Dallas' Cityplace is developing its last 16 acres

Posted by Emily Ray-Porter Group on Friday, November 5th, 2010 at 3:09pm.

By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News

November 5, 2010

Sometime in the next week, road crews will start building streets for the last phase of Dallas' Cityplace project.

In 2000, when the West Village arose, new close-in housing was a novelty. 'Everyone told us it would never work,' developer Henry S. Miller III says.

"We have about 16 acres left," said Neal Sleeper, president of Cityplace Co. "We started with 130 acres 20 years ago."

Today, the project includes more than 1,700 homes and almost 400,000 square feet of retail space.

But the area was mostly vacant lots at the end of 1990, when a group of investors bought the property northeast of downtown Dallas and hired Sleeper.

Previous plans to turn the district along North Central Expressway into a "city within a city" had stalled because of a regional recession and a change of ownership at Southland Corp., which owned the land.

"We started all over with a new master plan," Sleeper said.

Beginning in the early 1980s, Southland, the company that owned 7-Eleven, embarked on a plan to build more than 60 office towers, residential high-rises, hotels and retail space in the area between Haskell and Lemmon avenues.

"The original plan was for 18 million square feet of space," said John Crawford, who was on the original Cityplace project team and is CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc. "When things fell apart, that became impossible.

"What it has become is a scaled-down version of the original plan that makes more sense for the changing times," he said. "It's been eminently successful."

New owners

That success was born out of the old project's demise.

After pouring more than $300 million into buying land and building the first 42-story skyscraper, Southland announced in 1987 that it wouldn't put any more money into the big project.

Three years later, investors including Dallas' Don McNamara and Fort Worth's Robert Bass forked over $24 million to buy the undeveloped land from Southland.

"All of our same original partners are in the deal," Sleeper said.

Southland had planned to build blocks and blocks of 10- to 30-story towers. The new owners began studying the surrounding neighborhoods.

"We tried to figure out what was really needed in the area," Sleeper said. "The two things high on everybody's agenda were retail and trying to get housing back into the inner city."

The West Village project that opened in 2000 brought apartments and shopping and set the tone for much of the neighborhood.

"Everyone told us it would never work," West Village developer Henry S. Miller III said. "Now all everyone wants to do are mixed-use projects like the West Village."

Miller credits Cityplace's owners with keeping development standards high and sticking to their long-range plans.

"They have been careful about the development there," he said. "They've had lots of opportunities to do stuff that ultimately wouldn't have been good for the area, and they passed on it.

"We appreciate their ownership because they have had the patience and finances to hold that property as long as they have."

The last phase of the Cityplace project will continue the mixed-use plan that has worked so well.

Inland American Communities is finishing its designs for a retail and apartment complex on the site of the old Loews Cityplace movie theater on Haskell Avenue. The project will include a Kroger supermarket, an LA Fitness and 350 apartments.

"We are working on the plans right now and hope to break ground in the first quarter," Inland's John Allums said.

'Icing on cake'

The vacant land along the west side of North Central, including property that previously housed the Hank Haney Golf Center, will be developed into some of the highest density uses in the project, Sleeper said. It will likely be a mix of residential and commercial space.

"We are planning on the last 16 acres being the icing on the cake," he said. "This project has definitely been done in fits and starts.

"We had periods where things were going fast and then nothing was being done for a while," Sleeper said. "We were always confident we could make it work."



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