How the New Bishop Arts Gateway Project Will Really Change the Bishop Arts District… How Do We Keep the Sky From Falling?

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We knew this day was coming. The day we’d see new construction of high-density, mixed-use projects all over North Oak Cliff. We rezoned less than a year ago to allow the growth we knew was coming, and hopefully have some control over how it transpires.

So here we are, faced with a developer wanting to listen to the community and do a ‘good’ project. Enter: Matt Segrest and Wade Johns of Dallas-based Alamo Manhattan. They’re developing the proposed Bishop Arts Gateway project, three 5-story buildings along Zang Blvd at Davis St and Seventh St. They say they’re in it for the long term, and that they cut their teeth developing in Portland and Seattle so they understand Streetcars and well-built neighborhoods. So they called a meeting with the neighborhood Thursday to get our input.

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It’s all a bit ironic if you think about it – a meeting of past gentrifiers to talk about future gentrification. Granted, not all of us at the meeting moved to O.C. from somewhere else. A couple attendees had a tenure longer than a few decades. The rest of us moved here after the police station storefront opened and closed on Bishop, after the city spent over a million dollars to build great sidewalks and plant trees, after the Texas Theatre and The Kessler were restored…

So what are we really talking about here? The changing character of a neighborhood and its people. The issue isn’t unique to Bishop Arts though, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Some call it gentrification (that dirty word), others progress.

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I keeping remembering the namesake data for the theme of the recent Congress for the New Urbanism conference in Dallas last month: “Meeting the Demand for Walkable Places.” The demand (67 percent of residents in DFW want to live in a walkable community at some point in their lives) far outstrips the supply (only 4 percent of Dallas and 1.5 percent of the region qualifies as a walkable neighborhood.) So maybe this project is just meeting the market demand. Maybe we’re just creating great vibrant places that people will love — it’ll make our neighborhood more livable, a destination people will cross the country to experience, or maybe just increase our property values and bring our shops more sales.

Some people hate change at any cost, and most people are at least resistant to change. So yes, change is hard, but it’s coming whether we like it or not. “This Gateway to Bishop Arts deal is already done, it’s just a matter of who builds it,” as my banker friend put it.

So what’s really bothering us is how to keep the unique flavor of the neighborhood in as authentic a way as possible. That’s what every good neighborhood with growing pains is struggling with. Especially a neighborhood where the market is hot, in a region where growth is strong.

And the region’s urban core, Dallas has an obligation to live up to its potential to supply a majority of the walkable, transit-oriented, higher-density, mixed-use neighborhoods for the region. Just look at where the TIF Districts have been created. City staff know this is the direction we’re headed.

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Back to the meeting. We can’t just be NIMBYs — we need to be able to express what it is about a development that makes it “work,” and explain to a developer who is willing to listen how we want them to build. This has to be an ongoing conversation in multiple communities around Dallas (I’m looking at you East Dallas, Lakewood, Uptown, Deep Ellum, Downtown, Henderson, Knox, Turtle Creek …)

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To kick off these conversations, here are my thoughts and observations related to what makes Bishop Arts “work.”

New development needs to pay attention to:

  • Architectural details: In the language of architecture it says ‘this is quality’, ‘people here care’, ‘look at me! I’m great!’, and ‘worth every penny you pay to eat lunch here.’
  • Rent prices: So my young waiter friends at Oddfellows can still walk to work because a lot of them don’t own cars, along with the rest of the Millennials who will be drawn to Bishop Arts by the creative vibe and access to transit. How we’re creating vibrant and affordable places for the next generation is a whole other conversation we should be having. Now.
  • Size of shops: Many small spaces makes it more interesting to walk past. And a small shop enables a local entrepreneur to test a new business model. And small spaces don’t work for most national-credit tenants, so they won’t lease here anyway!
  • Distinctive feel, sense of place: Make a statement. Be bold within reason — see next bullet.
  • Pedestrian scale and detail: Architecture preferences aside, there are design elements that are primary for good development. Such as a wide sidewalk, parallel or back-in parking between sidewalk and through traffic lanes, ‘permeable’ storefronts where you easily see inside and those inside can see out. Some of these cost more money. But the value will appreciate even more over time.
  • Tenant mix: If we get two more flower shops in Bishop Arts, DIRT’s going to have a tough time. Be selective and aim for the perfect mix.
  • Neighborhood services: We can’t just eat and shop all day every day — we and all those new residents need to buy dental floss, bandaids, and printer paper somewhere.
  • Local ownership: Not as in real estate ownership, though that would be nice, but a willingness to invest our own time and energy, in addition to money.

Let’s elaborate on that last point, because I think therein lies the key: We can tell when people care. When waiters aren’t just civil, but are helpful. When shop owners genuinely listen and adjust their stock for their customers. This investment of people’s time, in other people and things in the place, add the magic we fall in love with, and make us want to buy a house nearby and invest our time in the place as well. We volunteer, meet neighbors, make new friends, and start our own business venture there with the support of our neighbors. It sounds romantic but it’s also true.

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It’s the attention to detail that the small-scale local owners, developers, residents, interior designers, craftsmen and artists have the luxury of providing. Because they’re physically present, in touch with their market, and invested and engaged in creating their own success — that is what I think we’re asking for when we residents ask a developer to do a ‘good’ development. It’s hard to fake. But it’s also a great way to create real lasting value if you’re able to.

21 Comment

  • Great article! As someone building a house in this area, I couldn’t be happier to see developments like this happening. I’m afraid if they get blocked, then BA will wither and become the Greenville ave of 10 years ago as the hot spot becomes another place in the city. I think a lot of these hipster NIMBYS would be better suited for Sunnyvale or another sleepy burb.

    • This means so much coming from someone who is building a new house in OC – a place known for its charming old homes and historic districts. You are a big part of the problem.

  • It will kill 100+ year old neighborhoods and basically make all surrounding real estate to expensive for the native dwellers. Isn’t it time to stop making every neighborhood in Dallas into something Poser and Yuppy?? Isn’t it time to stop making every block look like the last? Someone needs to recognize the Historical value of Dallas neighborhoods and instead of mowing them over, encourage their re-awakening just like they do in surrounding cities like Fort Worth.

    • peter, please do tell explain the mechanisms of destruction in your hysterical diatribe. Step by step, just walk us through it. My guess is your thinking goes like this:

      1. New buildings
      2. ???
      3. The end of all that is holy, dogs and cats sleeping together, etc, etc.

      BTW, what did the people in the OC think was going to happen when THEY pushed to get a streetcar? The whole point of streetcars is to spur development like this; it’s certainly not an efficient form of transportation. Doh!

  • Funny thing is people do hate change, (or they may want certain things to change but not have to endure the costs of those changes, we want a nice grocery store but we don’t want development,etc) but everything changes…we grow older, buildings age and even the best built structure may not fit current lifestyles… buildings get replaced

    ..and generally in business friendly Dallas, those agents of change are more often than not real estate developers..this town was basically established for and by commerce..

    I wouldn’t mind being one of these “natives”, sure you can say they are being displaced, or you can say they made a very sound investment in home ownership…Id doubt they have much interest in $50 dinners or $5 cups of coffee anyway

    • Long before this area of North Oak Cliff became so artsy fartsy, it served as the commercial center for Oak Cliff in general. When I was a kid living on Kingston in Oak Cliff, I attended Cowart Elementary, my folks would put my older brother and myself on a bus to travel over to Jefferson Blvd. to get haircuts. I was so young that I figured the place was downtown Dallas. This area has been dense for many years and really is just an extension of downtown Dallas. The direct way the neighborhood is connected to downtown is taken for granted. The Heights area in Houston is very popular and not near as well connected to downtown Houston.

  • A lot of the businesses who made BAD what it is are feeling pretty threatened, from what I’m seeing. These business have put a lot of time and money in, and are feeling like they will be shoved out in the favor of new development.

    https://www.facebook.com/jack.tenbells/posts/10200473621318854?pnref=story

    • Per your link, 2. Throw in zolis and sonic, that’s 4. Still not “a lot” and still not even close to being in the BAD.

      Also, how many businesses that put in a lot of time and effort were closed because the demographics of the area changed over the last 20 years?

  • The whole city has invested a lot in the central part of Dallas not for the benefit of the central part of Dallas alone, but for the whole city. I can understand wealthy people being concerned about the historical aspect of the Bishops Arts District and what was once downtown Oak Cliff in general, but to snuff out the spread of redevelopment to the further reaches of the city into neighborhoods such as Wynnewood Village and Edgefield towards the west.

    Before the Bishops Arts District was the Bishops Arts District, it was part of the commercial center of Oak Cliff. I can remember reading that this part of Oak Cliff developed originally as a result of the area getting cut off from downtown Dallas by the Trinity. This would have been before the building of the then iconic Houston bridge. So, to build up along Zang Boulevard isn’t going to be ripping off father history any. In doing so, Zang Boulevard will look pretty impressive all the way from Jefferson Boulevard to downtown Dallas.

    I am older than dirt and in my fifties. The Bishops Arts District has been a special place and was back when I was a kid. My uncle back in the sixties bought a very large house in that neighborhood. He was a hippy and furnished it with a log to sit upon in the living room. He had a dog in the back yard that he named “Fish.”
    When visiting my grandmother who live in Edgefield, my two sons and I would stop to eat at the El Fenix located at N. Beckley and E. Colorado. It always seemed like a beautiful place, but figured I was just being prejudicial. This whole area has lots of anchors. It has the Methodist Dallas Medical Center, Lake Cliff and Lake Cliff Park, Jefferson Boulevard, the ritzy neighborhood of Kessler, the Bishops Arts District, and The Dallas Zoo.

  • I have to agree with Oakclifbar. This development is a direct result of the Dallas Streetcar, which was pushed by the Oak Cliff Transit Authority (Jason Roberts, Scott Griggs and others).

    Did we think that the streetcar would not attract development? I’m glad that it is, because the streetcar needs thousands of people living within walking distance from it in order to be viable.

    You may hate the design of these buildings and you may hate that Zoli’s and Local Oak and Ten Bells have to relocate, but this is what we all signed up for.

  • Oakclifbar – so you’re building a house in the area! It seems VERY important to you that you are located next to one of the hot spots in Dallas as you seem to lament the fact that if these huge out of place monstrosities are not built, then the hot spot will move on to another place in the city. Look, I know growth is going to happen no matter what but I, (who have lived here for 14 years) and I assume many other long time OC’ers considered BA a hot spot long before the metroplex buzz labeled it so and it would continue to be a hot spot for me if Alamo Manhattan’s proposed buildings were not built. In fact, if the Bishop Arts does go in that direction, that is probably the thing that would make me think “Uh, maybe we should go to another place other than the Bishop Arts tonight, what ya say?”

    Unfortunately, if you build it, they will come. And by “they”, I’m referring to more of the fringe wearing boot crowd. And it appears that will make you happy! Property values go up even more! and that reinforces a smart investment value on your end since you’re building a house here! Yay!

    Ps. Alamo Manhattan is about the douchiest name I’ve even heard.

    • At least you are finally telling the truth about your objections. It’s to keep out people that consume differently than you because surely you’re not saying that your crowd doesn’t have its own aholes and dbags. I’m sure you consider yourself a nice, caring liberal that believes in tolerance for others, just not people with different interests or clothes than you. I’m sure you’re one of those people that complain that republicans block efforts to slow global warming, but one of the best ways to help is creating dense, walkable neighborhoods with access to public transit, yet here’s the first step to doing so in your own neighborhood and you throw a tantrum as if global warming stops at the Trinity. How many times have you complained about potholes or funding for schools? Well developments like this help pay for those things. Or do you just want that growth to happen where other people live?

      Also, real estate prices are already through the roof. How many of the original businesses that built bad have had to move or close? I’m pretty sure the book doctor isn’t the only one. And no, although I like bishop arts for its restaurants and walkability, I don’t like it for its hipness. I knew there would be some close minded conformists that might think that I don’t fit in because I don’t have a fedora or tats, but it was worth it for the previously stated reasons and being close to public transit and the city center. And no, I’m not a jersey wearing rethuglican. I probably value a lot of the same things you do and can almost guarantee I’m far to the left of you politically, which is why I hate to see people on my side of the fence act as irrational, close minded and selfish as the tea party.

    • I do have to credit the opposition for their creativity. Usually the residents are worried about apartments driving down property values, so it’s a breath of fresh air to hear that they’ll go sky high. But a tad silly in an area where buy in is north of $200 per. Won’t somebody please think about the top 10%!!!!

      • based solely on your attitude and aggressive comments, I really wish you weren’t building a house in Oak Cliff.

        • Based solely on the provincialism of the comments about this development, I’d almost reconsider, but then I know you only represent a small minority and you’ll be gone once the pabst tap runs dry and then this city can finally mature into something worthwhile. I hear Abilene is the next hot spot for dive bars and trucker hats.

  • Oh, and for the record, I never wanted those damb street cars to come to the OC. I pretty much kept that opinion to myself because the few people I mentioned it to when the whole Streetcar discussion was under debate couldn’t understand: “But why?! Streetcars are so charming! Blah, blah…why?”. It seemed selfish to say my main reason was I hated them because to get stuck behind one when driving is a total pain in the a$$ (In my defense, my car was also wrongly hit by one in Uptown), so I always brought up the second reason being that I didn’t foresee people really using them – not nearly enough to justify all their trouble. But now that the streetcar has been deemed the harbinger of the all the ubiquitous, soulless development that is planned by Alamo Manhattan and other developers of that ilk, my streetcar vitriol seems justified. Does this fill me with snug, “I told you so” attitude? No, just sadness…

  • Biggest objection: Why mess with the street grid???

  • I’m usually open to discuss development, but could developers stop employing these sweatshop architects who design for banality? They are the “builders’ beige” of the architecture world. Design something visually powerful with staying-power, not something that’ll be a dilapidated eyesore knocked down in 20 years. Great architecture wins converts; sweatshop architecture makes enemies.

  • A-MEN. Using something other than EIFS for 99% of the building would be a huge improvement.