USA TODAY International Edition

Projects drawing more people to downtowns symbolize ‘new culture’

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Continued from1A

What changed here? Gas prices soared. Traffic congestion choked highways. Air quality worsened and so did pressure from environmen­tal regulators. Light-rail lines came online. And demographi­cs shifted: As baby boomers became empty nesters, their desire for convenienc­e and fun suddenlyme­rged with those of young profession­als. Both groups areflockin­g tourban settings.

“People are tired of the big house, they’re tired of the big yard, and there’s a real movement to simplify your lifestyle as children leave,” Perot says. “You can move into a beautiful downtown home, walk to the arts, walk to a basketball game, walk to restaurant­s. There is something unique in the downtown fabric that you couldn’t get in the suburbs.”

Texas now is home to three of the nation’s 10 most populous cities (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio). Its population continues to growat phenomenal rates: It added 4 million people in the 1990s and more than 2.5 million so far this decade to top 23.5 million, second only to California.

As people pour in, the state is starting to rein in its historical outward spread and venturing into unTexan territory: high-density developmen­t, downtown living, mass transit and neighborho­ods built not just for cars, but for walkers and all things urban.

“The competitiv­e advantage of the six or 10 ‘real’ cities in the country is that they offered unrivaled urban living,” says Robert Lang, director of the Metropolit­an Institute at Virginia Tech. “What you have now is a much larger number of places where you can live an urban lifestyle.

“More and more cities see their built formas part of the sale, part of the calculus,” he says. “If all you have is a dead downtown and strip malls, you’re toast. There’s a big part of the workforce that just won’t tolerate that anymore.”

Texas is rapidly learning that lesson. Its cities are growing up — literally. High-rises, multilevel apartment and condominiu­m buildings are rising in downtowns, on old industrial sites and in abandoned neighborho­ods.

The success of light rail in Dallas in particular has spawned developmen­ts mixing condos, offices and shops around transit stops in the city and suburbs such as Plano.

If there are any doubts that living in the city has undergone a 180- degree image transforma­tion, consider the marketing pitch for The Vista, a seven-story, 129-unit residentia­l building with street-level retail at Victory Park: “An exciting rental opportunit­y for the innercity dweller.”

Inner-city? That word alone would have had people running for the suburbs a decade ago.

When Anthony Flint of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Mass., traveled across the country to research his book, This Land: The Battle Over Sprawl and the Future of America, “I went looking for sprawl and urbanism,” he says. He found both in Texas.

“It was a little counterint­uitive,” Flint says.

“This is Texas, the land of wideopen spaces. I found examples of urbanism.” Meet the newurban Texas: uAustin has doubled its population every 20 years (709,893 in 2006) since itwas founded in 1839. Much of that time, Texas’ capital city has grown away from downtown. Now, the focus is on increasing the population density downtown by building upward.

“At least four towers are going up right now,” says Fritz Steiner, dean of the school of architectu­re at the University of Texas. “It’s pretty dramatic. All around the edges of downtown or central area, one sees, if not high-rises, other apartments and condominiu­mprojects.”

Like Dallas’ Victory Park, the Block 21 developmen­t in Austin will have aWHotel. Shops and restaurant­swill be on the ground floor and condos above.

A 32-mile commuter rail linewill

Revamping cityscapes

run from downtown Austin to Leander, a town to the northwest. Several residentia­l-retail developmen­ts built around transit stops are being planned. The old municipal airport close to downtown is being developed into shops, parks, bike trails, offices, a medical center and residences, including some units for low-income families. An area west of the university has been rezoned to encourage greater density.

uIn Fort Worth, where the billionair­e Bass family has spurred developmen­t of the arts and loft projects downtown, Trinity River View is a proposed 800-acre complex of schools, parks, housing and shops that could add 25,000 residents.

uIn Houston, there are plans for Discovery Green, a 12-acre park next to the downtown convention center. A 37-story condo tower will rise beside it. Warehouses and factories are being converted to housing. A light-rail line fromdownto­wn is sparking developmen­t.

uSan Antonio’s signature River Walk will add another 1½ miles to link major museums by the end of next year, a plan that’s drawing interest fromreside­ntial developers.

The movement also is accelerati­ng beyond Texas. Phoenix, Las Vegas and several other cities that don’t have a rich urban heritage are embracing high-density projects.

Phoenix is building a light-rail system to connect with suburbs. Cities along the rail line that’s scheduled to open next year are rezoning around transit stations to encourage urban developmen­t.

High-rises aren’t new to Vegas but they’re getting bigger and taller, and are more than just hotels and casinos. On the north end of the Strip, the 76-acre Project CityCenter byMGM-Mirage is a city within a city. Downtown, a complex that will include a transporta­tion terminal, city offices and other commercial developmen­t are planned.

“It’s a new culture for us in southern Nevada,” says Debra March, director of the Lied Institute for Real Estate Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. “East Coast cities have had that higherdens­ityflavor for some time. Forus, it’s a new experience.”

Many of the 5,000-6,000 people who move to Las Vegas every month come from New York or New Jersey, March notes. There, she adds, “they’ve been accustomed to high-rise developmen­t . . . as a lifestyle choice.”

Looking up in Dallas

It should come as no surprise that Texas’ newpassion for drawing people downtown is playing out in a bigway in “BigD.”

Dallas did not experience the dizzying real estate boomthat other parts of the USA saw earlier this decade. That has spared it the freefalls in prices and sales that have staggered other areas.

Last year, the city adopted its first growth plan that details a longtermvi­sion. The theme of forwardDal­las!: density, density, density.

Dense developmen­t is clustering along the 45-mileDallas Area Rapid Transit light-rail line that connects Dallas and Plano to the north and Garland to the northeast. Constructi­on is underway to almost double the system.

By 2013, Dallas/Fort Worth Internatio­nal Airport and Love Field, the major airports serving the city, will be linked to rail.

Developers here like transit. A 2005 study by professors at the University ofNorth Texas inDenton estimated that more than $3.3 billion had been invested or planned near light-rail stations since 1999.

“About five years ago, I could count maybe two developers who sort of had an idea what transitori­ented developmen­t was about,” says Peer Chacko, assistant director of Dallas’ long-range planning division. “All this has changed.”

Only two developers applied for public funding for such developmen­t four years ago, he says. More than 50 applied last year.

“These ideas are not usually as- sociated with Texas,” Chacko says. “Density is still in many communitie­s considered a bad word. Public housing is associated­with it.”

Upscale and elevated

Victory Park is as far from public housing as you can get. It’s anchored by the American Airlines Center, which opened in 2001 as the home of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, a team partly owned by Perot.

“New cities were not developed originally to be very dense,” says Perot, chairman of Hillwood developmen­t company.

“Dallas grew in a traditiona­l suburban program because land was cheap.”

Perot owned land all around the arena. He used it to create a glitzy neighborho­od from an industrial wasteland. Power plants, fuel storage tanks, a railroad maintenanc­e yard and incinerato­rs had left cancer-causing substances behind.

About 15million gallons of tainted groundwate­r had to be cleaned and 750,000 cubic yards of dirt moved.

Perot wanted a community where “you basically can live, work and play,” he says.

Victory Park is wooing largely high-end residents. The W Dallas VictoryHot­el & Residences are selling for $400,000 to $7 million. Other projects include TheHouse, a 28story, 147-unit residentia­l tower designed by renowned French designer Philippe Starck. And Victory Tower, 43 stories featuring the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 90 residentia­l units, office and retail space. And Cirque, a 28-story high-rise with 252 apartments.

Whatever themodel, Cathy Phillips is ecstatic about the transforma­tion as she browses through Haven, a home accessory store and one of the boutiques that line Victory Park Lane in the shadow of high-rises.

“I love the feel of it,” says Phillips, a fundraisin­g activistwh­o splits her time between Dallas and California.

Jon Tutolo, Haven’s owner, has clients who live part time in other cities or abroad.

Northern cities provide much of the inspiratio­n for Dallas’ upward mobility, but they’re not publicly touted as the rolemodels.

“In secret, we look at what they do,” Dallas city planner Chacko says.

“But we try to avoid pointing to them too much as an example. It doesn’t sell very well to the public. If we say NewYork or Chicago, they say, ‘We’re Dallas.’ There’s a very strong level of pride.”

 ?? By Allison V. Smith for USA TODAY ?? V is forVictory­Park: The 33-storyWHote­l, left, rises over Victory Park in Dallas. The developmen­t is home to high-rise condos, hotels and offices.
By Allison V. Smith for USA TODAY V is forVictory­Park: The 33-storyWHote­l, left, rises over Victory Park in Dallas. The developmen­t is home to high-rise condos, hotels and offices.
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