TREC organizes four About Town events each year to provide industry insight to Young Guns members. The first About Town this year took place on May 1 in Oak Cliff with a focus on Dallas’ up-and-coming Bishop Arts District. As TREC’s Young Guns Chair of Special Events, my goal was to make the event a memorable and educational experience for all attendees. So, naturally, we hopped on bicycles to get a closer look at the neighborhood.
The bike tour consisted of five stops starting at Oddfellows bar – locally co-owned by Jason Roberts, founding director of the Better Block Foundation, a community nonprofit whose office served as our second stop. Having had multiple meetings with The Better Block’s Krista Nightengale to help coordinate the event, I was inspired by the team’s commitment to improving neighborhoods not only in Texas, but globally, as well as growing communal bonds by creating temporary green bike lanes, repairing sidewalks, and opening pop-up shops and other amenities within empty storefronts.
Our tour continued at the intersection of West 7th Street and North Tyler Street, the site of the first Better Block transformation eight years ago. The organization helped transform the district into a walkable, bikeable neighborhood destination devoid of the vacant properties and lack of amenities for which the area was previously known.
“I learned a lot about the vision, history, and zoning process required from those involved in the community,” said Kari Beets, senior research associate at Colliers International.
We then rode to Bishop Arts Village, the new development underway at the corner of Melba Street and North Bishop Avenue. Principal Larry Good, of GFF, and Amanda Moreno Lake, of Jim Lake Adaptive Urban Development, were two of our guest speakers and individuals deeply invested in the efforts to determine what was best for the future of Oak Cliff. Both shared their experiences serving on various councils and steering committees and described how these diverse perspectives led to a marriage of revitalizing the neighborhood’s existing structures and adding new apartments, retail and restaurants as well as a Central Market grocery. The neighborhood went through rezoning in 2010 (PD-830) and further reviews are ongoing.
“The Better Block and Amanda Lake each had a unique perspective on the change, which was helpful to us as real estate professionals,” said Huntley Lewis, P.E. at Kimley-Horn. Billy Thomas, attorney in commercial sales at Alamo Title, added: “It was great to hear firsthand from these individuals who changed the landscape of the Bishop Arts District. It was a one-of-a- kind experience and a behind-the-scenes look at the history of Bishop Arts as well as the projected future of that area.”
Our last stop, Bishop Arts Station at the corner of North Zang Boulevard and West 7th Street, is home to the revamped streetcar providing transportation to and from Downtown Dallas. The new mixed-use, multi-family space near the station will provide more than 500 units for new residents and offer more than 40,000 square feet of retail. Architect Evan Beattie of GFF attended the tour and spoke to the challenges of designing structures in the Bishop Arts District. Each development company building in the area underwent multiple design reviews with the North Oak Cliff steering committee to capture historic details within their structures.
“It’s wonderful to see developers and architects who work alongside neighborhoods to concentrate on ‘place-making’ and preserving culture and history of an area,” said Tyler Berns, vice president at Frank Dale Construction, Ltd. “Areas of development like these are what will make our city great. This is in direct opposition to the popular development style of build[ing] density as cheaply as possible without consideration of how it interacts with the rest of the surrounding community.”
I was excited to hear such positive feedback from the attendees. I wanted my fellow Young Guns to gain an understanding of the neighborhood’s changes beyond the site specs they can easily find online, so it was important that we incorporated insight into the project processes, political hurdles and other challenges project consultants face in their work. As Millennials, many of us thrive on understanding the “why” behind virtually everything. Biking around Bishop Arts – and seeing how the neighborhood has been transformed – gave us the opportunity to do that.
To create lasting change in your community, find out how to build your own better block.