Monte Anderson, right, with Wana Smith, an agent for Options Real Estate that focuses on Oak Cliff. Photo: Monte Anderson

Monte Anderson, right, with Wana Smith, an agent for Options Real Estate who focuses on Oak Cliff, champion the idea of small business ownership to rebuild communities. Photo: Monte Anderson

Monte Anderson thrives on shaking up standard ways of thinking about development in Dallas.

After he sold the historic Belmont Hotel five months ago, a bellwether renovation and restoration project that put his name on the map in 2005, he got right back to work doing what he does best.

“I took all the money from the hotel sale, and we invested it into more ugly properties to turn around, every penny of it,” he said.

Those “ugly properties” are in south Oak Cliff, around South Polk Street and South Beckley Avenue, and Anderson is ready to perform microsurgery.

“With microsurgery, you go into an area that has good bones, like Elmwood southwest of Bishop Arts, and you start by buying one property and fixing it up or building one small building and making it into a good retail or residential space,” he said.

He’s one of the original Dallas pioneers of urban “gentlefication,” moving into distressed neighborhoods and slowly redeveloping in an effort to reduce crime, create harmony, and build community.

This is radically different from gentrification, which usually forces out low-income residents with high-income folks seeking the next hip place. Gentlefication helps long-term residents take back their neighborhoods, stabilize property values, and build safe communities for their families.

It’s also different from what Dallas is doing with its Grow South plan, Anderson said.

“The mayor’s Grow South plan is nothing but superficial marketing—it has no sustainable wealth-building characteristics,” he said. “Find the one deal that has changed somebody’s life that lives in South Dallas. It’s typical Dallas thinking: the rich people in Dallas think it’s got to be big; it can’t be good unless it’s big. Yet all the special places we love are small.”

Anderson is a self-proclaimed “hard-core new urbanist,” spreading his message of gentlefication with his company Options Real Estate, which specializes in southern Dallas County.

“Owner-occupied neighborhoods is really the message I have for gentlefication,” he said. “The only way they can get in and own is to get in early…I’ve got so many of these kind of business success stories, everything from pet stores to call centers and yoga studios to insurance offices and restaurants, all kinds of people that own their own buildings now, not to mention the housing.”

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The Art Deco exterior of the 508 Park building.

The Art Deco exterior of the 508 Park building before restoration. Its architecture is considered an excellent example of a Zig Zag Moderne building. Photo: Encore Park

You probably never noticed the boarded-up tan brick building near Park and Young streets in downtown Dallas. It sat abandoned for two decades, its sidewalks littered with trash and walls vandalized with graffiti.

But behind the grime and neglect, there was a story of intersecting histories waiting to be told.

This Art Deco structure, called 508 Park, was once the hub of the local music scene. Mississippi Delta blues legend Robert Johnson recorded nearly half his songs, as well as his final work, in 1937. In fact, over 800 blues, jazz, western swing, and Mexican recordings occurred at 508 Park by Johnson and other legends such as Gene Autry, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, Light Crust Doughboys, and Lolo Cavasos.

Blues legend Robert Johnson whose final recordings were at Encore Parrk's 508 Park. Photo: Encore Park

Blues legend Robert Johnson, whose final recordings were at Encore Parrk’s 508 Park. Photo: Encore Park

The Stewpot of First Presbyterian Church across the street purchased 508 Park in 2011. Thanks to their efforts, as well as dedicated preservationists, historians, architects, and volunteers, this architecturally significant building is singing again.

The campus, known as Encore Park, is a multi-phased, multi-venue campus that aims to bring all cultures together to experience and appreciate history, art, music, and community gardening.

Pat Bywaters is executive director of Encore Park Dallas and grandson of influential Texas artist and “Dallas Nine” member Jerry Bywaters. He’s been spearheading the research into 508’s history, visiting archives in California, Louisiana, and New York.

“I love doing research, and I’ve always loved history. As soon as we looked into 508, the music history came flooding,” Bywaters said. “The Encore Park project preserves not only the architectural relic, but a special place and time in Dallas’ history.”

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Rob Shearer leads panelists (left to right) Sarah Tillman, Councilman Scott Griggs, Michael Nazarian, Jim Lake Jr., Robbie Good, Mark Lamster, Allison Cuellar, and Patrick Kennedy.

Surprisingly, the discussion this past Tuesday (last week) over the future of Bishop Arts didn’t devolve into a gripe-fest. The evening began with a showing of The Human Scale at the Texas Theater. The film by Scandinavian architect Jan Ghel explores the state of cities and the evolution of our understanding of  the human habitat.

The tone of the conversation was “How do we get more of what’s great about Bishop Arts?” Rob Shearer, principal at Kickstand marketing and host of the program, pointed out that there are thousands of apartments and hundreds of square feet of retail planned for the North Oak Cliff neighborhood over the next few years.

In the lobby, two boards covered with butcher paper asked attendees what they fear losing the most, and how they feel about Oak Cliff. (more…)

Monte Anderson

On Tuesday night, the Greater Dallas Planning Council honored North Texas developer Monte Anderson with its inaugural Urban Pioneer Award at the Urban Design Awards.

Anderson is the president of Options Real Estate, a multi-service real estate company that concentrates its work in southern Dallas and Ellis counties, specializing in creating sustainable neighborhoods that invite “gentlefication,” as opposed to gentrification.

Here’s a great working definition of “gentlefication”:

Moving into a neighborhood in an effort to reduce crime, create harmony, and build community. As opposed to “gentrification,” which changes neighborhoods by forcing out low-income residents with high-income folks seeking the next hip thing. Gentlefication helps long-term residents take back their neighborhoods, stabilize property values, and build safe spaces for their children and grandchildren.

“The award means a lot because it means people are staring to recognize that incremental development, or ‘microsurgery’, not big silver bullet deals, works in our southern Dallas neighborhoods,” he said. “My approach is to come in and get other small developers and entrepreneurs to come in very early and be a part of the change. These are the people who make it cool, like artists and restaurateurs, and they [usually] end up not owning anything and getting pushed out in the end.” (more…)