Affordable Downtown Dallas: “I Believe in This Project,” Says CityWalk @ Akard Penthouse Owner

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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.

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“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.

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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.

“I’m selling because I’m single and don’t really need this much space over a long period of time,” he said. After living in a 550-square-foot studio in New York, more than 1,700 square feet in Dallas feels immense. “I have bought and sold other properties before and generally do so because I like the area and neighborhood.”
But don’t get the idea that he’s selling because of the stigma against affordable housing.
“I believe in the projects that invest in, and affordable housing is an area that I have invested in both personally and professionally for over a decade,” Foster said.

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.

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8 Comment

  • Interesting PR piece! – This from last night – https://twitter.com/briangaddis/status/628782585657724928?s=04 and DDI requesting additional police protection due to, “Downtown’s vagrancy problem, as evaluated by DDI, stems from changes made at The Bridge and Austin Street homeless shelters that reduced the shelters’ overnight capacities and led to more people sleeping outdoors downtown. Sleeping in public is illegal in Dallas thanks to controversial law passed in the 1990s, but DDI complains that the ordinance against it, and those against other crimes like panhandling, aren’t enforced often enough. The Downtown Safety Patrol observed 19,234 nuisance crime offenses in 2014, according to DDI, but Dallas Police issued only 4,649 tickets. Because the cops have to witness panhandling to issue a citation, response times are critical DDI says.”

    http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/downtown-dallas-inc-says-there-arent-enough-cops-downtown-asks-for-more-7443018

    • mm

      This isn’t a PR piece, but is a profile of a development that’s very different from any others in downtown. It’s not touted as a solution to the “vagrancy problem,” but is instead shown as a model for permanent supportive housing in a mixed-income environment. Does downtown Dallas have a homeless problem? No. Dallas — all of the city — has a homeless problem. We should address it all together with proven solutions rather than shipping them out to be someone elses’ problem.

    • mm

      I definitely want to follow up with you on this, but interestingly I was reading this in San Francisco where (1) a vagrant sat down at lunch with me yesterday and was so charming the waitress thought he was my guest! And (2) a Dallas colleague saw a woman shoot up heroin on the street right in front of him. (Always wondered how they do that!) Vagrants are a problem but that is because there are no more mental health facilities to hold them. This is NOT a PR piece but rather one look at an attempt to provide affordable housing for that segment of our population who cannot afford our single family homes, which are becoming more unattainable as values rise. It is one solution… as long as we as a nation push our mentally ill to the streets and prisons and oh yes the US health care system, we will have this problem in Dallas and everywhere.
      http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/18/opinion/the-modern-asylum.html?_r=0

      I did not think it was this bad in Dallas, actually. It’s pretty bad here in San Fran.

  • If he “believes in this project” as much as he does, why is he selling the unit as quickly as possible?
    http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/511-N-Akard-St-APT-1505-Dallas-TX-75201/111960755_zpid/

    • mm

      Probably to make a profit at $409,900. I do not see any price changes, do you?

    • mm

      Selling it as quickly as possible? I’m not sure what about putting this unit on the market indicates that. We’ve reached out to Foster for additional comment regarding the listing and hope to hear back from him soon.

      • When I said quickly… I wasn’t referring to a desperate sell… I meant that the article appears to imply he just finished the space. Yet, after less than a year… He is selling it and leaving the building. To go on about how much he believes in this building and the affordable housing concept in downtown, leaving after a short stay seems more like someone saying… “This wasn’t such a great idea…”

        Maybe not… Maybe he is relocating unexpectedly. Maybe he simply wants to take advantage of a hot market which is understandable… But I don’t personally think (self-professed) advocates for affordable housing developments should simply be in it for profits and not live what they preach. And no… Having the place for less than a year and renting it out on airbnb most of that time doesn’t count as “living what you preach”. But that is just me… And my two cents.

        • Slam.. Drop the mic. I do the same thing every time i read about some project people put all this “Love & Passion” into making a space and reading what it means to them and then I immediately go look it up on Airbnb or Zillow to see how long that space was dear to them.
          The results are really sad.
          As for the above space. It seems like the perfect abode for the local drug king pin with his enforcers all below him. I see the building out my window everyday and it seems mostly quiet actually. Not as bad as you’d imagine for low income housing.