Revived Braniff Building Among Four Projects Presented to The Oak Lawn Committee

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The Braniff Passion Pit

The same year Braniff flight attendants were welcomed into a new dormitory for their Hostess College on Wycliff Avenue, the Dallas North Tollway opened next door. That was 1968. The last hostess packed up her roller bag in 1975 (and they were all hers). After that, the building served as a drug treatment center, another training facility, and finally the Park Gate retirement home which closed its doors in 2015. Since then, the building has been vacant with all manner of for sale and lease signs flapping at tollway riders.

No more. Mehrdad Moayedi and his Centurion American development operation have stepped in to save the building as he did the Statler Hotel and the soon to be restored Cabana Motor Hotel.

The Passion Pit, as it was known, was the only place in the facility male visitors were allowed. It’s located within sight of the front desk to dampen canoodling. As the picture above shows, it’s seen better days. But as Moayedi’s work on the Statler shows, he knows how to bring swank back to life. They’re working with the state historic preservation folks to get designation and tax credits to turn back time and reopen the facility as an 82-room boutique hotel.

The OLC meeting was abuzz with memories and congratulation that the building would be restored rather than demolished for some garish office building.

Seeing the rendering above of one of the five hotel floors, I realized what the design looked like. It’s a top-down view of an airplane wing with a protruding jet engine.

Preserved in a stairwell, could it be Pucci?

During my tour of the building with the Centurion team, we found this original fabric wall running the length of the left side fire stairs. I’m told it will be preserved and reused in the restored space. Another cheeky nod to the building’s past comes from its nickname as the “Birdcage” because of the floor-to-ceiling balcony railing bars. There’s talk of calling the hotel’s bar The Birdcage.

But REALLY keep your fingers crossed. The Centurion team is trying to work with the copyright holders of all things Braniff to see about branding the hotel as Braniff.  How cool would that be?

It might have been a dreary day, but the views of downtown Dallas from the fifth floor were pretty great even with the newer ticky-tacky apartment buildings in the foreground.

Needless to say, there was no opposition to this project. Why were they at the Oak Lawn Committee?  They need a reduction in the parking requirements for a hotel (which few use these days anyway) and to be able to erect signage that was never there for the “destination” restaurant and hotel.

Hilton West Village (Motto and Tempo)

Remember this bomb from November and December? They’re back with their second retooling after a few community meetings. The results are a whole lot better.  (Why they rarely start out as “a whole lot better” to begin with, I’ll never know).

But as you can see, the tubby muffin-top of above-ground parking has gone underground (where it should have been). It’s dropped from 210 feet in height to 162 feet on a lot zoned for 240 feet. Lot coverage dropped from a not-bad 67 percent to a quite nice 54.5 percent. They’ve increased landscaping from a chintzy 9 percent to 17.27 percent (10 percent required) and rejiggered traffic flows to take it all on-property. There’s a ton of other smaller stuff that makes the project more enjoyable and tolerable to the neighborhood.

All-in-all, the front façade is a lot more open and inviting (as I am without my muffin top). That slimming moved the pool deck to the top of the shorter section, which to me is a win-win with bathers enjoying some sweet downtown views.

The group got off on an odd tangent on this project questioning its financial viability given its pricing model and target market. They seemed to forget that no one batted an eye at the Mandarin Oriental building (a year before the name was announced) nor Prescott’s unnamed hotel nor the other unnamed hotel near the Crescent Court. But somehow knowing this was Hilton opened a slew of bizarre and off-topic examinations.

Was the third time a charm to pass?  We’ll see.

Parkside – KDC

The other new-new project of the evening was KDC’s proposed office complex called Parkside at Harwood Avenue and Klyde Warren Park. There’s a lot to like here with just two concerns. First, it’s kind of wall-to-wall on the lot and there’s a lot of parking with more above ground than below. But it’s also adjacent to the “anything goes” zoning of the central business district.

Before we hit the positives (there are a lot), let’s step back.  There are really two buildings here that will be separated in construction by five-to-10 years. Phase one is the right side with phase two happening once existing leases on the left side are satisfied. Aside from some ground-floor retail/restaurants, it’s all office above in phase one. Phase two is mostly office until the very top where it steps back. That will tentatively be a 250-room hotel. When both phases are complete, the buildings will be stitched together below the uppermost parking level through to the lowest underground garage level.

On the upside, it’s a really attractive building. Shooting for LEED certification, it has an abundance of greenery on the sides (shielding parking) and above. The ground floor is pretty much given to the pedestrian experience with the main office lobby located in that glass box above the green garage. It’s a nice vibrancy addition to the deadness of the nearby Arts District.

The ribs of greenery move up the sides of the building and onto its various roofs. This has the effect of pulling Klyde Warren’s green blanket up the side of the building. Renderings show the greenery will be visible at street level. And for office workers, it adds to the views as well as outdoor spaces to escape to.

This building adds a lot to a Dallas skyline many developers seem hell-bent on covering in noxious milquetoast. And while its bulk and parking are open for debate, it is downtown Dallas, an urban core trying to live up to that description.

While taller, there are a lot of tall buildings adjacent.

The asks for such a building are not inconsequential (but most wouldn’t even need to be asked on the south side of Woodall Rodgers). They want to triple the floor area ratio to 12.5 (seen in the bulk of the building). The height almost doubles from 240-feet to 450-feet (again, not an issue on the other side of Klyde Warren). They want to reduce parking (like everyone else). More controversially, they want to eliminate setbacks on Harwood to zero. While initially concerning, it was explained that at ground level there would be wide sidewalk and greenery setbacks, they would just be setback under a cantilever. While some were uncomfortable with this, I felt that if their zoning was written properly, it’s essentially a shaded and dry place to walk. But it is the main drag into Klyde Warren, so you want it to feel generous (more detail needed, I think).

I assume a project of this scale will require a return visit to the Oak Lawn Committee where potential issues can be addressed and detailed.  

2913 Fairmount (at Cedar Springs)

This is another return visitor to the Oak Lawn Committee. In its last iteration there was a large, full-floor event space at the top that I envisioned as a snazzy cocktail bar overlooking the city. Neighbors saw it as a booze-fueled discotheque piping raucousness across the neighborhood. We’ll never know who was right. It’s gone.

The top two floors are the office and personal residence of the developer/owner of the site while the rooftop event space has become a sedate “destination” restaurant on the ground level in its own little “house”.  But while the roof of the restaurant has variously been shown as black or white, it’s not been shown in green. That needs to happen.

It’s been interesting to see a relatively new element pop into these meetings. Their primary purpose is to review zoning requests, but they’ve branched out into construction methodology. And I like it. While sometimes tedious, addressing neighborhood concerns about lane closures, construction parking, loading, and crane air rights, it’s a necessary part of being a good neighbor. In the few years I’ve been attending these meetings, there’s been a definite expansion in the discussion of these topics. I’m also liking the new (?) European member who consistently asks about bicycle racks and showers (bike riding commuters don’t want to be soggy and smelly throughout a summer workday).

That’s a wrap for February, a ton of office space and one residential unit.

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Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is CandysDirt.com's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on SecondShelters.com. An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

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