Monday, April 14, 2014

Downtown skyscraper will be Dallas’ biggest building redo

Tom Fox/Staff Photographer
The former First National Bank tower on Elm Street was constructed in 1965. At 52 stories, it was Dallas’ tallest tower for more than 15 years.
It’s the biggest empty building in downtown Dallas — 52 stories with more than 1 million square feet of space.
The former First National Bank on Elm Street is so big that some prospective buyers were put off by the task of remodeling the vacant skyscraper.
But it was the huge scale of the property and its potential impact on downtown that attracted New York-based Olympic Property Partners to the deal, principal Seth Weinstein said.
“To come down to Dallas and make a substantial investment of time and energy, the size is important to us,” Weinstein said. “We would not have come down here for a quarter-million-square-foot project.
“We think that the sheer size of the project will in itself create a critical mass.”
Since buying the tower last month, Olympic Property Partners execs have been poring over redevelopment plans and working with architects and engineers.
Demolition inside the 50-year-old skyscraper will begin in 60 to 90 days, Weinstein said.
“We plan to start construction around the first of the year,” he said. “We hope to open the building in the summer of 2016.”
First, the developers have to rip out the insides and haul away tons of construction debris and asbestos before starting to rebuild.
Expected to cost $175 million, the redevelopment will be the largest such venture to date in downtown Dallas, where more than a dozen old office buildings have already been repurposed for new apartments, retail and commercial space.
The Elm Street tower has been closed since 2010, when the previous owners could no longer afford to operate the mostly vacant high-rise.
Since then, the tower has changed hands three times while developers pondered potential remodeling plans.
City incentives
Olympic Property Partners finally stepped up to the plate when it received a promise of $50 million in development incentives from the city.
“Without those tax increment finance district dollars, we would not be able to motivate the capital to do this job,” Weinstein said. “It showed me that the city of Dallas is really committed to this project.”
Dallas has a lot riding on the building redo.
“Leaving any major asset like that to just sit there and continue to decay is not a plan,” said John Crawford, CEO of the economic development group Downtown Dallas Inc. “It is a drag on everything around it and the entire downtown area.”
Crawford said it’s important for the project to succeed as a mixed-use venue.
“It’s not just some more apartments going in,” he said. “They are trying to create a destination.”
Much more parking
Olympic Property Partners’ redevelopment scheme calls for turning the lower floors of the building into retail, office space and parking.
The tower section of the project will house about 500 apartment units.
“The whole base will really change,” said architect Jerry Merriman with Merriman Associates Architects. “The tower itself will remain pretty much intact.
“On the lower levels, that’s where the radical new designs come.”
The redevelopment will add about 500 parking garage spaces.
“It will be the best parked building in downtown Dallas when we are done with 950 parking spaces,” Weinstein said.
On the ninth floor of the building, the developers plan to create a large outdoor park area with restaurant space, outdoor dining and recreation facilities for the apartment residents.
“We are going to reopen the old observation deck on the 50th floor,” said Bryan Dorsey with BDRC 4Site, the local partner in the project. “We are ready to take this project all the way.”
The developers will blow out enclosed areas on the lower floors for new public spaces and install bright graphics and signage.
Walk-ins welcome
“These buildings in the ’60s and ’70s were built fortress-style,” Weinstein said. “They didn’t encourage people to walk into the building.
“We’ve opened up all four sides of the building to invite people in.”
Weinstein said he has secured equity and debt to pay for remodeling the building. The company has a track record of developing apartment and commercial projects.
He said he saw the potential for the tower when he first toured the property.
“As soon as I took a look at this, we decided to pursue it,” he said. “Very few office buildings of this scaleactually lay out appropriately for conversion to residential.
“This is a much better residential building than it is an office building.”