Exclusive: A Look at the Rolls Royce of Sky Bridges Crow Holdings Wants to Build in Preston Center

Preston Center SC

Photo courtesy of Dodd Communications

                                                                                                                                             

Friday I got a first peak at the skybridge Crow Holdings wants to build across Westchester, connecting the Preston Center Pavilion Building (Marshalls, Ross Dress for Less) with the two-story concrete parking lot owned by the City of Dallas with deeply rooted legal parking rights designated to the Preston Center parking association, all the various property owners surrounding the square lot in the heart of Preston Center, West.

Those exclusive photos are coming right up!

And you know what? From what I’ve seen, it is not all that bad! One of the classiest skybridges I have seen. And it doesn’t mean we still cannot have some kind of a major change on that parking lot. In fact, one of the biggest take-aways from my meeting with Crow Holdings Anna Graves was an acknowledgement that something needs to be improved on that parking garage site.

“There is no question there’s a higher and better use for that site,” she told me, “and even if we build a skybridge, you can still tear down the parking garage and build something else there.”

Skybridges are apparently a lot like those walkways the airlines use to get you from the airport to the plane: they don’t attach permanently to the structure. So if the parking garage became, say, a hotel, the skybridge could be removed and re-attached to the new structure. Or not.

My other take-away was that this skybridge will add a critical safety measure to Preston Center West. Was not too long ago that folks were talking about a skybridge over Northwest Highway at Preston, which still shaves years off your life if you cross it and survive. I have recently become familiar with the skybridge Texas Health built over Greenville Avenue, connecting a series of physicians office buildings with the hospital. The skybridge saves time and gas because you don’t have to move your car or risk your life crossing Greenville Avenue.

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The proposed skybridge would be accessible via escalators upward from the lobby.

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Here you see the stairway from the parking garage that leads to the pedestrian skyway.

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The skybridge is to the left, and can be accessed via escalators from the parking garage.

We have told you that Crow Holdings Capital bought the 230,842-square-foot retail building in November, 2013, from TIC/Lincoln Properties, who bought it from Sanger Harris. Sanger Harris became Foleys which vacated the space, and in 2002 it was re-developed into the current “pavillion” by Lincoln. Crow owns the whole shebang, from Chipolte to the north corner. In their quest to attract and secure a fabulous anchoring tenant, and for street safety, Crow wants the skybridge.

This is very interesting: while the City of Dallas and urbanites scream about making this city more walkable, Preston Center is one part of Dallas that may be over-walked. Every day at lunchtime, this place is full of foot traffic going into the shops and restaurants. And with the completion of the new Chief Oil & Gas building, it’s only going to get worse. Part of the problem, too, is the one-way streets. The parking garage stays pretty full. It was built at the same time the Sanger Harris store and the surrounding one-two story commercial buildings were built, about 60 years ago.

When Crow first proposed this idea last fall, two unusual bedfellows were united in opposition: the Crosland Group and former Mayor Laura Miller, who has come out and been more vocal than she has been in years over recent rumblings of development in Preston Center: Mark Cuban, Transwestern, and Crosland’s Highland House (since purchased by Leland Burk). On March 5 the Dallas Plan Commission is scheduled to vote on the skybridge, and word is City planning staff has suggested approval.

(Laura, we need to do lunch!)

Here’s the deal: Crow now has 50,000 square feet, which is ideal for a grocery store like, say, Tom Thumb, which I have heard they had a deal with, or  are at least talking to, among others. (Call Central Market!) Recall that Tom Thumb closed its store in Highland Park Village. Crow Holdings CEO Harlan Crow firmly believes that a grocery store here would serve the community well in this space — moms could stop in before and after carpool. It could also liven up this side of Preston Center which, except for the restaurants,  is kind of morose after 5p.m; grocery stores have late or even all-night hours. Meaning that skybridge could be in use a whole lot, even for non-shoppers.

Food stores make great anchor tenants, said Crow Holdings’ Anna Graves.

“A grocery store is the best anchor for a shopping center,” she told me, “because it draws everyone in to shop and then shop some more at surrounding stores. Keeps the neighborhood serviced.”

I go to Tom Thumb, I stop at Dougherty’s and check out the windows at Chicos while I’m ordering at Best Thai.

But Crow is concerned about safety, yes, and should be, especially after this week’s tragic, senseless accident on McKinney Avenue. Though the building has a rear parking garage, Crow apparently believes that the skybridge will help them cinch the deal with a major grocer or food retailer.

“We are not asking for a new use or changing the zoning at all,” she said. “Retail has been there for 60 plus years.”

A grocery store is an allowed use, too, under current zoning. Crow is asking for a Special Use Permit (SUP) to enable them to build the skybridge which appears to be, by the way, a Rolls Royce of skybridges. Skybridges are an existing permitted use, not an amendment to the PD that is being re-examined in the neighborhood. By the way, Laura Miller is on the new Stakeholder Task Force to determine the future of Northwest Highway and Preston Center.

And she was opposed to the Skybridge plan, apparently not liking the idea of a grocery store in this space. She told Steve Brown that

“…parking in Preston Center is “already overburdened” and that a grocer would only add to congestion.”

I disagree. No no matter what you put there, you are going to get a store that has customers.

She also told Steve that “the oversized sky bridge … will cast a big shadow over an area that will now have obstructions in the sidewalk…”

How can a crystal clear or open skybridge cast shadows? What obstructions? Come August a little shade might be welcome.

But the thing is, Crow can lease to just about any business. Maybe the skybridge WOULD help alleviate pedestrian traffic — grocery carts crossing Westchester from the store to the parking garage would be a nightmare. There is a parking garage behind the space, as I have acknowledged, but that is a spiral and downhill + grocery carts is not a good scene. (Picture a few cart-bashed Maseratis!) This will be, apparently, a grocery store about the size of the Tom Thumb across the street from NorthPark at Lincoln Center, Graves told me. Again, nothing definitive has been signed with Tom Thumb (Safeway), which was recently acquired by Albertsons, but that gives you an idea of the store’s size. The Salon Boutique will move to the basement, and Marshalls will stay right where it is. (I have never understood that store being there.)

By the way, did you know that Lincoln Property Company actually won an award for the transformation of the shopping center from Sanger Harris/Foleys to what it currently is today? That award came from the Dallas Business Journal (scratching head).

I like the design concept Crow has come up with, and not just because it reminds me of my fave lunch spot R&D over across Preston Road. (Love that woodsy California look). Crow will improve the front facade of the building to coordinate with the skybridge, which will be 77 feet long and flare out slightly where it meets the building. It will be clear glass or open and wide enough to accommodate strollers and grocery carts, maybe a few little tables. And IF a grocer does sign a lease for the space, and the skybridge is built — they only cost $750,000 — Crow Holdings pledges $1.1 million to improve the existing parking garage: improved lighting, striping and painting.

There will be no corrals, I was told, for grocery carts in the parking garage.

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Personally, I’d like to see a grocery store in this spot. I think a lot of residents would, too. When we lived on Park Lane at Hollow Way, I shopped at Alberstons on Midway and Northwest Highway and at Preston Royal. Both were a stretch and of course I had to drive. But there were times when we walked to Preston Center — its about one mile from our old house. Hello walkability, here you go.

Laura, YOU can walk here!

If Crow does not get a grocer in that spot, what else might be there?

“Probably a soft goods tenant,” said Graves.

The other tenants in the building include CVS drug store, Marshalls, Gold’s Gym, DSW Shoe Warehouse, Office Depot, and an optician.

Crow could divide the empty retail in the building several spaces, and/or they could bring in something like… and this is totally my crazy dirty mind at work… Buy Buy Baby. Or Kids R Us. Yikes!

They do plan to upgrade the exterior of the building, thank God. And I want to know more about skybridges: how has the one at Presby worked? What is your experience with skybridges elsewhere? I’m thinking this might not be such a bad idea after all, because it’s not permanent… and it’s really kind of pretty.

 

6 Comment

  • So will the Tom Thumb in Preston Center East close? It is busy all the time. Small, but busy.

  • mm

    Wouldn’t a Dean & Deluca be great here?

  • There are lovely and effective sky bridges at The Ritz-Carlton Dallas, Bass building in Ft Worth, Parkland Hospital in Dallas, Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. If there is a shortage of parking in Preston Center, perhaps a 3rd story added to the garage would help.

  • I hate Tom Thumb. There are never enough cashiers and they don’t like self check-out lines. I drive further to visit any other grocery store. But love the Dean & Deluca idea.

  • Driving to a parking lot then walking into a store is not what “urbanites” are talking about when they talk about walkability. Walkability is the ability to walk – or use easily accessible transit – from your home to your destination. Virtually none of the Preston Center visitors are doing that. They are driving, circling, polluting, parking, then walking into the store. Like with any other strip mall.

    • mm

      Absolutely! But the neighbors won’t let any multi-fam happen here. They shot down Highland House — too tall, too many kids of divorce flooding HPISD — & Transwestern — too many cars. Which comes first, the multi fam or the retail? I thik this store will be used mostly by car-pooling moms. Great demographics! I’ve emailed Safeway to ask about the store off Villanova.