Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect new developments.
When Andrew Foster bought his 15th floor penthouse at 511 N. Akard, he began the 7 month process of completely gutting the former commercial space. The building, which is the one of the few affordable apartment buildings in downtown Dallas, includes permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless. It was built in 1958 to house the headquarters of the Relief and Annuity Board of the Baptist General Convention, but today it has been transformed into something much more vibrant and useful.
“I love the space and I love downtown,” Foster said. “Downtown is a really exciting place to be right now.”
Though much of the original lobby remains — as does the brick, marble, and metal exterior — 511 N. Akard now has an entirely different purpose as CityWalk@Akard. Purchased and transformed by Larry James’ CitySquare, the building has become an experiment: Can a residential high-rise bring self-sufficiency and pride to the formerly homeless and still work as a mixed-income development?
Foster says yes, it can work, and it does.
It was a boomerang move for Foster, a Richardson native, to come back to Dallas from New York. The financial analyst with Standard & Poor’s traveled frequently for work and was looking for a home base. First he leased a unit near the Dallas Farmers Market, but it wasn’t all roses living there.
“When I got a flat tire, a homeless person actually asked me if I needed help,” Foster said. Meanwhile, neighbors and other drivers just walked right by, ignoring him.
So Foster enlisted his mother, Dave Perry-Miller Realtor Anne Foster, to find a good spot that was flexible and better suited to his needs.
“I called my mom and asked her to come look at the space,” Foster said. While she was ambivalent about the location and concept, after seeing the condo she said “This is the space,” Foster recalled.
But what about the rental units? Are there any safety concerns?
“There’s a mixed-income feel, of course,” Foster said, “but it has been amazing to see people come into the building and be comfortable with it.”
Not only does the the condo look fabulous, but it has great views of downtown Dallas’ north end. The condo, a two-story unit with two bedrooms, three full baths, and more than 1,750 square feet has been transformed into an industrial chic space with a vintage loft vibe. Foster, a fan of midcentury modern design, has collected some period furnishings on display in the condo. Contractor Jeff Blackwell of Blackwell Construction fabricated the bookcases, island, concrete counters, and kitchen storage, as well as the drop-ceiling light fixture.
There were some hiccups, like reconfiguring the walls and layout to make it more functional. Foster had to reclaim some brick to finish a wall in the kitchen, and the spiral staircase had square opening instead of a round one, leaving a hole that could pose a safety hazard. Of course, there was no ventilation or plumbing for a washer and dryer, so that had to be added as well.
There are some great details, including 3-D textured tile in the bathrooms, spa showerheads, and a free-standing soaking tub. The stained concrete floors look fabulous, as do the perfectly placed art niches, the restored spiral staircase, and the bank of windows that look out to the 24-foot rooftop terrace.
“At the end of the day, I bought the shell, figured out the budget, and in the end you make the best of what your options are,” Foster said. While you’ll find high-end finishes and commercial-grade appliances, nothing was purchased at full price, he said. Not even the Viking stove or wine refrigerator.
When Foster’s out traveling, he’s been leasing his condo through Airbnb to great success. At $159 a night, it’s received five-star reviews from guests, inspiring a neighbor to do the same.
Foster chose a unit in an area that is growing in popularity, with rentals and condo buildings planned for the Arts District and down Ross Avenue and transformed it to perfection, really. “I didn’t look at it necessarily as an investment, but I believe in this project,” Foster said.
In fact, Foster recently decided to put the condo on the market. It’s listed with his mother, naturally, for $409,900.
But some journalists are sounding the alarm: Downtown Dallas is becoming increasingly expensive, and soon only the rich will be able to live there. CityWalk is a rare bird in this case, with six top-floor units capping 13 floors of rentals, with some of those rental units reserved as permanent supportive housing for the formerly homeless.
“The truth is, people should want this, they could learn a lot from this concept,” Foster said. “It could probably be improved, but it makes sense as a way to use the space.”
But what about the blight and panhandling? These are real problems that people are concerned about, especially in areas near the Dallas homeless shelter near the Farmers Market area. More people are heralding a call to move homeless shelter from downtown Dallas to help draw more investment to the area.
“Moving the people to another neighborhood isn’t fixing the problem,” Foster said. “Fixing the problem is actually finding homes for them.”
That’s what CityWalk@Akard does, and Foster says he’s proud to be a part of it.