 1 million square foot information industry showplace
• Crow develops the LTV Tower (now Trammell Crow Center) in Dallas

1985: Mr. and Mrs. Crow make a gift to Southern Methodist University to fund construction of the Trammell Crow Building for the business school

1986: Crow develops Texas Commerce Tower (now JP Morgan Chase Tower) in Dallas

1987: Fortune magazine names Crow to the U.S. Business Hall of Fame

1990: Crow co-founds the National Tree Trust, a non-profit organization that provides grants and works to unite civic and corporate institutions in support of local tree planting and education projects throughout the United States
• Crow develops Pioneer Plaza in Dallas

1996: Wyndham Hotel Company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, having grown to a company with 68 hotels and 11,400 employees since its founding 15 years earlier

1997: Trammell Crow Company completes its initial public offering of common stock and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange on November 25

1998: Mr. and Mrs. Crow fund the Trammell and Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, a permanent display of many of the items collected during their years of travel

SOURCE: Crow family By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dallas the world's 17th most compelling destination in 2009

Oh, how Dallas City Hall politicos will love this.

The New York Times has ranked Dallas #17 on its list entitled "The 44 Places To Go in 2009."

On the list, Dallas edges out such tourist meccas as Rome, Copenhagen and the Seychelles.

The rationale for Dallas' selection centers around the dramatic expansion of its downtown Arts District, which will soon feature a new theater, opera house and performance hall, among other amenities.

Taxpayers have injected tens of millions of dollars into the $338 million Dallas Center for the Performing Arts expansion, the majority of which is funded by private donations.

Of course, I can't pass up an opportunity to note that The New York Times also ranked my humble and beloved hometown -- Buffalo, N.Y. -- as the #37 best place to visit in the entire world for 2009 on the strength of a spectacular new Burchfield-Penney Art Center, various cultural offerings and affordability.

And if you're really poor, my parents can rent you my old bedroom for $20 a night to help defray the cost of food, gasoline and good Canadian beer during my regular visits.

Dave Levinthal

Downtown Dallas to experience 'zero tolerance' policy on panhandling

Dallas police, aided by a private force of security officers employed by business advocacy group DowntownDallas, will today begin enforcing a "zero tolerance" policy that applies to panhandling, as well as other minor offenses such as public intoxication and sleeping in public.

"It is critical that the private and public sectors work together to continue these types of public safety efforts which continue to improve our community," DowntownDallas President and Chief Executive Officer John Crawford wrote in an e-mail last night.

The policy takes effect just as 24 additional police officers begin patrolling the downtown area, which in recent years has added several thousand new full-time residents primarily living in formerly vacant office towers converted into apartments and condominiums.

And it comes about a year after top city officials made a public appeal to Dallasites to stop giving money to center city panhandlers and instead donate loose change to charity through dozens of small drop boxes located within downtown businesses. (The program failed to ever generate much money.)

In 2007, the City Council also strengthened its anti-solicitation ordinance, making it a crime for one person to soliciting another any time between sunset and sunrise. Solicitors are also barred from approaching people placing or preparing to place money into a parking meter, panhandling near restaurants' outdoor dining areas, and soliciting within 25 feet of an automated teller machine, bank entrance, pay phone, car wash, gas pump or public transit stop.

But enforcing such quality of life-type laws have been notoriously difficult to enforce: The vast majority of people ticketed under Dallas' panhandling ordinance never pay their fine or otherwise clear their ticket.

And the city's expanded anti-panhandling ordinance is but one of several new laws that some Dallas residents have criticized as high-profile, but ineffective attempts by politicians to control behavior.

City officials, however, contend that such laws result in greater voluntary compliance and give police tools to prevent or stop activities that erode Dallas' quality of life if left unaddressed.

Dave Levinthal

Housing slowdown leaves Dallas-Fort Worth with lots of vacant lots

Sharp cutbacks in North Texas residential construction have left the area awash in vacant building lots.

At the end of 2008, there were more than 94,000 empty single-family home lots available in the area.

At current construction levels, that's enough for almost five years of home construction, according to a new report by Dallas-based Residential Strategies Inc.

And on top of that, almost 50,000 lots are in the pipeline but not ready to be built on yet.

With last year's 36 percent decline in home starts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, developers are abandoning plans to push ahead with some residential subdivision developments.

"There are fewer and fewer lots under development," said Residential Strategies' Ted Wilson. "As a result, we expect to see further headway in eroding the oversupply of lots in 2009.

"There is very little speculative construction today," he said. "The market must see some further reduction in unsold inventory before new construction picks up again."

Residential Strategies estimates that there are close to 7,200 finished vacant new homes on the market in North Texas. That's down from about 9,500 at the end of 2007.

In 2008, builders here started less than 20,000 homes, the residential analyst said. That's less than half the construction volume in 2006.

New-home sales last year in Dallas-Fort Worth were down by more than 30 percent.

"Many consumers are taking a wait-and-see approach on big-ticket purchase items until there is more certainty to the economic and employment picture," Wilson said.

Thousands of completed homebuilding lots are going begging in North Texas because of the sharp reduction in new-home construction. Here's a look at the number of lots available at the end of each year and month's supply:
2005 95,181 24.1
2006 95,589 23.9
2007 98,575 38.6
2008 94,242 58.0

SOURCE: Residential Strategies

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

Dallas office rents among cheapest in the country

Dallas has some of the cheapest office rents of any major city, according to a new survey.

It's no wonder, then, that Big D also had the lowest average office building sales prices in 2008.

Overall rents for first-class office space in the Dallas area were $25.52 per square foot last year, according to a report by real estate broker Grubb & Ellis Co.

Dallas ranked dead last for office sales prices, with an average of $169 per square foot. And that's with a 39 percent increase in 2008, Grubb & Ellis said.

Don't be surprised if both building costs and rental rates across the country come down this year because of falling demand and the weak economy, analysts say.

Grubb & Ellis reports that office building sales volumes were down almost 67 percent last year because of the credit crunch and economic worries.

"The market for investment office properties in Dallas could remain sluggish in 2009 as investors take a wait-and-see approach," said Grubb & Ellis' Scot Farber.

And with few recent sales, "investors are struggling to understand market pricing for investment properties."

Grubb & Ellis estimates that about $1.7 billion in office properties were sold in the Dallas area last year. That's down from more than $3 billion in 2007.

Dallas had some of the lowest office rents and sales prices per square foot in the country in 2008. Changes are compared with prices in 2007.
City Price Change
New York $798 + 13%
Washington $574 + 11%
San Francisco $393 NA
Los Angeles $311 -3%
Boston $263 + 21%
Chicago $197 NA
Atlanta $184 + 16%
Houston $174 + 20%
Dallas $169 + 39%
City Price Change
New York $87.19 + 6.6%
San Francisco $42.22 -8.7%
Boston $40.82 + 9.1%
Washington $40.61 + 7%
Los Angeles $40.08 + 7.7%
Houston $33.27 + 21.1%
Chicago $32.88 + 4.7%
Dallas $25.52 + 5%
Atlanta $24.22 + 7%


New report shows rise in Dallas-area home prices

A new housing report shows that the Dallas area is one of the few large metropolitan areas in the country where home prices haven't fallen this year.

Four of Texas' biggest metro areas had slight price increases at the end of October compared with a year ago, the study released Monday by First American CoreLogic said. That put them in the top four spots among 30 metropolitan areas nationwide.

Overall home prices in the Dallas area were up 2.4 percent for the year, while the nationwide price index fell more than 10 percent.

Other recent studies have said that North Texas home prices fell between 2 percent and 4 percent in the last year. It's not uncommon for these surveys to disagree.

Dallas housing analyst Ted Wilson said that the home price numbers all "depend on what statistics you look at" and that small changes are a "nonevent."

"Compare that to other parts of the country where prices are dropping 25 and 30 percent," Mr. Wilson said. "Thank goodness we don't have that in Dallas.

"Our inventory levels are much lower than in other areas, and that's what drives the price discounting."

The Dallas area was behind Austin and Houston in the ranking of price increases in more than 30 large markets. Austin had the biggest increase, at 5.26 percent.

First American CoreLogic's report is based on an index that tracks sales prices for the same homes over time.

Analysts are hoping the worst of the U.S. home price declines are behind us.

"The rapid contraction in the economy, deteriorating labor markets, the large inventory of unsold homes and increasing defaults suggest that home prices will continue to decline but with a moderating pace throughout 2009," said Mark Fleming, chief economist for First American CoreLogic.

Annual change in home prices for each major market in October vs. a year earlier:
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif. -28.79%
Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, Calif. -28.55%
Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, Fla. -27.34%
Las Vegas-Paradise, Nev. -26.56%
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, Calif. -26.48%
San Antonio 1.39%
Dallas-Plano-Irving 2.43%
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown 4.43%
Austin-Round Rock 5.26%
SOURCE: First American CoreLogic

Friday, January 09, 2009

Dallas-Fort Worth Apartment Demand Plummets

By Steve Brown, The Dallas Morning News
Jan. 6--The Dallas-Fort Worth apartment market suffered a huge hit in the final months of 2008.

Apartment occupancy in the area fell by almost 6,000 units -- more than erasing the gains earlier in the year, analyst M/PF YieldStar reported Monday.

The dramatic decline in net apartment leasing also indicates that the local job market is not as robust as many had thought, analysts say.

"This was one of the worst quarterly demand performances ever recorded in Dallas-Fort Worth," said Greg Willett, M/PF's vice president of research. "For move-outs to reach this magnitude, job loss has to be pretty substantial.

"It looks likely that there will be huge revisions to the current employment statistics that say D-FW is adding jobs at a reasonably healthy pace."

The apartment business was one of the few sectors in the local real estate market that continued to boom in 2008 despite the growing national recession and the credit crunch.

Developers continued to start projects, and through the first nine months of the year, net apartment leasing in the D-FW area totaled 300 units.

Then came the fourth quarter.

For all of 2008, apartment occupancy fell by 5,580 units -- the first annual decline in North Texas in more than a decade, according to M/PF.

When the economy gets bad, renters often double up or move in with relatives to cut expenses.

Renters also leave town to seek employment elsewhere.

"The numbers are negative in every neighborhood," Willett said. "The largest number of move-outs were in Far North Dallas, North Arlington, West Plano and Las Colinas.

"It's everything from top of the market to low-end product."

The year-end decline pushed overall apartment vacancy in North Texas to 8.6 percent.

That's almost three percentage points higher than a year earlier.

Overall apartment rents (including incentives) dropped 0.3 percent in 2008, according to M/PF.

"Any pricing power that property owners had previously is clearly gone now," Willett said.

The slide in the rental market couldn't come at a worse time for builders.

More than 21,000 additional rental units are in the development pipeline.

Almost 4,200 apartments opened their doors in the fourth quarter alone.

But some of the construction has been offset by teardowns of older units.

"That volume of new supply would be too much even during a period of substantial job growth, and it's way over the top given that Dallas-Fort Worth will be vulnerable to significant employment downsizing in 2009," Willett said. "Things definitely will get worse."

-The Dallas Morning News

Greystar Acquires JPI Management Services

Greystar Real Estate Partners LLC has purchased JPI Management Services in a move that significantly expands Greystar as a leading multifamily real estate company, Greystar announced Monday.

JPI Management Services is the management division of Irving-based property management firm JPI.

Charleston, S.C.-based Greystar manages multifamily units in 88 different markets and has investments valued in the range of $2.75 billion.

Prior to the acquisition, JPI Management Services operated as a separate division of JPI, making the transition an easy one, company leaders said in a statement.

-The Dallas Business Journal