Archive for the ‘Real Estate’ Category

Container Homes: Good or Bad?

September 9, 2009
My buddy Preston in Salt Lake City wrote an interesting post on his blog Jetson Green about a container home that was built in Houston.

A container home uses shipping containers as the building blocks of construction.  Reading various websites, people have a pretty strong opinion about container homes and whether they should be allowed in neighborhoods. In Fort Worth, someone wanted to build container homes and was recently denied the opportunity.

According to reports, the cost of the actual containers can range from $2,000-$5,000 and many times multiple containers are used to build a home. The sale prices of a container home can vary from $40,000 into the six-figure range.  I have even seen  contemporary-style 3-story homes built from containers.  They don’t always look like shipping containers, as they can be faced with facades made of brick or other materials.

These two articles give you an idea of the range of homes that can be built using shipping containers. Eventually, this concept will be presented in Dallas.
I think it is an interesting concept, and if the end result doesn’t resemble a container then give it a chance. What do you think?

(photos are by Jack Thompson at Dwell Magazine)


Let Oak Cliff Development Move Forward

August 9, 2009

After years of dealing with an overabundance of car lots, motels, and boarded up buildings, the Fort Worth Corridor is in a stage of redevelopment and revitalization. The Belmont Hotel, as well as the Cliff Cafe (currently under renovation and rebranding) and the Salón Las Américas center have sparked the rebirth of this once-forgotten area.

Project Luke is the name for a highly-anticipated mixed-use development which will stretch from I-30 to Fort Worth Avenue along Sylvan. It has the makings of the type of development the city had in mind when we got our Form-Based Zoning framework approved; moving buildings farther out towards the street and parking behind the buildings vs. having a sea of parking along the street. The most important piece of this development is the plan for a 30,000 SF +/- site at the I-30 frontage road & Sylvan. Such a footprint would accommodate a mid-size grocery store or an organic grocery like Newflower or Whole Foods. Plans also include loft/studio spaces.

Unfortunately, the entire development is now at risk. There is a major roadblock which is impeding the continued revitalization of this corridor. The issue at hand is the county-owned land that is needed for this development, located at the corner of Sylvan & Fort Worth Avenues (map). Here is a recent picture of county auto shop from DCAD:

According to the news article, a land swap was proposed because State law doesn’t allow the county to sell directly to a private party. For now, the county commissioners are balking at the proposed swap and instead vote to have an appraisal completed at a maximum cost of $12,300 to determine the land value.

All of the commissioners quoted seem to be focusing on the value of the land. The underground fuel tanks were also mentioned; I’m sure the developer realizes that tanks will have to be addressed.

Curiously, there is no quote from County Commissioner Ken Mayfield, who represents the area in which the auto shop is located.

While the county does have a responsibility to make a good deal for the taxpayer, it is not a good idea to risk major developments whose benefits far outweigh the amount of additional upfront value that the county can receive form the developer. The increased tax dollars generated (from its current level of zero) base would also be a benefit.

There are plenty of other places to locate this shop. As noted by Shannon Brown, the assistant Commissioners Court administrator, many auto dealerships are closing. There is also no shortage of service station/repair shops that are closed on which such a county facility could be located.
I’m also not sure if the shop must be located in Oak Cliff.

To me, this land arrangement should not be viewed as a cash cow for the county. It should be treated as an opportunity to bring needed retail and services to this part of Dallas, and one that should be welcomed with opened arms.

My Current Take on Southwest Center Mall

June 29, 2009

A lot has been written lately about Southwest Center Mall. A $120,000 study has been commissioned and presented. Shawn Williams wrote an article for DMagazine. Numerous editorials from various newspapers have been published. I’m not sure if people are going to like what I like to say about the mall, but that’s life.

I’ve been writing about the mall since I started Dallas Progress.

One thing that has to be done, no matter whose feathers get ruffled, is to face facts about the area around the mall. The area around the mall is in shambles.

I don’t feel safe in this area; that is why I have decided to move my family from this neighborhood. The main reason that stores have left is one of the same reasons that I am leaving. All of the writing, trying to expose various issues in this neighborhood, has been for naught. We still don’t get the proper help over here.

Some may feel that I am giving up on this area. All I can say is that I lived it.

All of the police attention in this area goes to the neighborhood east of 67 which includes the Chaucer Place neighborhood. Of course, that is inside the South Central Police division which is led by the magnificent Deputy Chief Sherryl Scott. The west side of 67 (Marvin D Love Freeway) is a different police division.

The only time we had any type of consistent patrols was when Pastor Rickie Rush put together an informal patrol of hundreds of men and dozens of vehicles from IBOC Church. They were the best security we ever had in this area.

While we spent $120,000 for the study of the mall, my buddy Shawn Williams gave you a lot of similar insight for the $5 cost of DMagazine. The study does go into more depth, but the basic premise is the same.

My take is a little different. I feel that putting a lot of money into the mall, and only the mall, is a mistake. When you look at the Urban Land Institute (ULI) study (warning: this is a 15MB PDF so it may take time to download), it draws comparisons to Prestonwood Mall. I can understand that; but what it shows is that the two areas are starkly different in terms of income, worker traffic, and spending power. Instead of the city putting $50+ million (as it has been suggested) into one shopping mall, I would rather it gets spread through a bunch of small centers all over southern Dallas.

With respect to Southwest Center Mall, several opportunities were missed. We know that the retail moved to Cedar Hill. It moved there because the city didn’t support former Councilman James Fantroy’s attempts to revitalize the mall between 2003-2006. For example, he tried to put a new Target and a movie theater in and around the vacant JC Penney space to jumpstart redevelopment but the numbers wouldn’t work without city help. As a result, Inland Southwest began to develop a new center at Hampton & Wheatland which includes the Target store that opened in March of 2008.

Some have suggested that we should consider turning Southwest Center Mall into an outlet mall. However, our chance at the outlet mall opportunity has come and gone. In the past year,Grand Prairie snagged an outlet mall that will be next to I20 & 360 owned by Prime Outlets (the same owner as the one in San Marcos), and another got announced for another city farther north (Irving, I think).

You will never get the income parameters you need to bring the stores that you want until you solve the number one problem around the mall. Again, it goes back to neighborhood safety. You have to start the revitalization by tearing down of some of the apartment complexes in the area.

All of the good businesses are leaving the Mall area, most of the reason is that the business owners and potential customers are constantly robbed and assaulted by criminals in the area. As an example of the issues around here, Pizza Hut won’t even deliver to apartment complexes in our neighborhood.

Some apartment operators work to maintain their properties, keep gates in working order, and make sure that they don’t house criminals. Many do not.

One way these thugs get around background checks is to date a female with a decent job and get the apartment in her name. Then, the thug moves in and here comes the crime. The girl then is scared to kick him out because she has been threatened to keep quiet, and the apartment complex does nothing about it. This happens more than you think.

Some of the worst offenders in the area are below. The good tenants are held hostage in the complexes by the thugs and crime element that certain owners refuse to eradicate.

(the crime numbers for 2009 are from January 1st-June 29th)

  • Whispering Hollow – 6910 S Cockrell Hill Road (100 crimes in 2008, 52 in 2009). Owners are based out of California.
  • Redbird Trails – 3636 W Red Bird – again, the owners are based in California. There is always a line of cars outside the gates because they are always broken. Usually a lot of people walking in and out. You can see the drug traffic.
  • Arborstone – 6500 S Cockrell Hill Rd (58 crimes in 2008, 26 in 2009). Check out this stellar review from apartment

I wouldn’t recommend this place to my worst enemy. First off, there is always trash and broken bottles everywhere. People sit outside and drink beer and smoke weed and nobody does anything. Maintenance doesn’t fix a thing.

They will fix the easiest thing that needs to be fixed and leave the other things broke.

The security guards are a joke. They had some really bad ones before that just flirted and hung out, but now they have “invisible” ones that you never see. Oh, except from when they are sleep in their cars. The office staff are not helpful at all, the only one worth something is Deon who works on the weekends. The manager is mean and could care less about the residents. They can’t answer your questions, you have to keep calling to get any help, they don’t listen to you, but they are quick to put a notice on your door about the smallest fees like a $2.00 fee. I am writing a formal complaint to the owners.

People say they were improving because they evicted some of the drugs dealers here, but what about the other things. The crazy man who walks around and harasses the women in building 11 and 10 whenever he hasn’t taken his pills. The random gunshots. The half man/woman hooker that does its business out of the empty apartments. You mean to tell me I know all this and the office staff doesn’t. So sad. I cannot wait until my lease is up so I can move

Other complexes should also be considered. A check of the crime records or apartment reviews will show similar reports. They include:

  • Park Village -7575 S. Westmoreland – Dallas, TX 75237
  • Harbors – 7550 S. Westmoreland – Dallas, TX 75237
  • Cielo Ranch – 3829 Gannon Lane – Dallas, TX 75237
  • Broadmoor – 3900 Investor Dr – Dallas, TX 75237
  • Brookfield Apts – 4060 Preferred Pl -Dallas, TX 75237

Add in the motels along I-20, and it adds up to a recipe for disaster if left unchecked.

The model for this area should be based on what was done along Skillman. Yes there is a TIF called Skillman Corridor, but most of the developments received no TIF money. In fact, the only major development that received funding was the Lake Highlands Town Center ($23 million for a $350 million development). The total amount of non-TIF related development in this area: $300 million.

Retail developers will return once they see strong signs that the area is changing. Until then, we’ll be writing these types of articles and blog posts for years to come.

More than A Grocery Store in Oak Cliff (with Video)

June 10, 2009

Yesterday was a great day in Oak Cliff. The Save A Lot grocery store had its official ribbon cutting for the brand new Save-a-Lot store at the Crest Shopping Center in the 2600 Block of Lancaster (map). Note: the Google street view also shows how it looked before the renovation.

Dwaine and I, along with the Mayor, city staff, neighbors, and the shopping center developer have been working on this for nearly two years. We were first looking at putting the store across the street from its current location. Everyone settled on keeping the store in the shopping center. The neighbors’ input was used in creating the store, from the items stocked on the shelves and beyond.

Save A Lot is an important part of this community. In these times, Save A Lot provides the opportunity for a family to get a healthy, balanced meal for $5. Compared to buying fast food every night for dinner because it’s cheap, a void is being filled in this neighborhood. People couldn’t wait to get into the store, as you can see people pushing carts by us even as the press conference progressed.

One major bonus: Save A Lot donated 5,000 pounds of food to the North Texas Food Bank! According to one of their reps that translates into 100 full carts of groceries for needy families at a time when donations are shrinking.

As I have said from the beginning, this is bigger than just a new grocery store.

In the process, the new store also provided us an opportunity to get rid of the asbestos filled theater that was on the north side of the center. The theater had been vacant for years and could not be rented due to the aforementioned issues. Now there’s a new grocery store in its place.

Mickey’s Catfish, owned by Vincent Hall, has just opened in the last couple of months. The mall and the neighborhood has a lot more energy now vs. before Dwaine took office.

You will also see that the entire mall is undergoing an extensive renovation and repaving, which was spearheaded by everyone working with the owners of the center as part of our Lancaster Road Initiative.

One of the comments that struck me the most were the ones made by Rick Meyer from Save A Lot:

“I’d like to take Dwaine on some road shows with me, (and) teach some folks in other communities what it’s all about to be a good partner.”

A comment like that makes it all worthwhile. When you see the various articles and conferences held with respect to what Southern Dallas needs to bring growth and development, this is what it’s all about. You can say it and claim you’re a leader all day long, but just like a World Series Championship baseball team you need a starter and a closer. We have that in our Mayor and Dwaine. This is one of the reason that I’m glad they’re both in office and in leadership positions on City Council. In his remarks, the Mayor also hinted at another store to be announced for District Four pretty soon!

This store and center will always be special to me. It’s where Dwaine’s campaign office was located when he first took office. The neighborhood was promised that this center would be a catalyst for positive change in that part of Oak Cliff and along Lancaster Road. I can’t count the number of nights we walked the center hoping that we could someday be a part of its turnaround. It’s here, but there’s more to come. The work is not done, but we’re moving in the right direction.

Video is below:

Remarks from from Rick Meyer, Vice President of Save-A-Lot.

Remarks from Vanessa Foster from Save-A-Lot and Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert.

Remarks from Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway.

Remarks from Cathy Misko and Vanessa Foster of Save A Lot and officials from the North Texas Food Bank.

Mercantile Place Grand Opening

April 17, 2009

Tonight, I got to attend the official grand opening for the Mercantile Place.

Mercantile Place actually consists of three buildings: Wilson Place, The Merc, and Element. The opening was for The Merc and Element.

The Element is a brand-new building, and the Merc is the fully restored and updated Mercantile National Bank Building. The Merc was once the largest building west of the Mississippi River for some time. This is the building with the multicolored spire which was recently lit for the first time in years.

I found our tour guide to be extremely knowledgeable of the history of The Merc. I had to leave before I got to check out the Merc’s vault, but I did get to see some amazing spaces.

I focused more on the views than on the inside of units. I will tell you that the finishes were top-notch (marble, granite, the works), and units featured Viking stoves and Bosch washers and dryers in each unit. The pictures here include the last penthouse in the Merc building which was recently leased. The cost: $6,300 per month. Rent for other units start from $1,299, which is reasonable for downtown in any city.

Check out the pics.

False "Facts" by the Anti-Hotel Crowd

January 13, 2009

I just listened to the radio debate on KHVN radio by the anti-hotel crowd that claims to be representing the community. There were too many lies to refute, so I’ll just focus on the most obvious.

FALSE: The hotel will cost $550 million.
FACT: The hotel’s guaranteed maximum price was set at $356 million in December (link).

FALSE: The new Fort Worth Hotel was completed without city support.
FACT: Omni Fort Worth was given $89 million for tax abatements, and was also given other financial support to make the deal happen.

FALSE: The hotel in Fort Worth is comparable to the proposed hotel in Dallas.
FACTS: Omni Fort Worth has 614 rooms. Dallas’ will have 1,000. The Omni FW has 68,000 square feet of meeting space. Dallas’ will have 100,000 square feet. That means the opportunity to host bigger conventions that bring in more dollars for the city.

FALSE: Claiming that the Build the Hotel group didn’t show up to a public forum.
FACT: The anti-hotel group knew in advance that the pro-hotel group wouldn’t participate in debates until February, so they staged a “debate” in Oak Cliff replete with name tags in an attempt to embarrass city officials that they knew were not attending.

FALSE: Hotels only have low-paying jobs.
FACT: Hotels have multiple opportunities for employment. There are management, supervisory, food management, booking agents, concierge, and other jobs which do not pay minimum wage. In this economy, in which people are taking out billboards and wearing sandwich boards in an effort to find work, is any job a bad job?

FALSE: Deputy Mayor Dwaine Caraway has not been on the radio discussing the hotel.
FACT: It was noted multiple times on the same KHVN show by its host that Caraway has been on the show several times discussing the hotel and taking pro & con calls from callers. He’s also been on other shows discussing the same issue. What was said, as is widely known, is the the debates would not start until February.

If anyone thinks we aren’t out talking to citizens about the hotel in southern Dallas, you’re kidding yourselves. I haven’t lost any campaign in which I participated in years; we just don’t need a big check and a big show to help out.

It was also said that Houston’s successful hotel costs less than Dallas’ hotel. Of course it does; it was completed in 2003 and the Houston hotel terms were settled in 2001.


  • Hotels closer in proximity to our proposed hotel are in support of it, which include the operators of the Hyatt Regency, Adolphus, and Sheraton.
  • The phony argument that building the hotel results in streets not being safe or potholes being filled. You can’t fund getting more police officers or getting city services in the same fashion that you can assist in building the hotel.
  • With the referendum’s proposed language, the city will not be able to assist in the construction of any other hotel. That means that the city will not be able to help with any hotel in the Lancaster-Kiest Corridor, the Trinity River Corridor, the Inland Port (Dallas Logistics Hub), and other areas. These are needs that have been indicated and supported by the residents in various neighborhoods in southern Dallas.
  • Tourism dollars give added benefit to the city because visitors don’t require year-round city services.
  • In fact, just yesterday on the FrontBurner blog , it was announced that the Dallas Safari Club Convention and Hunting Expo at Dallas Market Hall is moving to the Dallas Convention Center to accommodate its steady growth. This Expo attracts more than 22,000 attendees. The Safari Club’s host hotel is also switching from the Anatole to the Hyatt Regency. What this means is that this will be another convention that we will lose soon if we don’t have enough hotel and meeting space.
  • Each year, Dallas misses out on about $800 million in direct spending — and an additional $2.6 billion in economic impact by not having a convention center hotel.
  • Multiple conventions have announced that they will come to Dallas now that we are moving forward with our convention center hotel. They include the American Heart Association whom have stated they will bring 33,000 cardiologists and a projected $86 million economic impact to Dallas in 2013 and 2017. If they are bringing 33,000 attendees, surely other hotels will benefit.
  • The only hotel that may lost footing is the Anatole, since it is not in the core
  • The sordid history behind Pioneer Plaza, and how that caused us to miss an early opportunity to build a convention center hotel.
  • That the true funder of the hotel referendum refuses to publicly debate the issue. It has already been said that the Mayor, who has been in southern Dallas on a weekly basis long before this issue arose, is willing to debate Harlan Crow.

Check out more facts about the hotel.

Some people on the radio were also complaining about contracts going to “specific groups.” I guess they had no problem with it when they were the ones getting the contracts for the last 20 years. There have been multiple briefings on expanding the current M/WBE terms at City Council. What they are asking for is already happening, and new people are getting opportunities that were not previously. It has already been stated that the hotel project will exceed any M/WBE goals that are set by City Council.

It’s a new day, and a new way. We can either think and act like a small-town, or like the world-class city Dallas strives to become.

Follow up on Dallas’ Sustainable Block

December 9, 2008

Larry James of Central Dallas Ministries has more detail on his blog surrounding the Re:Vision Dallas Sustainable Block that I wrote about yesterday. The more I hear about this project, the more I like it.

Dallas’ Sustainable Block Location Announced

December 8, 2008

Sustainable development has always been an important issue to me. Thanks to some of my friends in green building, I learned about this great project.

Check out Re:Vision Dallas. They have announced the location of what is reported to be Dallas’ first fully sustainable city block. The location is the block across from the parking area behind City Hall (map below).

Now while we were the first to use the “One Block at a Time” slogan in Dallas, this is such a great idea I’ll give them a pass.

Ideas like Re:Vision, along with the Convention Center Hotel and the proposed renovation of the Convention Center Arena are the types of projects that can transform this area of downtown Dallas.

Do They Really Get It?

September 30, 2008

As you’ve read, the House of Representatives failed to pass the $700 Billion Bailout bill yesterday.

Because the bill failed, the market lost $1.2 Trillion in value yesterday. That’s not the money of “Wall Street Fat Cats.” That’s the money in your 401k, your pension fund, and your personal investments (if you’re blessed enough to have any).

Sure, House Speaker Pelosi’s speech was a little over the top. But to not vote for a bill because of a speech is absurd.

The current financial situation is not the end result of “low income people who bought houses they couldn’t afford.” Pelosi, like it or not, is right. Our country in this financial place because of the awful financial policies that have occurred over the last eight years.

We continued to ship away jobs to other countries, and provided tax-amnesty holidays that allowed companies to bring back the profits with little or no tax consequence. These were good-paying jobs (and even lower-paying jobs). Those jobs paid people a meaningful wage which allowed workers to afford these homes. When an “anything goes” oil policy caused workers to pay double the amount to be able to get to work, something had to give.

Sure, maybe some homeowners were reckless in buying homes that required them to stretch to afford them. When people used adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) they knew the low-interest payments were for a defined time period, but when the economy went south they had no way to refinance. Contrary to what you may have heard, banks were not willing to work with people that were trying to work out their troubled mortgages until a few months ago. Most banks were willing to leave people on the hook at high rates to make their quarterly profit projections. At some point, something has to give and people simply couldn’t afford their new house payments which may have doubled or tripled at that point (remember that house payments in the first few years are almost all interest and not principal). This is the story that is not being told by the media and self-serving congresspeople that voted against this bill.

As it stands now, some small business owners cannot get short-term financing to make payroll and buy supplies and inventory. These businesses now have to lay off workers. The student loan market is freezing up. That’s not a Wall Street problem, that’s an “Our Street” problem. When small banks don’t have funds to make basic loans, you’re going to feel it. The average American will began to feel the pinch as the 529 college funds that people scraped together for their kids evaporate. Check the balance of your pension fund this morning and get back to me.

Unless Congress gets its act together and passes some form of this bill, you will see the affects of such actions in an even more profound way than you already have. This bill now costs us $520 Billion more than it would have yesterday ($1.2 Trillion Market drop – $700 Billion Bill= $520 Billion). It’s simple math.

Stop the posturing and get this done. The country can’t afford many more days like yesterday.

Build the Hotel Campaign Kicks Off

September 24, 2008

The campaign to Build The Convention Center Hotel kicked off today at City Hall. The misinformation, including the whole false premise that this is taking money away from things like public safety and street repair.

Check out their new website:

Don’t settle for quotes when you can watch the speech for yourself. My apologies for the videos not being clearer. Youtube is using a larger window size and it makes things look blurry.

Remarks from Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway

Remarks from Mayor Tom Leppert