29 September 2020

Katy Trail Helps Fuel Boom in Dallas's Uptown

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DALLAS — The din begins around 5 o’clock at the Katy Trail Ice House, as predominantly millennial-age beer drinkers grasping 18-ounce schooners spill out of the metal-framed bar and onto an oak-shaded patio in the booming Uptown neighborhood.

Located where a swingers club used to be, it has become one of the highest-revenue bars in Dallas since it opened three years ago. Its success is attributed to its location: It abuts the Katy Trail, a 3.5-mile concrete path atop an old railroad bed. As many as 15,000 dog walkers, joggers and other users frequent the lineal park on a weekend day, according to an oversight group, Friends of the Katy Trail.

“We’re doing three times the business we thought we would, and it started on Day 1,” said George Cramer, a partner in the Katy Trail Ice House. “It has all been word of mouth by people just walking along the trail.”

The bar exemplifies the flush times in Uptown, a 570-acre neighborhood near downtown, the Dallas Arts District and the American Airlines Center in Victory Park.

Along with a 21-year-old public improvement district and zoning that encouraged residential development, the trail’s construction and improvements over nearly two decades have helped transform Uptown from a blighted empty expanse into what many consider to be the only true “live, work, play” urban neighborhood in a city known for suburban sprawl.

Apartment developers have added roughly 8,000 units to the district over the last several years, according to Uptown Dallas, the group that manages the improvement district’s $1.5 million budget. Gables Residential, Forest City Enterprises, JLB Partners and Alamo Manhattan are building 1,100 more units.

The landlords are primarily targeting young people flocking to the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region, which added 95,900 jobs last year, the third-highest number among major metro areas after the New York and Los Angeles areas, according to the Labor Department. Uptown Dallas pegs the population there at around 15,000, more than double the number in 2000, and nearly half are 25 to 34. Restaurants and bars complemented by trolley service along Uptown’s McKinney Avenue spine have fostered an entertainment district.

John Walker, a longtime real estate broker known as Newt, has assembled properties in Uptown for 35 years. He remembers how people avoided the run-down neighborhood in the 1980s and 1990s, and talks about Uptown’s progress like a father who has watched his daughter come of age.

“You can’t say that there has been just one catalyst,” said Mr. Walker, who has offices in a refurbished early-1900s Victorian home in the State Thomas Historic District in Uptown. “But the Katy came along, and demand for apartments grew.”

That demand has not slowed. Apartment occupancy in the district is around 95 percent, and average rent for newer units tops $2 a square foot, $1.14 higher than the average in all of Dallas-Fort Worth, according to Todd Franks, a managing director with Sperry Van Ness, a commercial real estate brokerage firm. Monthly rents average $1,463 for a one-bedroom and $2,141 for a two-bedroom.

In all, some $1.2 billion in projects are under construction or are about to begin, including a growing list of office plans as companies move closer to the employee base. Frost Bank will consolidate its north Dallas workers in 50,000 square feet of a new 167,000-square-foot building this year. In early 2015, the Richards Group advertising firm will move down North Central Expressway into its new 250,000-square-foot headquarters.

Since 2006, property value in Uptown has climbed nearly 80 percent to $3.4 billion, based on the improvement district’s assessment income. In the early 1990s, it wallowed around $500 million, said Joseph F. Pitchford, senior vice president for development at Crescent Real Estate Equities, based in Dallas. Crescent will begin building a $225 million, 20-story tower this summer that the law firm Gardere Wynne Sewell will anchor.

“If someone could show me an urban district that has grown at a faster, more successful clip over that period of time,” he challenged, “I’d like to see it.”

Click here for the full article in the New York Times.

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