Spring, nature’s season of renewal, also marks a dramatic time of rebirth this year for the Harwood Historic District in downtown Dallas. The weathered old financial district, most of its buildings dating from the 1880s to the 1950s, has waited longer than other parts of downtown for a turnaround, but the wait is over.
Since the start of April, Centurion American Development Group has finally received the approval of the Dallas Landmark Commission for architectural designs on a seven-story multifamily building; Todd Interests closed on 22 commercial buildings in a series of deals; and the city’s Park and Recreation Board is nearing the finish line on an agreement to construct Harwood Park.
Much of the credit should probably go to Centurion American and their success in restoring The Statler Dallas hotel and residences, and the adjacent central library that became the new home of the Dallas Morning News. The October 2017 opening of the Statler, a $230 million project that took three years, assured the Harwood district’s resurgence.
Centurion American followed the Statler project by proposing a six-level underground parking garage across Harwood Street from the newspaper’s new offices. The underground garage was planned mainly to provide parking for Morning News staffers that are now being temporarily accommodated through parking agreements at neighboring garages. Heavy equipment has been onsite for several weeks now, excavating soil from where the subsurface garage will be.
Centurion American also plans to build a 130-unit residential tower above the garage, but the Landmark Commission last November rejected the original concept for the building. Their main complaint being that the architect, 5G Studio Collaborative LLC, attempted to incorporate elements from too many architectural periods. The result was a building that really had no distinctive identity.
Encouraged to choose a specific period from within the district, lead designer Yen Ong focused on the Statler and the library, both Mid-century modern designs. Earlier designs had a more uniform yellow brick look from street to roof, but revisions shown in January introduced awnings above the ground floor in the shape of elongated chevrons made of neolith panels that look like grey-veined white marble.
An additional touch is a dark band above the awning made of metal louvers that function as screens to hide a second story parking structure. The residential units begin on the third floor. City staff noted that the commission felt the updated design, with its additional landscaping, also tied in better with “the future park that will be located across the street. However, they also thought the applicant could push it more with the pedestrian experience through additional landscaping.”
Lisa Ricci Rofsky, a Blackbird Lofts resident, opposed the design at the January meeting and again in April, claiming it did not meet the spirit of the historic district’s ordinance. She cited the lack of a prominent entrance and the use of neolith, a prefabricated material. Landmark Commission Chair Katherine Seale also opposed the project on the basis of the neolith panels. In all, four commissioners voted nay, but the project passed by majority vote.
Ong took issue with comments about the neolith simulated stone panels being prefabricated and the inference that they were therefore “cheap.” He noted that glass and metal, both acceptable facade materials, are prefabricated.
“It is not cheap. That’s the reason we use it sparingly. It is almost three times the cost of brick,” Ong said.
Commissioner Mattia Fabiano advocated on behalf of the revised design, stating he had no problem with the neolith panels or the lack of a more prominent entrance.
“It definitely has a Mid-century modern feel to it–the geometric shape of it, the solids and masses, the openings and fenestrations. I think you’ve found a balance here. I’m very much in support of the project, much stronger than when you first came.”
— Mattia Fabiano, Dallas Landmark Commission
Centurion American owns the lot at the southeast corner of Commerce and Harwood, and during earlier discussions on the project the supposition was that the lot would temporarily be turned into a private park; it is presently a surface parking lot.
However, the residential building’s north facade became an issue since it lacks the desired porosity and fenestrations seen on the south facade that faces Jackson Street. Ong anticipated this and noted that the north side faces an alley. Further, it was revealed that Centurion American plans to construct a seven-story office building where the temporary park is located. Once built, the office tower will hide the north facade from view:
The architectural documents have consistently described the building with the name Jackson Apartments, but the company president, Mehrdad Moayedi, recently told the Dallas Morning News it is yet to be determined whether this will be an apartment property. He suggested the units might be for sale.
While Centurion American has been spending the last several months fine-tuning designs on Jackson Apartments, Todd Interests has been cobbling together several contracts on 22 early 20th century buildings. Most of them were owned by Reggie Graham, head of Maharger Development Company LLC.
The majority of the properties surround the intersection where Jackson Street merges into Commerce Street at South Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Best known among this cluster is the triangular shaped, two-story Gothic/Art Deco Magnolia Petroleum Gas Station building. Others include a former Cadillac dealership showroom and the Meletio Electric Supply buildings.
The buildings total about 200,000 square feet, but less than a third of the space is unoccupied. Todd Interests plans to renovate some of the buildings and market them to entrepreneurs and small tech firms. Todd Interests has stated the renovations will get underway in May.
Finally, there is news on Harwood Park. The long-awaited park is one of four downtown parks that have been a top priority of Parks for Downtown Dallas (PfDD). The organization has committed to raising $45.1 million for the four parks and expects the city to contribute $39.4 million.
On Thursday, the Park and Recreation Board is scheduled to consider the development and funding agreement with PfDD for Harwood Park. Under the terms, the city will purchase the portion of land within the park boundaries owned by PfDD, and the non-profit group will in turn dedicate the proceeds toward the design and construction of the park.