Downtown’s East Quarter Preserves Buildings But Vibrancy Requires Residential

The Magnolia headquarters and service station anchoring East Quarter.

Last week, Todd Interests showed plans for a new downtown neighborhood called East Quarter. It’s north of the Dallas Farmers’ Market and west of US Highway 75 from Deep Ellum (think of the Magnolia service station at Commerce Street and Cesar Chavez Boulevard as the tip of a redevelopment arrow heading west towards the Statler).

For once, this isn’t the typical Dallas story of bulldozers and tear-stained preservationists. The reason being that Todd Investments’ plan is to renovate over two dozen buildings, including 18 brick structures from the 1920s and 1930s, into offices, restaurants and retail spaces. The only angst for the project is, as the Dallas Morning News reported, “The builder is looking at adding residential projects on some of the vacant lots included in the deal.”

I hope they do more than look.

Downtown needs more residential to reclaim the vibrancy lost when Dallas demolished buildings like these to make way for its current high-rise office park masquerading as a city center. South and west of East Quarter will be Hogue Capital and KDC’s 20-acre Smart District that, at last report, also has no residential component. If Dallas wants to be a real city, it desperately needs more residential within its choker of highways.

I, for one, always thought the upper floor of the triangular Magnolia service station would make a great condo. It reminds me of a similar triangular building in Chicago that was a fun bar in the 1980s before being torn down to house an ever-chic Marshalls, Michaels, and DSW shoes  (all hail progress).

Many vacant lots perfect for (non-townhouse) residential use.

The good news is that while Todd Interests appears to be mainly a commercial redeveloper, they do have residential experience. Notably, the revival of One Dallas Center at Bryan and Harwood Streets into 14 floors of offices capped by 16 stories housing 276 apartments.

More good news comes from Todd Interest’s history of resuscitating other downtown down-on-their-luck properties like 2020 Live Oak built in 1938/1963. However, I’d have to say their best reinvention has been the old Post Office and Court House built in 1930 at 400 North Ervay that also includes 78 apartments. I’m betting the company agrees  it also houses Todd Interests’ headquarters.

Luckily for residential aspirations, East Quarter has a lot of vacant parcels doing time as surface parking lots. Toss in some underground parking and the area would be ripe for sensitively architected, well-sized residential projects to be slipped between the existing older buildings. Certainly, more residents/customers would be hailed by any retail or restaurant (just please, no more of the tatty, low-density townhouses found in the Farmers Market area).

If the (crazy) people get their way in removing the US Highway 75/Interstate Highway 45 connector separating downtown from Deep Ellum, East Quarter will see a huge increase in surface road traffic. I think you bite the bullet and bury the roadway to re-stitch Deep Ellum and downtown. Cutting a gap in a highway that forces traffic onto surface roads in downtown Dallas is the aforementioned crazy.

Regardless, East Quarter is perfectly poised for either eventuality as a connecting neighborhood to re-assimilate Deep Ellum into the greater downtown Dallas.

All the plan needs is some non-millionaire housing that’s affordable to folks who work nearby that adds the vibrancy downtown Dallas really needs.

 

Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016 and 2017, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with two Bronze (2016, 2017) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email sharewithjon@candysdirt.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.

 

8 Comment

  • I agree the plan needs housing. The renderings I saw showed surface parking and did not look all that urban. Removing the highway is not crazy at all. No need for burying the roadway either. Let’s make Dallas a place we want to be and travel to and stop facilitating thru traffic.

    • mm

      The I-45/US-75 connector moves traffic from Galveston to Houston to Oklahoma in addition to around Dallas. If it’s removed, where does that traffic go? It doesn’t disappear. Sending it temporarily through surface roads before reconnecting with the highway 2-miles later, will be chaotic for surface roads. If the goal is to sent thru-traffic to 635, it will have to function better than it does. Bury it.

  • Everyone said there would be chaos when they removed Central Freeway in San Francisco. Nope. What freeway?

    • mm

      And who would disagree that thru-traffic could have been better served by a tunnel from the 101/80 Y-fork, emerging in the Presidio leading directly into the Golden Gate bridge? BART would likely make such a tunnel unfeasible as would the increased capacity required on the Golden Gate.
      .
      Also, the East Bay 880/580 offers a less congested way to avoid the peninsula and San Francisco all together (I’ve lived in San Jose). (Which is why I said if Dallas thru-traffic mitigation was the goal, 635 needed to be beefed up).

  • No, don’t build anymore “tatty low-density townhomes”. We wouldn’t want more actual homeowners downtown when we can build high-density apartment buildings for transient renters with no skin in the game.

    • mm

      Yup, you figured me out. 🙂
      .
      A city core (newer than the 1930s) shouldn’t be building 3-story townhouses, regardless of whether they’re rental or owner-occupied. A urban core is the place for mid/high-rise density.

  • Jon-Interesting piece. Totally agree with the need for increased residential units to balance office/retail/Restaurant growth in the East Quarter. However, I took offense to your reference to “tatty” townhomes near the Farmers Market, where we happen to live! Define “ tatty”- have you ever been in one?