The biggest surprise about moving across downtown is seeing the number of people on the streets.
The Dallas Morning News’ new offices on Commerce Street face Main Street Garden Park and are a block from the University of North Texas’ downtown campus.
Exterior of the Dallas Morning News building in the old Dallas central library.
When it’s not pouring rain like this week, the sidewalks are busy with folks coming and going from office buildings, heading to lunch spots or stopping at stores to shop.
Back in the 1990s, when I started writing about the decline downtown, there were more pigeons than pedestrians on Main, Commence and Elm streets.
Twenty years of redevelopment have transformed Dallas’ central business district, and you can easily see it.
"In the last 24 months, the street scene downtown has really changed," said Jim Truitt, senior vice president with Forest City Realty, which redeveloped the Mercantile block on Main Street into housing and retail. "There aren’t as many vacant storefronts.
"There are a lot of terrific entrepreneurs doing things down here. We have 2,000 new hotel rooms open downtown, and that’s making a difference, too."
New restaurants, retail and hotels should help to lure office tenants downtown.
In the last few years, several major downtown employers — mostly law firms — hightailed it to new towers in Uptown.
But with office rents in downtown Dallas now $10 to $20 cheaper than in Uptown, landlords are hoping to get a fresh look from relocating tenants.
"It’s 1 mile from here to the Crescent," said Mike Silliman, senior vice president with M-M Properties, one of the owners of the 60-story Comerica Bank Tower on Main Street. "There is no other market you can go to in the U.S. where the rent value spread is so high.
"I’m selling that pretty hard. The last time some of these tenants looked down here was the last time their office leases rolled over five or 10 years ago, and it’s a completely different environment now."
Down on Main Street
Cushman & Wakefield executive vice president Mike Wyatt said he hauls prospective office tenants down to Main Street.
"We walked the streets and ate in the restaurants to show them the changes," Wyatt said. "It’s not just the cost savings downtown that makes it attractive.
"It’s just a question of getting the word out. We’ve been fighting headwinds with all the new developments in Uptown."
Wyatt said the construction of downtown’s new parks — with more on the way — is also a draw.
"People are using the parks, and it animates the city," he said. "The parks are a backyard for the residents, and there is activity in them."
Developer Shawn Todd, who is buying up a dozen old buildings on the east side of downtown Dallas, said construction of Harwood Park near his properties was important to the deal.
"We think the parks will be one of the most transformational things ever for the city," Todd said. "It will raise values all the way around downtown.
Todd plans to convert a neighborhood of old commercial buildings from the 1920s and ’30s into restaurant and office locations.
"We’ve received calls from firms wanting to come out of Uptown that want to be in that kind of environment," he said.
With about 10,000 residents now living inside the downtown freeway loop, the central business district is finally becoming a 24-hour neighborhood, too.
"Turning downtown Dallas has been like turning a battleship," said developer Ted Hamilton, whose firm converted the historic Davis Building on Main Street into apartments in 2002.
Since then, Hamilton Properties and other real estate firms have restored more than a dozen vacant downtown buildings into apartments and hotel rooms.
As downtown apartment developments have come online, the renter population has expanded and matured, Hamilton said.
"Our median age of renters used to be 28," he said. "Now it’s probably 35, and it’s trending older."