The Dallas Morning News
By STEVE BROWN
Real Estate Editor
Dallas’ hot Design District is getting another major development — this time with a large chunk of retail space.
Developer Harwood International, one of the biggest builders in Uptown, is about to break ground on the mixed-use project at Oak Lawn Avenue and Dragon Street.
The five-story urban-style development will replace an old showroom building along the east side of Dragon.
Harwood plans to build 46,000 square feet of restaurant and shopping space on the ground level, with 224 apartments on top in the project it calls District 1444.
“We see this as an extension of what Uptown has to offer,” said Alexis Barbier-Mueller, director at Harwood International. “The Design District is an area of Dallas that in the last five to 10 years has transformed into an environment that deserves this type of quality.”
Developed mostly in the 1950s, the area northwest of downtown Dallas started out as a gritty industrial district. Then in the 1970s and 1980s, the neighborhood between the Trinity River and Stemmons Freeway began attracting large numbers of design firms.
About six years ago, builders and investors who had seen property prices jump in Uptown started looking at redevelopment opportunities in the Design District.
Since then, developers have constructed three major apartment projects with almost 1,500 high-end rental units.
Michael Ablon, who’s been marketing properties in the Design District since 2007, said most of the large apartment development sites are gone in the area.
“Any remaining apartments in the district will be built closer to Riverfront Boulevard,” Ablon said. “Everything that has been built has leased extremely well.”
Knocking down all the low-rise design industry buildings to construct residential or office space would be a bad idea, he said.
“If you tear everything down, you lose it,” Ablon said. “You want to keep the designers and what made it special in the first place.”
The newest Design District apartment building, the 1400 Hi Line tower, opened last summer and is almost half full.
“The project is going good,” said Bryant Nail, PM Realty’s senior development officer. “We did a focus group with the residents and heard overwhelmingly that they loved the fact they were close to Uptown but not in the middle of it.”
Harwood International’s project a few blocks away will bring more residents to the neighborhood and add to the retail and restaurant base.
“We’ve already pre-leased three out of five restaurant spaces, which shows that the demand is strong,” said Jihane A. Boury, Harwood’s director of leasing and vice president.
She said the developers hope to attract a small grocer to their project.
“We would love to do an urban-size grocery,” Boury said. “We want to bring a 24/7 environment to all the people who live in the neighborhood.”
Harwood International has owned the Design District property since 1996. The tract is now occupied by two large showroom buildings, which have been occupied by design and commercial businesses.
The developer will demolish the west side of the complex to make way for the new buildings. A remaining showroom will be used for a second phase.
“We’ve had this property for a very long time and played with the idea of building several times, but we feel now is the right time,” said Barbier-Mueller. “We will break ground in the spring, and it will take about 18 months to construct.”
Harwood International is one of the biggest players in Dallas’ booming Uptown market.
The developer has constructed five office buildings in its Harwood project along McKinnon Street. It’s preparing to start work on the 22-story Frost Bank Tower on Wolf Street.
Harwood International also built the 31-story Azure condo tower near the entrance to the Dallas North Tollway.
Barbier-Mueller said the firm is using its experience with the luxury Azure project on the Design District apartments and similar developments.
The apartments will feature a pool deck lounge with cabanas overlooking the city skyline, a fitness center, game room and gardens.
“It’s part of a new wave of products we want to bring to the market,” he said. “We’d like to build more of these and have started looking for more locations in Dallas and the state.”