On Tuesday night, the Greater Dallas Planning Council honored North Texas developer Monte Anderson with its inaugural Urban Pioneer Award at the Urban Design Awards.
Anderson is the president of Options Real Estate, a multi-service real estate company that concentrates its work in southern Dallas and Ellis counties, specializing in creating sustainable neighborhoods that invite “gentlefication,” as opposed to gentrification.
Here’s a great working definition of “gentlefication”:
Moving into a neighborhood in an effort to reduce crime, create harmony, and build community. As opposed to “gentrification,” which changes neighborhoods by forcing out low-income residents with high-income folks seeking the next hip thing. Gentlefication helps long-term residents take back their neighborhoods, stabilize property values, and build safe spaces for their children and grandchildren.
“The award means a lot because it means people are staring to recognize that incremental development, or ‘microsurgery’, not big silver bullet deals, works in our southern Dallas neighborhoods,” he said. “My approach is to come in and get other small developers and entrepreneurs to come in very early and be a part of the change. These are the people who make it cool, like artists and restaurateurs, and they [usually] end up not owning anything and getting pushed out in the end.”
This is the opposite approach of most developers, who swoop in, buy up all the land in one area, and rent it out for ever-increasing prices, Anderson explained. He points to Deep Ellum, South Side on Lamar, and the Bishop Arts District as examples.
Anderson is known for spearheading redevelopment in West Dallas, particularly along Fort Worth Avenue, where he bought, renovated, and expanded the Belmont Hotel in 2005. This paved the way for other development, and Anderson is still active in the area.
It’s here that he made a huge mark by helping people buy nearby land when prices were low, sometimes through personal loans or use of his credit rating.
“I wanted somebody else next to me, and when they pay me back, they own their buildings themselves,” he said. “It’s not that I’m a good guy, it’s that I’m building a healthy community where everybody is a stakeholder. When a lot of us own, that’s where the culture shifts, that’s the ‘secret sauce.’”
There are certainly big developers near Fort Worth Avenue, but right next to the Belmont is Metro Paws Animal Hospital, and nearby is Manny Rodriguez Photography, just two examples of small businesses owning their own buildings, Anderson said.
“This is not new stuff, it’s actually old fashioned: The butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker used to build their buildings in downtown and live upstairs and work right there,” he said. “Rebuilding southern Dallas is never going to be a quick fix, but by rebuilding one house, one block at a time, over a period of years, you end up with 25 or 30 [buildings in one location].”
These days, you’ll find Anderson hard at work at the historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, rebuilding downtown Duncanville, taking on urban development in downtown Midlothian, and working on Beckley Avenue south of the Dallas Zoo.
The Urban Pioneer Award is not Anderson’s first major recognition. Others include:
- Celebrating Leadership in Development Excellence (CLIDE) Award, North Central Texas Council of Governments, 2013. Project: Duncanville Main Street Revitalization
- Ruth Chenoweth Conservation Achievement Award, Old Oak Cliff Conservation League, 2012.
- Mayor’s Award of Excellence, Duncanville, 2012.
- Celebrating Leadership in Development Excellence (CLIDE) Award, North Central Texas Council of Governments, 2011. Project: Midtowne Midlothian Development.
- American Planning Award, American Planning Association, Texas Chapter, 2007
- Special Recognition Award, Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, 2003. Project: Operation Clean Sweep
- Entrepreneur of the Year, Duncanville Chamber of Commerce, 2003
- Business Person of the Year, Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, 2002
- Lifetime Achievement Award, DeSoto Chamber of Commerce, 2000
Anderson began his real estate career in 1984, and since that time, he has concentrated solely on improving the living and working environments in areas like West and South Dallas and Desoto by repurposing old buildings and redeveloping underused business districts.
“There are many pioneers out there with me—I may have won the award, but what’s really important are the community activists,” he said. “It takes a village to rebuild a community, not just a developer.”