Uptown Magic: Crescent Real Estate Holdings Fills Last Vacant Land in Uptown, so We Ask What Are the Hottest Places to Buy in Uptown?

Published October 19, 2012 by Candy Evans

Sometimes wonderful things happen simultaneously. A reader emailed me this question:

Candy: What do you think are the 3 hottest places to buy in Uptown?

Then Steve Brown blogged last week about Uptown, how it is one of the most successful neighborhoods in Dallas, and how it just sort of happened. Crescent Real Estate Holdings is developing the last large stretch of property across from the Ritz, and filling in the last gap. In a few years, no one will know or recall what Uptown looked like in 1980.

Recently, we showed a friend from Omaha the Dallas Arts District. I felt like a proud mama whose daughter had just won a National Merit Scholarship. Our friend was totally impressed with the beauty of Flora Street, who wouldn’t be?

The truth is, real estate from The Arts District to Uptown has gotten hot. Not so much Victory: what the hell happened there? No parking, stores that were too haute, restaurants too pricey, no mainstays of a real living environment like a Walgreens, grocery, dry cleaners, nail joint, maybe even a little casual local bar where you could grab a beer in $ 65 jeans rather than $400 jeans. I sense that some Victory residences should have been a little lower scale, maybe.

Of course, time fills in the gaps and Victory is now coming alive, but populated with a different demographic than I believe the original developers had in mind.

But Victory is not Uptown.

What was Uptown? A hodgepodge of used car dealerships, a couple quaint Mexican restaurants, and a handful of ramshackle, post World War II frame houses. This was downtown Dallas’ urban welcome wagon until the mid 1980’s. When you drove through this area on your way northward to the manicured mansions of Highland Park or the rambling ranches of North Dallas, you made darn sure car doors were locked.

A lot of Uptown’s growth just “happened”, sure. But one gutsy project sure got the ball rolling. It was 1984, the country was in a recession, but dirt was flying in this desolate spot. As one critic put it, a vehicular Grand Canyon was under way. One of the city’s most powerful families built three French Classical office towers, a 226 room hotel, and a grand retail pavilion that would forever change the city. Like Texas’ grand reputation, size and money was no object. It would have the largest cut slate roof in the world, and the biggest order of Indiana limestone since the Empire State Building was built.

The Crescent’s limestone, in fact, was mined from the very same Indiana quarry.

How many times have I said, if the Crescent had residential, it would be the hottest ticket in town. Right now the hottest ticket is across the street, the Residences at the Ritz Carlton Dallas, and we are watching the Stoneleigh with bated breath. Museum Tower is in the Arts District, and once the feuding art neighbors sing kumbaya, Museum Tower will be huge.

Real estate developers and leaders today mark the building of the Crescent as a turning point in Dallas’ architectural and urban history. I say it was the birth of Uptown.

The Crescent was the first large “mixed use” project created by world-renowned architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee. And at a time when prudence might have made even someone with the last name of “Hunt” scale back, the idea for the ten acre development came up in a casual family discussion with the matriarch, H.L. Hunt’s daughter Caroline Rose Hunt.

“It was a family discussion with my children,” Mrs. Hunt told me in an interview last year. “I looked at all that land that was underused, and I said we should buy as much as we could.”

Buy they did. The ten acres were not exactly considered primo, and for years the Crescent’s imperial haute ended outside those elegant wrought-aluminum gates. Surrounded by a few warehouses and frame hold-outs, the Crescent slowly gave birth to a rippling of development that stretched from downtown to the suburban door, connecting it in one smooth, contiguous flow. It sparked interest in a new arts development and even created a new part of town: Uptown.

“The Crescent changed everything,” says Dallas marketing guru Martha Gallier, whose firm, Gallier & Wittenberg, handled the Crescent’s marketing, “It made that side of Woodall Rogers socially acceptable. There would not be an Uptown that we know today without the Crescent.”

It was like a beacon sitting in a run-down old neighborhood, says Kyle Crews of Allie Beth URBAN, who is marketing the Tower Residences at the Ritz Carlton, built on land once owned by Rosewood.

Gabriel Barbier-Mueller, a Dallas developer who later built a commercial project just north of the Crescent, credits the Hunt’s vision with ultimately moving Dallas’ financial district from downtown to Uptown, a part of Oak Lawn  that was created and named as such by a bunch of marketers and developers who envisioned a work/live/play environment. (At one point, some real estate types were even calling the area The Vineyard—go figure.) Because it was not considered a prime building site, Mrs. Hunt wanted her building to have that wow factor, far superior everything to that of anything downtown. She wanted to attract high end tenants, says John Burgee, who designed the complex along with the late, great “starchitect” Philip Johnson, and she did. Rents at the Crescent office towers continue to fetch highest per square foot rates in town. The tenant roster rocks: financial giant tenants like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan. Associa Title is also there. It’s the Dallas equivalent of Sand Hill Road or Park Ave. When you land an office at the Crescent, says one Merrill broker, you’ve arrived.

One of the many things that drove me crazy about working in downtown Dallas: one-way streets and sparse parking. The Crescent built a $15 million parking garage below the complex big enough to hold 4,100 cars. This was in 1984; our love affair with our automobiles has still not changed.

Joseph Pitchford, senior vice president of Crescent Real Estate Equities, told me that hiring a brilliant parking engineer was job one for the new mixed-use retail/residential tower project designed by  Pelli Clarke Pelli. There will be oodles of parking space, including a multilevel parking structure covered in masonry panels that will be heavily landscaped, with a top floor park and fitness center. Steve Brown says the

 ”more than $200 million project will be the most elaborate such development built in Uptown since the Crescent project went up in the 1980s.”

The new Crescent project will be vastly different from the Crescent Crescent.

“While Crescent architect Philip Johnson dipped into the past for inspiration, Cesar Pelli and his team were looking to the future.”

Pitchford told Brown that “buildings have changed, and the technology has improved dramatically.” Despite the regency classic architecture of the Ritz Carlton Hotel and Residence Towers, the newest Crescent Real Estate Equities baby will be a more contemporary expression.

The Crescent was christened after the Crescent Hotel in Bath, England. As choosing the location, Mrs. Hunt says she thought of Chicago and how it had developed toward the north and all along Lake Michigan.

“This area was so readily available, and I could see that as downtown expanded, it would grow north with potential for more residential,” she told me. “Of course, I never visualized the fine arts district just across Woodall Rogers, nor imagined how much money would be ultimately spent there.”

Originally, Philip Johnson designed a public passageway from the north with retail shops on either side, but that was changed to become the entrance to Stanley Korshak. This almost sounds like deja vue: the retail component was the toughest part of the Crescent’s original equation, a problem felt acutely now by another Dallas development, Hillwood’s Victory. It took a lot of hard work, say local developers, to get those spaces leased.

Stanley Korshak was eager to open a Dallas branch, but when they came down to it and made their purchase orders, they couldn’t pay for them.

There had been so much buzz and publicity over the store, the Hunt family felt they couldn’t lose Korshak. So they bought it. This was the 1980s, says Mrs. Hunt; we opened at a very difficult time, she says, and we were proud to keep our heads above water. Taking ownership of Korshak guaranteed retail. Wonder if Hillwood ever considered owning Victory retail?

Rosewood sold Korshak to its impeccable longtime manager, Crawford Brock, in 2010. I was at a party there a few weeks ago, and business is brisk. In fact, it’s now hard for me to even remember an Uptown without Korshak or the Crescent, or for that matter, the Ritz complex.

Etching it on the consumer’s brain: another reason for Uptown’s success. And soon, park strolling. When Klyde Warren Park is complete, residents will be able to walk from the park back to the Crescent and Ritz, stopping at a new one-acre park planned on McKinney Avenue.

 

 

— Daily Local Real Estate Dish By Dallas Real Estate Insider — Candy Evans at CandysDirt.com