Dallas’ plans for a vibrant Arts District failed miserably. It’s one of two areas of the city where you’re not reminded of COVID-19 – because it’s just as vacant now as it always is. It’s such a failure that there’s an Authorized Hearing to determine how to get someone – anyone – to walk its streets without a ticket.
Since the original footprint of the Arts District is built out, the plan is to increase its size to entice businesses capable of attracting (any) foot traffic. It’s akin to building a playground next to a retirement home in hopes stray balls bring someone – anyone – over to visit with lonely Nanas.
The other moribund area near downtown is Victory Park – a sea of bland high-rises, ugly parking garages and desolate street life surrounding the American Airlines Center. Like the Arts District, what little event-driven vibrancy there is comes and goes like a game of peek-a-boo .
But Victory isn’t built out. There is still time to effect change that’s driven by our learning what worked and what doesn’t. But that window to change course is closing as evidenced by Harwood International Affiliates’ visit to CPC last week with a development plan.
To backtrack a little …
The Harwood Special Purpose District (SPD) is part of PD-193 (overseen by the Oak Lawn Committee). But instead of having to abide by the highly successful rules of the Oak Lawn Plan, Victory and Harwood got carved out into various sub-districts amid political pressure. The Harwood SPD is Subdistrict 79 which was approved by Plan Commission and City Council back in 2007. While most of PD-193 is in David Blewett’s D14, Victory is in Adam Medrano’s D2.
Harwood’s current plans fall within its subdistrict’s regulations, so their visit to CPC last Thursday was simply to get their development plan blessed – little more than courtesy. CPC had no real power to stop it and certainly weren’t presented with plans showing the planned structures.
Why stop it? Parking.
The site plan above (all that CPC saw) shows the parcel broken into three chunks. The left chunk will be a 205-foot-tall parking tower with an amenity deck and ground-floor retail. That’s a stand-alone 20-story aboveground parking garage with restaurants perpetually struggling for business on the ground floor.
(I’ll admit the “amenity deck” has me confused. They’re usually associated with residential high-rises – which isn’t in evidence here. The plan clearly states, “Developed structure height of garage – 205.5 feet.”)
The center chunk is a 610-foot-tall, 489,979-square-foot office building and garage (ringed with more restaurants at ground level). The right chunk is “open space and future accessory structure.”
Had Victory and Harwood not gotten special dispensation to ignore the Oak Lawn Plan, there would be underground parking (among other improvements). On a lot this size, they could have buried all 1,360 parking spaces on roughly five levels. The result would have been a remarkably generous open space that would attract people – maybe even throw in a neighborhood playground to bring customers to their restaurant tenants.
Why can’t it be buried?
But no, it seems we have 20-stories of aboveground parking – that because they didn’t have to present it, we have no idea how fugly it will be (it’s Victory Park, it’ll be fugly). Can you imagine having to park near the top? Driving around and around and around up 20 floors – and then down again – every day? Can you imagine trying to leave at rush hour? You’ll be in gridlock inside the garage. Craziness. What self-respecting employer would want to foist that daily struggle on its employees and visitors?
District 14 Planning Commissioner Wayne Garcia asked about pushing some of the parking underground. The answer from Harwood representative Melody Paradise was that they’d studied it and that there are a lot of utilities running under the parcel which made it unfeasible. However, utilities can be rerouted and worked around – it’s done every day in cities across the globe – even in Dallas.
And remember it’s office. The typical rusty whine heard from developers is that they can’t bury parking because it’s not cost-effective in residential construction. Well, this is office. And just a few blocks away near the Crescent Court, Granite is voluntarily burying six levels of parking on their 399’ office tower. Harwood must think they’re chumps.
If you ask me, the only reason Harwood isn’t burying parking is because they don’t have to, thank you very much.
More Pinched Pennies
District 2 Planning Commissioner Joanna Hampton asked about an ADA compliant crossing between the project and the CVS drugstore to the south. Harwood’s correct response was that since there was no barrier-free ramp on the other side, anyone using it on their side would be met with a potentially insurmountable curb on the other – endangering crossers.
And while they’ll look into it, the most obvious answer was left unsaid and un-asked-for by Hampton. Harwood should offer to pay for the ramp on the other side of the road if that owner is amenable. It’s a 610-foot tall office building that’s saving millions by building a 20-story aboveground parking garage. Surely there are a few pennies for an ADA crosswalk that’ll benefit Harwood tenants wanting a tube of pimple cream at lunch. Holy cheese and crackers (also available at CVS).
This is precisely why the zoning for Victory Park needs to be reexamined. What’s been built using their subdistrict rights hasn’t delivered so the city shouldn’t let it continue. Even though there are tons of apartments and condos in Victory Park, it’s still awfully lonely on the ground. It’s a largely drive-in/drive-out neighborhood that could have been so much more – if the developers hadn’t gotten their way.
There’s a little time left to change that, but not a lot. According to Harwood’s filing, there are still 3,724,345 square feet remaining – enough to change the dismal course of the neighborhood. The question is, who on the City Plan Commission or Dallas City Council has the guts to open an Authorized Hearing with so much big money on the other side?
The only alternative is to follow the Arts District’s lead – build-out the ghost town and then desperately try to bring visitors to the cemetery (after the money has been made).