Monday, June 22, 2015

New downtown office projects make pitch for startup business

A century ago the West End Marketplace building turned out thousands of cookies and candies.
Built in 1902 for the Brown Cracker & Candy Co., the plant was billed as the largest bakery for “crackers and fancy confections in the Southwest.”
Developers who are buying the vacant complex of red brick commercial buildings hope it will soon be turning out new jobs for downtown Dallas.
Granite Properties is purchasing the 240,000-square-foot property that in the 1980s was turned into a retail, entertainment and restaurant complex. Granite plans to convert it for startup companies, creative firms and high-tech businesses that want unique office space downtown.
The West End Marketplace project is one of several old buildings downtown being eyed as incubator space for new companies and bright entrepreneurs.
Owners of the bright blue 211 North Ervay building have taken a similar approach — turning an old office tower into a hot spot for new business.
While these operations still account for only a fraction of the office space downtown, attracting incubator spaces could eventually result in a big payoff for the central business district.
John Crawford, CEO of the economic development group Downtown Dallas Inc., said there’s more than 130,000 square feet of space dedicated to these purposes in the area now.
“This is a real opportunity,” Crawford said. “Ten years ago it wouldn’t have been thought of.
“We are just seeing the tip of this iceberg,” he said. “It will hopefully become a very successful movement.”
Crawford said he hopes some of the companies that start out small downtown wind up being bigger office users in the future.
“It’s the very beginning of how the big companies evolve,” he said. “Next thing you know people are in the market going public and hiring lots of workers.”
Small companies headed by young professionals could eventually wind up being big office players downtown, property brokers say.
“As firms grow they will hopefully stay downtown,” said Phil Puckett, executive vice president with commercial real estate firm CBRE. “If you have a building that is cool with its design and unique, it can attract a lot of attention.”
Millennials like the downtown revival story and the new residential and retail spaces being created in old buildings, said Mike Wyatt with Cushman & Wakefield.
“There is a new paradigm,” Wyatt said. “These business accelerators and co-working spaces are creating environments that really speak to the millennials.
“It’s not just about the space,” he said. “It’s almost a club environment where they can go and network and participate in business.”
Wyatt said buildings that might not be a good fit for large, multifloor downtown companies might better accommodate some of these new work spaces.
“It’s about the culture and the urbanity of downtown,” he said. “Downtown is becoming hip and cool.”  
Steve Brown/ Dallas Morning News