Dallas city leaders have a vision: By 2014, the city's north and south sides will be reconnected by the creation of an urban lifestyle Mecca full of amenities, all within the central city.
"Everyone was taking a wait-and-see attitude because of the road," says Paul Lehner, director of planning and development for the project. "Its ultimate location had a big effect on the land use. Now that it's resolved, landowners who took the risk to assemble parcels are moving forward posthaste, and interested developers are taking a renewed look."
While Texas' other major metropolitan hubs have all witnessed a surge of interest in their urban appeal, Dallas has long been hampered by a troublesome flood zone.
For decades, Dallas has wanted development along the Trinity River to add multi-millions worth of tax dollar-oomph to city coffers. But the city's best views and waterfront access attracted a less-than-glamorous tax base. Levees were built in the 1930s in an attempt to control flooding, but they proved ineffective. As a result, the city designated the area for garbage and landfill use. In the years that followed, a business community of small shops focused on serving the city's infrastructure needs began to populate the area.
Eventually, city officials realized that pollution could be better controlled and more tax opportunities could be realized in the area. In 1994, the city council approved a land use plan that would utilize federal highway and flood control projects to transform the Trinity River area into an enormous park to rival San Antonio's River Walk, or even Manhattan's Central Park, and serve as a catalyst for revitalization.
The concept got voter buy-in when bond packages were approved in 1998 and again in 2006; not surprisingly, land in the redevelopment district started to change hands. Still, uncertainty remained about how the overall plan would assemble parks, lakes, wetlands, and especially roads. With the primary transportation element in flux, even the developers willing to gamble on the land acquisition had to wait for the ultimate placement of a multi-lane highway.
Although years of work remain before either the road or the park are in place, the November vote resolved the toll road's location within the levee walls. Now that that crucial piece of the puzzle is decided, developers such as Irving, Texas-based JPI, which began buying land in the area two years ago, are moving forward quickly.
According to James Fadley, JPI executive vice president and senior operational partner, the developer–which controls more than 100 acres in the Trinity area–is working closely with the city to rezone its properties. In the weeks immediately following the toll road approval, JPI had already received rezoning approval for a 45-acre mixed-use development that will bring 2,000 mid- and high-rise condo units to the revitalized area.
Although he won't mention names until land is under control, Lehner says at least three other companies have expressed significant interest in key mixed-use parcels with the intention of bringing an assortment of housing and business opportunities to the area. "The first of the bridges will start to come out of the ground this year, and that's tangible progress," he says. "Now that this transportation issue is resolved, there is a lot of momentum. When you mix an opportunity to be in an urban environment with the environmental components of this project, it's pretty exciting."
–Lisa Marquis Jackson