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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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…)