"I'm seeing people walking dogs, jogging and strolling down Dragon Street," he said. "And instead of getting in their cars, they're walking to restaurants."
Most of the apartments being built are filling up fast, he said. A sure sign that the area is ripe for change, he said, is the high-rise apartments going up on Hi Line Drive.
Houston-based PM Realty Group is building the 314-unit high-rise, which will be flush with a rooftop pool, a state-of-the-art fitness center, high-tech amenities and 24-hour security.
Even Lake was taken aback by the ambitious scale of the project.
"I never thought about building a 23-story building out here," he said. "But I think you're going to start to see more development like that."
Kendall Shiffler agreed. The 27-year-old is the marketing communications director for PegasusAblon, a master developer that manages about 700,000 square feet in the Design District, including the new high-rise apartments.
Thanks to a blog she writes about the Design District, she's become one of the area's most recognizable young names and faces.
Shiffler used to live in Victory Park, right across the freeway. Now she works and lives on Hi Line Drive.
"I knew (that) if I was going to be talking about the area and promoting it, I needed to experience it and get in on the ground floor," she said.
She initially lived in another apartment two blocks from her office but recently moved to the high-rise, where she says pool parties are a regular treat.
"The (Meddlesome) Moth is like our Cheers," she said. "It's a place where everyone knows your name. That's the neighborhood spot."
The area still lacks some coveted amenities, such as a grocery store, but developers and city officials say much more is in store.
"But you've got everything you need within a mile," Shiffler said, adding that residents tend to drive over to nearby Oak Lawn to get services not offered in the Design District.
"It definitely feels like an extension of Oak Lawn," she said. "That's where our amenity base is, where you get your groceries, go to the bank."
Shiffler and others said they feel safe in the neighborhood, too. Lake said a spate of copper thefts has been the stickiest crime issue that he and other property owners have faced in recent years.
City officials said the area will continue to prosper as other parts of the Design District's plan come to fruition, such as linking the Trinity Strand Trail (the Old Trinity Trail) with the Katy Trail.
Plans for the area also include a hotel and many more residential units in coming years.
The district has come a long way since the Trammell Crow Co. began transforming the area in the mid-1950s by building the first design-business center. Many more warehouses were converted in the '70s.
The Crow development family has played an instrumental role in the area's turnaround this time, too, including building and selling some residential units.
Crow Holdings, along with Jim Lake Cos., worked with former Dallas City Council member Ed Oakley to help get the TIF district in place, said Pauline Medrano, the council member who now represents the area.
"A few years ago, you'd hardly ever see anyone out walking or jogging in that area," Medrano said. "It's definitely changed."
No one could be happier than Tina Bass, a mental health worker whose husband owns the Brendan Bass Showroom in the Design District.
For empty-nesters, the new 1,600-square-foot penthouse will suit their lifestyle. Their top-floor apartment won't be finished for a few months, so the couple is temporarily living in a sixth-floor unit.
"We love it here," she said. "We don't get in our car much on the weekends. And every Sunday, we're out on our bikes."