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Dallas Design District gaining residents, eateries

Associated Press Published: September 26, 2012

DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Design District, once a tucked-away hub of drab warehouses and sprawling showrooms, is fast becoming a destination spot, with new upscale apartments and trendy restaurants as lures.

But that's only half the story.

To fully appreciate the radical transformation of the area from a sleepy industrial island to an up-and-coming neighborhood, you must look at it through the eyes of people whose roots in the area are decades deep.

People like Brendan Bass.

He's been drawn to the cluster of warehouses just north and west of downtown Dallas since the '60s, when his father, William Bass, opened a namesake furniture showroom in the district.

Bass, 55, no longer comes to the Design District just to work. He and his wife, Tina, are among the hundreds of new residents who've moved into the area over the past five years.

"This is beginning to feel like a real neighborhood now," he said.

Bass, with a nudge from his wife, recently sold their 4,400-square-foot home in University Park to rent a 23rd-floor penthouse in the district's first high-rise apartments, 1400 Hi Line.

By the time the apartments are built out later this year, about 2,500 new tenants are projected to be roosting in five residential developments that have sprung up since 2007.

The apartments, combined with two upscale restaurants that opened in the last two years and a few prominent art galleries and shops, are turning the Design District into a hipper hub of social and recreational activities — from happy hours to weekend bike rides.

People aren't just visiting, they're hanging out.

"The change has taken off exponentially in the last five or six years," Brendan Bass said. "It feels so strange to be out here at night walking to a restaurant.

"Back in the '90s, you certainly wanted to get out of here by sundown. But now, there's too much movement for the petty criminals to exist or flourish here."

For decades, only a small underground network of designers, artists and photographers lived and worked in the aging warehouses.

Then, in 2004, the district formally was rezoned for residential uses. A year later, the Dallas City Council approved a Tax Increment Financing zone to help spur $1 billion in private investments by 2027.

The plan is coming together steadily, if not seamlessly.

So far, city officials say, more than $166 million in new taxable value has been added with projects ranging from prominent galleries and art studios to upgraded showrooms and retail centers.

The TIF district's assessed 2012 taxable value is nearly $308 million — a 117 percent increase over 2005.

The 1,284 new apartments — including the 1400 Hi Line project set to be completed by the end of this year — and the arrival of the popular Oak and Meddlesome Moth restaurants are helping to foster an urban feel akin to that of the more established Uptown.

Among those leading the charge is Jim Lake Jr., a developer whose father bought Design District property decades ago when it was going for cheap.

Lake, who turned the building his late father bought on Manufacturing Street into an office, got the ball rolling when he started the Design District's first residential-retail project, Trinity Lofts & Work/Live Showrooms, in 2005.

Completed in 2007, Trinity Lofts has 92 units and 28,063 square feet of showroom space.

Lake, who owns a home in the Park Cities, also lives in one of the loft apartments. The live-work space, with its stained concrete floors and spectacular views of the downtown skyline, is attractive to young professionals moving into the area.

"There's not another area like this in the city that has this kind of mix," said Lake, 53, who also has helped develop north Oak Cliff's popular Bishop Arts District, which his father coined.

Lake's company also opened the International on Turtle Creek, which has 157,640 square feet of showroom and retail space.

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