Monday, January 19, 2009

Downtown Dilemma

For those unfamiliar with the Dallas market, we are a city of great sprawl. Suburbia reigns supreme. In recent years, there has been a huge effort to rejuvenate and revive our business-oriented, and mostly vacant downtown area. They have done some wonderful things with a few of the older buildings, i.e. The Power & Light Building and The Wilson Building. Some great, albeit expensive, restaurants have moved into the area as well. During the business week, you can find little cafes of all different fares open to serve the many professionals that work downtown. Not to mention our arts district. A brand new opera house is quickly taking shape among our skyline, the Meyerson Symphony Centre, the Dallas Museum of Art, and of course, the world class Nasher Sculpture Centre. One of the more recent projects that has surfaced is the renovating of The Mercantile Tower. My mom brought this to my attention via email, as she originally worked for Mercantile Bank and it is where she got her start in project management. The link she attached was this one: Techon Dallas Inc. A blog that follows restaurant and retail development in Dallas. This entry specifically talks about the renovation of The Mercantile Tower into a residence/retail space.

The tower looks great, with its recent relighting and all around sprucing up. However, I think there are a few issues with how they approach drawing new residents downtown in general. I have looked at the rental rates for The Merc (the lofts in Mercantile Tower), and they are OUTRAGEOUS! Developers market to young professionals (ages 25-35) to fill these spaces, but the monthly bill is so high that there are very few in this age group who can actually afford to pay that amount each month. The Wilson Building is one of the few, if not only, buildings that rent is under $1000/month, and just barely. So, most of the condos still sit for sale, and the new apartments for rent. Many buildings, like The Merc, continue to remain practically vacant. The whole idea is to bring people back to the city centre, but it has to be attainable or who will make the move, especially in a time of economic crisis? It's the exact same problem that my mom, our friend, and I discussed over lunch about Victory Park. They aim for young people , but it's priced just out of reach. Victory Park is essentially a ghost town on a daily basis, only filling up for hockey and basketball games. Every store in Victory Park is high end. The stores with more moderate price points or even independent store owners cannot afford to move into the retail space, due to the high rent rates. I realize the demographic they are trying to attract is the successful yuppies that are willing to spend big bucks on a loft, shopping, and dining out on a daily basis. But truth be told, those are a small percentage of the population as it is, and shrinking as our national unemployment rate skyrockets.

If they make living downtown a little more attainable, they may find that downtown will be the vibrant city centre developers and business owners all are hoping for. I'm not saying that we need to hang "move-in special" and "Se Habla EspaƱol" signs, and lower the rent to $399/mo, as these developers need a little ROI. But maybe take a down a peg? Our next door neighbor Fort Worth has lofts in beautiful historic buildings for very reasonable rent rates. Their downtown is a thriving and popular destination. Any given weekend you will find locals filling the streets- going out to eat, drink, attending concerts and movies. There are sure to be activities for people to participate, and shows to witness, on of my favourites being the horse whispering contest. Fort Worth may not be as high fashion as Dallas, but I think we should take a page from their urban planners/developers to help bring a pulse back to our own downtown. Granted, it wouldn't hurt to have such benefactors as the Bass family too. :)

There are parks and public interest projects that are in the blueprint stage which will continue to beautify our downtown, but getting them off the paper and into reality is proving to be a real feat.

So we must be reminded, that when it comes time to vote on such propositions like the Trinity River project, to be sure to participate and voice our opinions! Sometimes it requires a public mandate to really get the wheels in motion on such projects.

With a balance of realistic expectations on what future residents are capable of affording, and a little good marketing, we could realize a burgeoning urban centre that all can be happy with.


  1. Maddie, you bring up a great topic! It's frustrating that developers claim to market towards the young professional with all the wonderful amenities, but then price it for someone established who'd rather spend their money elsewhere. I know I bit the bullet and spent a grand on rent downtown for convenience, but I don't plan on doing that again anytime soon. Soon property developers will have to bring down prices if they plan on filling all the vacant apartments. In regards to Fort Worth...the Bass family hired security to push all the homeless out of downtown making it a pleasant and safe place to walk and enjoy. This is something Dallas is against. Their public policy is for downtown to live in harmony with the homeless.

  2. Ahh and the Wilson Building is no longer really under $1000; I know because I just moved out. It's owned now by the same developer that renovated "The Merc", who has raised rent prices at the Wilson $150-$200 per unit over what Post had.

    Try 1900 Elm for plenty of prices under $1000 - where we are happily now!