Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Dallas’ Deep Ellum reboots and is ready to roll with new deals
Dallas’ Deep Ellum district has more lives than a cat.
Over the last 30 years, the scruffy commercial area just east of downtown has swung from boom to bust, from busy nightspots to vacant buildings and from trendy neighborhood to crime-ridden urban district.
Through it all the area has survived, and now it’s gearing up for a new comeback with more business and new investors.
“You can feel things shifting,” said Barry Annino, a veteran Deep Ellum real estate agent. “People want to be here, and the rents are great.
“There are guys ready to come in and take chances.”
Indeed, one investment group — 42 Real Estate — has purchased more than a dozen Deep Ellum properties and is working to buy more.
The partnerships overseen by Dallas real estate agent Scott Rohrman and partners have bought up properties from some of Deep Ellum’s longest owners, Dallas County deed records show.
Rohrman said the buyers believe the timing is good to acquire the properties. And the group has been working with city officials on plans for their properties.
The influx of new investment capital in the neighborhood and opening of new restaurants and businesses is another optimistic sign for the district.
“When it’s done, we’ll become like a real neighborhood, vs. this broken-down place,” Annino said. “Lunchtime and the daytime traffic have improved tremendously.”
Certainly the area still has problems. Almost a third of the retail, restaurant and club space is sitting empty. And some businesses won’t be around to see a Deep Ellum comeback.
This week the 3-year-old La Grange nightclub announced it was closing its doors.
Still, the uptick in restaurant traffic in Deep Ellum is good enough that one of the neighborhood’s mainstays is about to add a second location.
Pepe’s & Mito’s has operated at 2911 Elm St. for almost 19 years. Around Christmas, the restaurant plans to open an offshoot cafe at Main and Crowdus streets.
“Good things are happening in Deep Ellum — it’s so good I’m opening a second store,” said Sandy Rojas.
Rojas and her husband, Pedro, have been working on the new location for several months. Their original Mexican restaurant has a national following.
‘Unique over here’
Employee expansions at nearby Baylor Medical Center, at creative firm Reel FX, plus construction of hundreds of apartments have added to the traffic in the area, she said.
“All these businesses are now coming in,” Rojas said. “I love it that Deep Ellum has individually owned businesses and not chains.
“We are unique over here.”
Unique was just what Nick Clark was looking for a few months ago when he was hunting a location for his shared office workspace, Common Desk.
The startup company leased a 9,000-square-foot building at 2919 Commerce.
“As soon as I started working on a business plan, Deep Ellum was the only spot that made perfect sense,” said Clark, who’s been in business about six weeks. “Deep Ellum comes with a creative vibe I didn’t have to create.
“And I wanted a mixed-use environment like Mockingbird Station, but we couldn’t afford the rent there.”
Clark said Deep Ellum’s old reputation as a rough and tumble party place is fading.
“We don’t feel like the area is on the rebound — it’s already back,” he said. “There are a lot more daytime users.”
Elm Street redux
More big changes are coming. Starting next year, Elm Street will be rebuilt including new sidewalks and landscaping.
Jeff Swaney, a longtime Deep Ellum business owner and property agent, said the district has quietly made real progress in recent years.
“We saw the area flourish in the ’80s and into the ’90s, then we saw some very poor leasing practices lead to decline,” Swaney said. “The neighborhood has been on the rebound probably for five years with new business going in.”
But Deep Ellum isn’t yet attracting the kind of buzz it did 30 years ago.
“There are a lot of new mom-and-pop places,” Swaney said. “Everybody has gotten away from the idea that we had to have Club Dada and the Green Room come back to have Deep Ellum come back.”
Swaney said new businesses and investors in the area have timed their entry well.
“They are hitting it at a time where I think they can be successful,” he said. “They think there is enough traffic down there.”
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