Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Power Players: Bill Hutchinson and his investors have a grand plan for the Dallas Design District

Jake Dean
Bill Hutchinson in his Dallas home
William "Bill" Hutchinson landed the deal of a lifetime when he bought the iconic Dallas Design District.
The 33-acre, 700,000-square-foot area includes the 7.5-acre Decorative Center complex at Oak Lawn and Hi Line, the 18-acre Dallas Design Center on Stemmons Freeway, along with dozens of retail and showrooms.
Hutchinson, president of Dallas-based Dunhill Partners, cobbled together a group of high-profile investors — including Tim HeadingtonRay Washburne and Newt Walker — to take on the legacy development, which is expected to bring a high-rise residential tower and a boutique hotel to the neighborhood.
"This was a big acquisition for me," Hutchinson said in an interview at his home in Turtle Creek. "It was the largest acquisition that Dunhill Partners has done to date, and yet, I look at it like a small project. The Design District is a tight neighborhood south of Interstate 35E near a budding downtown and Uptown Dallas, which are two areas that are exploding."
The longtime retail real estate investor purchased the district from Houston-based Lionstone Investments and Dallas-based PegasusAblon. The investment group, which bought the property in 2007, transformed the area into an eclectic mix of eateries, retail and high-end apartments — a far cry from its former use as an industrial and commercial zone.
Hutchinson plans to spend $5 million on capital improvements and urban planning of the neighborhood.
He gives us the story of how he acquired the property and his plans for the neighborhood:
How did you come to buy the Design District? I am so proud that Dunhill Partners was chosen as the buyer. It's going to be one of my biggest jobs over the coming years. There's still a lot of work to do. The previous owners did a fabulous job, taking it from where it was a sleepy part of town with no residents or restaurants or evening activity and turning it into a hot, vibrant area. I will complete that vision. There are five great restaurants there, including FT33 — one of the few five-star restaurants in Dallas — and now there are over 2,000 people that live in the Design District. People fly here from Latin America and Europe. When I was doing my due diligence, I saw that Laura Bush was shopping there. I've bought a lot of properties in my career, but I've never seen a president's wife shopping in one of the stores.
How did you get started in real estate? Fortuitously, I did not get offered a job when I graduated from SMU. I saw an ad in the newspaper for a $1,000-a-month draw to work at a retail company — commission only — to lease space in shopping centers. I was given a phone and phone book and told to get to work. I made a game out of it, matching properties with tenant's needs. I got good at it and after two years I decided to open my own company and that's how Dunhill Partners was born. I invented the name Dunhill Partners. I wanted a name that sounded old and stable and wealthy, like it had been around forever instead of a broke kid that just got out of SMU and it worked. People identified with Dunhill Partners and we were immediately accepted.
Have you always been in Dallas? I grew up in Monterrey, Mexico. My parents were missionaries and I was 6 years old when they moved from Detroit to Monterrey. I loved living in Mexico and I speak Spanish fluently, which comes in handy in the Dallas real estate community. When I graduated from SMU, I thought I'd head back to Mexico, but there were no jobs. That's when I jumped into Dallas real estate. It's such a pioneering place where anyone can become anything here. We are so business friendly. We don't have a 'good old boy' network. You can come in as an outsider and as long as you work hard and are honest, you can become anything in this town.
What was your big break in real estate investment? It was buying Lincoln Square in Arlington. As chance would have it, the broker that believed in me was Jack Crews, who later sold me the Design District. Lincoln Square was a very large acquisition for me at the time. I believe it was $35 million, which was three times larger than anything I bought up to that point. We did extremely well, and I believe we ended up selling it last year for $71 million. After that, I was on the map for big properties and the brokerage community knew who I was.
What are your future plans for the Design District? If you look at everything that's happened to Uptown in the last several years, you see it's very urban with high-rises. The land values in Uptown have gone up from under $100 a square foot to — in some cases — over $300 a square foot. Dunhill is negotiating right now with residential developers and restaurant operators throughout the country. We don't want to dumb it down with chain restaurants. We are also talking to boutique hotel operators. I also want to bring public art, landscaping, good signage and awareness to the Design District.
Staff Writer-Dallas Business Journal