Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Despite Recent Gains, Some Pieces are Missing in Downtown Dallas

While everyone is still aglow from the opening success of Dallas’ new center city park, it’s a good time to talk about what’s missing downtown. The last 10 years have been a watershed time for the central business district.

Developers have added thousands of residential units. And billions of dollars in public investments in big-ticket items — including the Arts District, the convention center hotel and three new downtown parks — have gone a long way toward turning the area around.

Companies that in previous decades would have fled to the suburbs are expanding and relocating to the central business district. More development projects are in the works. But there are still some key pieces missing before the efforts in downtown Dallas can truly be considered a success.

First on the to-do list should be a downtown connector shuttle.

The central business district has lots of great attractions and venues. But they are too spread out and hard for visitors — particularly suburbanites — to find and get to. A shuttle bus loop running among the West End, the convention center, Farmers Market, Arts District and Main Street would help connect downtown’s disparate parts and take cars off the streets.

Many of downtown’s streets are a mess for pedestrians. Sidewalks in Dallas are narrower than in other major cities. And they are full of obstacles that make it hard to navigate the urban landscape. A design effort to improve the walkability of downtown would make it easier for the city’s new residents, office workers and tourists.

We also need to get the transit buses off Main Street. For years, this has been a politically loaded issue. Main Street is overcrowded with valet parkers, pedestrians and car traffic. Adding all those big buses just makes the situation worse. The transit bus traffic can serve downtown just fine a block away on Elm or Commerce streets, and the move will make Main Street friendlier for everyone.

Finally, downtown needs additional storefronts.  Instead of big mattress stores and more fast-food locations, downtown needs more mom-and-pop service shops and restaurants catering to the growing residential base and workers in the center city.

Don’t be surprised if downtown Dallas gets as much done in the next 10 years as in the last decade. The momentum is already there.

Steve Brown 
Real Estate Editor 
Dallas Morning News