Santos Martinez, a senior land use consultant with the Masterplan firm, gave the Dallas City Plan Commission a history lesson on walkable neighborhoods while on his way to obtaining a large reduction in the parking requirement for a group of historically significant buildings in The Cedars district.
Martinez went before the commission earlier this month representing a development team that wants to restore the historic Ervay Theater and an adjacent building that was once the Silver Spur Club; both properties were once operated by Jack Ruby, the killer of Lee Harvey Oswald.
At the south end of the 1700 block of Ervay Street, there is a two-story building that was constructed in 1923 by the National NuGrape Company as the first NuGrape Soda bottling plant outside of Georgia. NuGrape built apartment units above the factory for its workers, and although the bottling operation is long gone, the second floor has retained its residential usage to this day. In addition to the theater restoration, the landowner wants to bring a mix of retail and restaurant tenants to the rest of the street-level spaces.
Martinez presented a 1952 aerial photo of the block. It included a mercantile building north of the theater that later burnt to the ground, making way for the theater’s parking lot. The point he wanted to get across was that prior to the fire, the entire block was occupied with commercial structures and there was no parking. People either walked to these establishments or got there by city bus.
Martinez represented the developers of the Lakewood Theater in East Dallas and referred to it as a project with the same lack of parking issue. The owner in the Ervay Theater case, City Park Associates Ltd., also wants the number of parking spaces required by ordinance reduced by about half. To get there, Martinez proposed that legacy buildings constructed before 1960 be treated by a different standard — otherwise, it will be very difficult to revive them.
Craig Kinney and Bill Willingham purchased the historic Lakewood Theater in 2007, but closed it in 2015. Despite talk of plans for its restoration and potential adaptation in the years since, not to mention the building attaining landmark status in 2016, the late-1930s Streamline Moderne theater remains unused for the moment.
Hopefully the same fate will not befall Ervay Theater, a 525-seat movie house that opened in 1950. It closed in the mid-1970s, then known as the Paris Theater. In the 2000s, when The Cedars was experiencing a comeback, the Ervay became a venue, but has only been used sporadically since 2008.
Martinez told Towers that when he presented the redevelopment concept for the 1700 block of Ervay Street, city staff said it would require 191 parking spaces.
“What are we going to do with that? You’re going to have to burn another building down to get there,” Martinez said. “The parking requirements are based on ratios that were made 30 to 50 years ago.”
Martinez said people’s traveling habits are changing, but the regulations have not kept up with the times. He told Towers this is hurting businesses that spend too much to provide parking no one uses, and some establishments that rely on parking or valet income aren’t getting the return on investment that would justify such operations.
The developers have been in talks with the Cedars Neighborhood Association, and Martinez produced letters from the association in favor of the project. He also noted that the association is of the opinion that there should be no parking requirements for legacy buildings.
“Well, that’s not what we’re asking,” Martinez said. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that as The Cedars gentrifies, the street dynamics that made it possible for retail buildings to thrive without parking requirements in the 1930s-1950s are returning.
“If you look at the Cedars today, and the number of dwelling units that are coming on line since 2015 compared to 2000-2015, there were a total of 600 dwelling units built in the 15 years span. Since then, there’s 700 units being built and more to come,” Martinez said.
He noted that the neighborhood association held a meeting on the development at the theater and 240 people came.
“In the four hours we were open, our valet parked a total of 42 cars,” he said, stating that everyone else walked, biked or used Uber.
Commissioner Mark Rieves, whose district includes The Cedars, made a motion for the developers. Commissioner P. Michael Jung, the most notable opponent to parking reductions, made the ayes unanimous.
Like much of The Cedars, the Ervay Theater mixed-use project is on a block comprised of early 20th century commercial and industrial buildings. However, its proximity to downtown attracts people that want to live in an urban zone with transit-oriented development.
Dallas-based Keystone Development LLC obtained permits in December to demolish several old two-story apartment buildings in the 1700 and 1800 blocks of Hickory Street, just one block southeast of the NuGrape Building. According to city and state records, Keystone is planning a development in three sections. A project named 1900 South Ervay Apartments will face Ervay Street. This is an existing two-story commercial building that will become a mixed-use multi-family development with two levels of commercial space and a third-floor addition with residential units.
Designed by T. Howard & Associates, the Ervay Apartments has an estimated project cost of $15 million and has a tentative construction start of August 2018. It’s to be completed by April 2020.
To the rear or northeast of the Ervay Apartments, Keystone plans to construct The Hickory Apartments, a five-story building complex with lease office and fitness center. Site work has begun and the complex is anticipated to open in sections, beginning April 2019. It has an estimated cost of $16.5 million.
Meanwhile, Digit 1919 reported here in 2016 recently opened, with a marketing campaign promoting its location in the “white-hot Cedars District.” Other projects include Destination Residences and the adaptive reuse of Mirabeau Lamar School by Saeed Mahboubi.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated June 1 to clarify a statement made by Santos Martinez. He compared the Lakewood Theater project to the Ervay Theater before the City Plan Commission because he represented both projects, however, the development teams are not the same.