Dallas real estate firm JMJ Development plans to soon break ground on a mixed-use hotel, condo, and retail tower in the city’s Design District, and judging by what we’ve seen of the project so far, it’s fair to say this developer’s vision goes beyond what we’re used to in this part of town.
According to the company’s website, the concept proposes 250 hotel rooms, 80 residences, a collection of townhomes, and retail space. The conceptual renderings indicate a step-up structure with the residential units rising 10 stories, and a hotel component rising about 19 stories, both resting above a multilevel parking structure.
For now, JMJ is calling the project 148 Pittsburg, for the street address of a one-story industrial building dating back to the 1950s that still stands on part of the future development’s 2.5-acre site. This plot includes a vacant lot at the southeast corner of North Riverfront Boulevard and Pittsburg Street. The warehouse building south of the vacant lot is comprised of two lease spaces.
Supreme Printing, “Since 1961”, is the tenant at 148 Pittsburg Street. There is also a rental space at 134 Pittsburg Street. The property is owned by Azimi Enterprises LLC, a small business that owns a few properties in the Design District. The company also owns a convenience store across Riverfront Boulevard and south one block — Payless Beer & Wine will cash checks, it seems.
When the Dallas Morning News mentioned this project a few weeks ago, the reporter politely overstated that “multiple apartment projects have been built” in the Design District — truth is, you can count on one hand the number of apartment projects built in this district over the past 20 years. Investors have bet big on the central business district and other nearby urban areas such as Uptown, Deep Ellum and the Cedars. But the Design District is still one of those places where it’s polite in many circles to scrunch your nose, give a quizzical look and ask someone, “Why?”, if they tell you they live there.
For one thing, it’s not a pedestrian friendly neighborhood. There is no light rail access, no trendy streetscapes, and no grocery store. There are no public schools and there are no parks, unless you consider the Trinity River banks with its Levee Trail a park, but is it really? In any case, the Trinity isn’t technically within the boundaries of the district. For years, the only apartment communities in the Design District were a few clustered near Stemmons Freeway along Hi Line Drive. A Virgin Hotel was added to that Hi Line Drive mix recently, although construction won’t be completed until later this year.
American Centurion did acquire the long vacant Cabana Hotel last year with plans to restore and expand the property for a future hotel and residential community. But that site is right at the juncture of the Stemmons and Woodall Rogers freeway interchange, making it much more connected to Victory Park than it is to the Design District.
Trammell Crow Residential also took a chance and started building a five-story luxury apartment residence in 2017 at 120 Turtle Creek and East Levee Street. The location made some sense. It’s just two blocks down from the Camden Design District Apartments and the Virgin Hotel on a street with name recognition, and it has great views of the downtown skyline and the Trinity River. TCR opened the property in 2018 as the Alexan Riveredge — but for some reason, even though TCR is still listed as the property owner, the name has changed to Apex Design District.
JMJ, however, has set its sights on a property seven blocks south of Apex Design District, in the heart of the old district. The site of the new hotel/condo project is isolated from anything that might be considered the district’s residential zone, and surrounded by what the area represents in its truest form. The Design District, at its core, is a sea of old one-story brick or concrete block industrial buildings that became an island refuge for artisans, antique dealers, art gallery curators, interior designers, architects, artsy food caterers, decor wholesalers and furniture shops, to name only a few of its eclectic tenants. It has its share of eateries and a good mix of both odd establishments and odd couples–the Reformed Theological Seminary sharing space with Rick’s Hardware & Decorative Plumbing springs to mind.
Truth is, much of the district is just empty space. The “For Lease” signs are almost as prolific as the art gallery and antiques signs. It is amid all this jumble of small businesses, drab masonry and vacant property that JMJ chose to plant a seemingly high-end hotel and residential tower. Granted, the upper floors will have the scenic views of a downtown skyline and it will overlook the Trinity River into West Dallas, so it makes some sense — still, if one assumes its future tenants would like hip places to visit within walking distance, there are few signs of civilization at this point.
That being said, the Texas Ale Project opened a brewery and tap room in 2014 just around the corner from 148 Pittsburg Street, at 1001 North Riverfront Boulevard. The brewery got some company last year when Jon Stevens, chef/owner of Stock and Barrel, opened Foxyco, a fine-dining restaurant located across the street at the corner of North Riverfront Boulevard and Payne Street.
Still, one has to wonder if that’s enough neighborhood culture for discriminating urbanites. Any way you slice it, JMJ’s chief executive, Timothy Barton, is pioneering this corner of the district for now. Barton claims the 148 Pittsburg project is on JMJ’s front burner, and he hopes to break ground before some other projects he has in the works.
It’s not clear how soon that “sooner” is, considering all the balls JMJ is juggling — the developer broke ground last summer on Mansions at Marine Creek, a 41-acre apartment community in Fort Worth. It’s also a partner in a proposed 21-story hotel and residential tower in Uptown near Turtle Creek Boulevard and Gillespie Street. The company also plans a 24-story downtown apartment tower along the San Antonio River Walk, and last month purchased a 2,000-acre ranch west of Fort Worth for a master-planned community. On top of all that, JMJ also has projects in Frisco and out of state — so for now, the groundbreaking date on 148 Pittsburg remains an open question.