Realities and Misconceptions about Downtown

There is always a lot of talk about what needs to happen to keep the momentum going in Downtown Dallas. But what you inevitably hear and read are an undercurrent of naysayers bemoaning the same factors for why downtown will never return to its past glory. The homeless. The tunnels. The (fill in the blank).
In my opinion, these are not reasons to ignore downtown.  I don’t see them as barriers to the recovery of downtown Dallas.

Yes, there are homeless people in Downtown Dallas. Unfortunately, there are going to be homeless people in every downtown in every major city. A good friend of mine in real estate made an interesting statement about the homeless, which was “if you had more people downtown, you wouldn’t notice the homeless because they would blend in with everyone else.”  When you compare Dallas to other cities, there are not a lot of homeless people.  I have seen cities with a much higher population of homeless revitalize their downtown. What city lets 10-15 people walking around during the day asking for change affect what is going to happen in a given part of town? See how much sense that makes? The people that don’t travel downtown because of the homeless folks probably will never come downtown anyway.
There is a need for improved lighting, but that will come with time. Also, applications are starting to arrive for video boards, which will provide a little flash to the major downtown streets.
What I really here are a bunch of excuses.
These are really excuses for people that wouldn’t invest, shop, or live downtown in the first place. Yet, some business owners have built downtown to great success.
7-Eleven opened at Commerce & Field. They didn’t say they couldn’t be successful because of the tunnels or anything else.  Try going in the store anytime during the day; there’s always several people in line or moving about the store. I would guess that it’s one of their more successful stores in Dallas.
The Joule Hotel is right in the middle of Main Street. They didn’t say that you couldn’t have a high-end hotel because a few homeless people are walking by the building. It’s a successful place.
Another reality: we’re stuck with the tunnels.  Most of the stores in the tunnels provide basic retail functions. They are a cash generator for the building owners and it’s probably too cost prohibitive to close the tunnels.  Philadelphia has an entire network of tunnels full of similar retail shops; so does Houston. In fact, in Houston the tunnels are marketed as an amenity, and some of them are open at night.
I have a different take on the tunnels than most.  We should look at the tunnels more as an asset and part of the overall strategy. Attract higher-level retail at the street level and leave the rest in the tunnels.  I’m sure the tunnels have lower rent costs, which would allow an aspiring business owner to strike out on his own and move to a street-level space once they have enough business.
I also disagree with the current alignment of the downtown streetcar. In my opinion, the route completely cuts off Deep Ellum from the rest of downtown. It’s a great route for the Arts district, but not for anywhere else.
I know that Deep Ellum is listed as a “potential extension,” but there are great businesses there now.  The main streets have multiple lanes that would be conducive to a streetcar.  How cool would it be to leave your office during lunch, hop the streetcar down to Twisted Root or Lemongrass or St. Pete’s, and get lunch? It also would show out-of-town Arts District patrons about this great alternative retail and restaurant scene right in the middle of our city.  Maybe just throw Deep Ellum a bone by having the train stretch to Good Latimer and Commerce,  circle back to Main and then continue north at Harwood Street.
If it’s impossible to build this route, then they should simultaneously look at a route for Deep Ellum.
The other funny thing is the people that are worried about driving on the streetcar tracks. Do you know how to drive? Seriously. As with a lot of things in Dallas, we want the amenities without any hassle. Well, the real world (which includes the cities to which we compare ourselves) works a little bit different.
It’s all about how you look at the situation.  Dallas has certain realities that must be dealt with downtown, but we should look at them more as opportunities than excuses not to invest, to shop, and to live.

4 Responses to “Realities and Misconceptions about Downtown”

  1. larchlion Says:

    I'm letting a longer post about the streetcars marinate a bit in my subconscious, but if there were to be a relationship with new streetcars and Main Street, I would create a loop adjacent to Main Street. Main Street is fine in its current design and function. Elm and Commerce are those in most need of rehabilitation and the Streetcar can and SHOULD be used as a transformational tool for those streets to be come sociopetal rather than sociofugal.Streetcars shouldn't be messing around turning either…run them n-s and e-w and allow lines to intersect. make a loop down elm/commerce linking west end to deep ellum, extend the MATA line to Main Street Garden or further eventually, create a line to Oak Cliff up past Union Station, West end, then to Victory, eventually create a line down Ross, from West end, to Arts district and eventually out to Lower Greenville.I expect the streetcars will have much greater impact on revitalization for the struggling areas adjacent to downtown (deep ellum, ross east of downtown, OC, cedars, etc.).

  2. larchlion Says:

    Wait, I think I'm misinterpreting the alignment and it IS in fact a loop on Elm/Commerce. As long as it is phased w/ the future extensions outward to run on multiple intersecting lines it is a fine solution.But, you are right. It is somewhat silly to just make a downtown only line (for the time being). The point of all transpo of whatever form is linking two places. If it starts downtown and stays downtown, it becomes more of a tourist attraction rather than for residents.As DART spider webs out of Downtown to the burbs, the streetcars should reach out from Downtown to the intermediate nodes: Lower Greenville, Lakewood, Deep Ellum, Fair Park, Cedars, Victory, OC, etc.Those areas will ultimately be more residentially driven than Downtown (although its necessary there as well) but streetcar won't have the same positive effect on redevelopment IN downtown as it will immediately outside. Fundamental change to the road network is necessary in Downtown.

  3. Maggie ~:) Says:

    Bless you for speaking some sense! I'm in Old East Dallas right now watching the development of the new DART lines and downtown very closely. I'd like to move back into downtown one day when I can afford it again. Besides the price, what finally sent me out was that there was NOTHING open when I was home (after 6pm and on the weekends). I'm so glad that's changing!

  4. India Says:

    As a downtown resident (who will be more than ecstatic to see my property values increase) I'm glad that you are consistently highlighting the potential for downtown. Not to be a naysayer, and not discounting the importance of infrastructure, but I still see the need for a significant culture change if we want to make downtown vibrant, or even viable. I've been writing my Ph.D dissertation on low income policies in Collin County and research keeps bringing me back to the concept that the attitudes and attributions of policymakers play a far greater role in community outcomes than the policies themselves. I'd venture that the same is true for downtown Dallas as well. How do we change the culture to attract a critical mass of downtown residents, businesses, etc.?Just a thought…

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