Downtown Dallas Real Estate Opportunities, Advancements Abound in New Year

Photo courtesy Patrick McDonnell/Downtown Dallas Inc.

Photo courtesy Patrick McDonnell/Downtown Dallas Inc.

If the last year is any indication, 2015 is shaping up to be another banner year for real estate development in Downtown Dallas.

This is according to downtown advocates, urban planners, and real estate and development experts, who gathered Friday to talk about city living in downtown at a panel, sponsored by the Dallas Business Journal.

Moderated by John Crawford, President and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc., an advocacy group for Downtown Dallas, the panel shared candid insights into past successes, lessons learned, and where the area is headed in the future.

“There’s a pretty distinct spirit and energy in Downtown Dallas and we’ve reached a point of permanency, as far as what downtown has become,” said Crawford. “Residentially, we continue to be about 94 percent occupancy in all the buildings that have been converted and the new construction and depending on who you talk to, we have between 6,000 and 8,000 units under construction from 2015 to 2017. There’s an urban lifestyle that is continuing to catch on down here.”

Panelists included Theresa O’Donnell, Chief Planning Officer for the city of Dallas; Yogi Patil, an Associate at HKS Architects Inc.; Steve Shepherd of the Downtown Residents Council; and Michael Tregoning, President of Headington Company. Jump to read more!

“We have always been a major commercial office center and will continue to be the largest office center in North Texas, but we have now moved from that one-dimensional commercial office center to being a multi-dimensional live, work, and play urban environment, along with becoming an incubator for innovation,” said Crawford.

The panelists and moderator spoke to a sold-out crowd at The Joule Hotel, noting the landmark events of 2014. For example, downtown is the largest employment center in North Texas, adding 441,000 jobs from November 2013 to November 2014. And all those people need places to live.

“The DFW area led the country in apartment rentals last year and the downtown area played a major role in achieving that milestone,” Crawford said. “Vacancy levels are at a 13-year low—less than 5 percent—and rents are up and continuing to rise, which is good for developers; [though] perhaps not as good for the folks who want to be part of the new mosaic we are creating downtown.”

On that note, Crawford noted the need for more affordable housing.

“Most of the residential as it stands now is probably pointed toward high end of the market, whether it’s Museum Tower or rentals,” he said. “We need to have more workforce housing because they can’t afford $1.75 to $2 a square foot or higher.”

As we mentioned last month, the Central Business District, or urban core, population is projected to hit 33,139 residents this year, and 59,337 in 2030 (it was at just 14,654 residents in 2000).

That radical transformation is touching all 15 of the districts that make up the downtown area, including Victory Park, the Design District, Deep Ellum, and West End. Crawford predicts that there will be 50,000 residential units under construction in the larger downtown area by 2017, which will drive further development.

Commercial renewals, expansions, and relocations in 2014 added about 1.6 million square feet to downtown real estate, including the $100 million Thanksgiving Tower renovations, with 16,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor.

Dallas energy and real estate firm Headington Cos. is part of that growth—they own The Joule, as well as several properties on Main Street and around downtown.

Tregoning told the crowd that the urban core is a boon for his company, noting their continued interest in future development. For example, they bought the 12-story parking garage at Ross Avenue and Griffin Street and have done preliminary planning for a mixed-use development on the space, real estate brokers say.

“This kind of downtown environment is the only one we have,” he said. “We’ll continue that path until there’s nothing left that we can see that we’d be good at doing.”

One of the panel topics was how to entice current and future residents, pedestrians, and customers and keep them engaged in the changes happening in downtown. To that end, Tregoning noted the importance of making the area compelling.

With ten new hotels and around 30 new restaurants slated to open in the next 12 months, as well as 600 events to be held in downtown this year, they’re off to a good start.

“It’s not just any one thing, it’s a culmination of many different things that are all coming together in a connected way that’s making the difference in downtown,” Crawford said. “I wake up every morning thinking how fortunate I am to be an explorer in a world of opportunity.”