Dawson State Jail: A Developer’s Potential Valentine for the City of Dallas

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We were all too busy yesterday, either with our Valentines (nice!) or, sadly, processing the news of yet another high school mass shooting in Florida. Truly, it’s hard to think of real estate right now.

But yesterday, it occurred to me that a North Texas developer has given the city a potentially HUGE gift, the best Valentine ever.

Mehrdad Moayedi, one of the largest developers in Texas, who successfully restored the landmark Statler Hotel and promises to do more of the same to the The Cabana Hotel, is trying to give Dallas a gift of sheer love: a home for our homeless.

Mehrdad has made an offer to buy the vacant Dawson State Jail that is sitting downtown on the banks of the Trinity River. Moayedi says he wants to turn the 10-story building into a housing and services center for Dallas’ homeless population. This is the best idea ever, and one I have actually had for years. In fact, I can say that this idea got me into City politics when I first started emailing my councilman, Lee Kleinman, about it.

“This is an opportunity to do something for these people, but not in the traditional way where you have a warehouse and you put a lot of beds in there,” Moayedi said. “There has to be a situation where people are treated with respect. 

If anyone can do that, it’s Mehrdad Moayedi. And I think the entire design community should help!

Mehrdad is CEO of Farmers Branch-based Centurion American Development Group. He owns vast tracts of developments across the North Texas landscape, including The Stoneleigh Residences, the Cabana Hotel, and of course, the Crespi Estate that he purchased in December from Andy Beal via Concierge auction.

His firm just completed a $230 million renovation of the Statler Hotel and Apartment Residences, which are quickly leasing. Lest I forget: Centurion American recently purchased for a makeover the landmark Mesquite Rodeo. There are other properties in this town that Mehrdad has re-made, he is literally the king of real estate makeovers.  

Dawson may not exactly be a mid-century relic: the 23-year-old jail  (West Commerce Street near Riverfront Boulevard) has been fallow for years. The state has it up for sale. I know of at least one other developer interested in buying it, but I’m sworn to secrecy. Obviously there is no parking, which makes it rather difficult for an apartment/condo/office, office. That’s why it is the perfect place for an out-of-the-box approach to housing the homeless. It has plumbing for bathrooms, rooms, hallways. Take out the bars and locks, put in warm colors and a few Nectar/Casper beds. 

Moayedi said the tower provides “a perfect scenario” for helping Dallas’ homeless community while coming up with a new use for the empty building. (He said:) “The building is useless when it comes to anything else.”

Mehrdad has offered the state more than $3 million to buy the property; the state has countered with a higher price. He says it will take $10 million to remodel, which he wants to do entirely through private funding, and could house up to 1,000 people with facilities for medical, mental health and job counseling services.

Some Dallas homeless experts believe that housing for all is the only way to fight homelessness, a concept with which I currently disagree. I think some folks in our society always need “housemothers” to help them through life, which is essentially what in-house counseling services would provide.

“We need people in housing not shelters, long term,” said Larry James, the chief executive with Dallas’ CitySquare, who also says Dallas needs a comprehensive housing policy. Totally true. But he admits Mehrdad has done “impressive stuff, and is capable of delivering.”

He is MORE than capable. We need to get behind this, folks, and we need to start thinking of how to make a former jail PRETTY, WARM and INVITING. I have been in former jails that are now museums, restaurants, bars. Put your thinking caps on, and oh yes: nudge those Councilfolks!
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Candy Evans

A real estate muckraker, Candy Evans is one of the nation’s leading real estate reporters. She is also the North Texas real estate editor for Forbes.com, CultureMap Dallas, Modern Luxury Dallas, & the Katy Trail Weekly. Candy has written for Joel Kotkin’s The New Geography, Inman Real Estate News, plus a host of national sites. Constantly breaking celebrity real estate news, she scooped former president George W. Bush's Dallas home in 2008. She is the founder and publisher of her signature CandysDirt.com, and SecondShelters.com, devoted to the vacation home market. Her verticals have won many awards, including Best Blog by the venerable National Association of Real Estate Editors, one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious journalism associations. Candy holds an active Texas real estate license but does not sell. She is on the Board of Directors of Braemar Hotels & Resorts (BHR).

Reader Interactions


  1. Matt R says

    The area along the Trinity is this city’s future. It is neglected now, but with the eventual park plan for the Trinity coming to fruition this will be Dallas’ backyard and new development will hopefully create a brand new, youthful, modern city along Riverfront Blvd. Cramming the city’s homeless population into an abandoned jail next to the future park will destroy this vision. I appreciate him wanting to help, but the abandoned jail complex needs to be demolished.

    • mmCandy Evans says

      It will hold 1,000 and the estimated homeless numbers in Dallas are 5,000 to 8,000. So it won’t cover all, but could be a prime example of how we are a city with a heart that doesn’t just say it on billboards or sound bites.

      • Matt R says

        My concern is not that we will build a more permanent housing solution for the homeless. That is a great idea. I live and work downtown so I experience the homeless problem daily.

        My problem is the location and the building itself. This area that will affront the future Trinity Park will need all the help it can get and could be the most promising and transformative project we have seen in decades. A chance to build a new part of the city on the revitalized riverfront. Unfortunately, a massive amount of homeless population milling around a large, ugly, scary prison building will throw a wrench in all of that. The building needs to go. Let’s build more permanent housing for the homeless, but in a better area with TRANSIT ACCESS and near JOBS. That is what will help these people recover. Not stuffing them in an abandoned jail tower in a wasteland area and stymieing the future development of the Trinity Park.

  2. Ray Cox says

    Ironically, an extended family member is mentally disabled, but was fine living with his mother until she died this summer. He can still live fairly independently (he has a car and drives) but does need someone to remind him about medications, appointments, eating healthy, and so on. If this turned into long-term housing, it would be a great solution for him and many others in our area.

    But I also see the need for short-term housing. My job takes me all over Dallas, including by those underpasses which collect the homeless. I’m sure many of those folks could use short-term housing.

    Both are needed, and either would be great. I hope it happens.

    • mmCandy Evans says

      That is exactly my point about the “housing first” mind-set, though I admit I’m still reading and researching. San Francisco is NOT an example: empower the homeless, pay them, and the problem gets worse. Inman is holding its last conference in SF this summer, the homeless problem has literally run them off. Los Angeles is a disaster and I heard last night from an agent who was just there people are leaving because LA is strewn with homeless. Some of these people just need “house-mothers” and they can hold down jobs!

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