This article originally appeared in the fall 2017 edition of the DFW Real Estate Review. An excerpt has been reprinted below.
Dallas developer Larry Hamilton makes his mark by creatively repurposing vacant high-rises for downtown residential-retail living, helping to make the urban core a destination for people looking for the amenities of city life.
It was a mark he had wanted to make in Denver, where he founded Hamilton Properties Corp. 41 years ago. But by the time he was ready to buy a big building and partake in the downtown Denver revitalization fury of the early 1990s, the dwindling supply had priced him out of the market.
So, he came to Dallas in 1996, prospecting for empty, architecturally interesting — and affordable — buildings. At the time, little was going on in the central business district.
“It was like stepping back in time,” said Hamilton, the company CEO who opened a Dallas office in 2000 and finished phasing out his Denver office in August. “We had seen the gentrification of downtown Denver. Prices had gone up. We came here, and all of these beautiful older buildings were vacant, but [we thought] the architecture was priceless, near irreplaceable. And we could get them on the cheap.”
He said buying a warehouse in Denver at the time could cost $40 to $45 a square foot, while promising, old, restorable buildings in Dallas would set you back only $7 or $8 a square foot.
And that’s what he paid — $2 million -– in 1997 for the former home of the Republic National Bank headquarters, later renamed the Davis Building, in honor of the bank’s longtime chairman. The 20-story structure was one of the tallest buildings in Dallas when it debuted in 1926.
It was one of the very first big-building conversions to apartments in downtown Dallas. It also was the first for Hamilton, who had focused mostly on smaller suburban office developments during his two decades in Denver.
Hamilton and his son, Ted Hamilton, president of the firm that he joined in 1996, reopened the Davis in 2003 as a mixed-use complex of 183 loft apartments above 50,000 square feet of first-floor retail with a 607-space parking garage.
The Davis building, which now is owned by Dallas billionaire Tim Headington, set the tone for the kind of creative historic preservation Hamilton intended to bring to Dallas. The building’s interior had been demolished, leaving exposed sections of brick under missing chunks of plaster, as well as exposed electrical conduit and water piping along the walls and ceilings.
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