The Living End

After two decades, the West End is a pale shadow of its former self. Will it rise again?

But new buds have broken out of the Dallas Alley corpse. Not only is the West End Comedy Theatre rising out of the 1950s "laser karaoke" club Bobby Sox previously in this Dallas Alley space, but Teresa Rynell has revived Froggy Bottoms, last a cigar bar called Stogie's.

One level above, Rynell and her partner Ed Campbell installed a country bar: Honky Tonk Heaven, a tiny two-step paradise in the space that used to be the RoadHouse Saloon. She's also revived outdoor concerts on the MarketPlace plaza. They call their tiny club cluster Market Street Square. "We just thought we'd create a take advantage of this incredible number of people who are down here looking for the old Dallas Alley, looking for entertainment that doesn't exist anymore," Rynell says. If the clubs kick in, they hope to invade more of Dallas Alley's dead space.

But the West End will not be reanimated by clubs alone. It will take diversity. The city has allocated some $4 million to turn the huge parking lot next to Spaghetti Warehouse into a park. Property owners have also chipped in cash to develop a green space in the barricaded area in front of The Butcher Shop Steakhouse.

Died and gone to heaven: Live music returns to the sitting-room-only MarketPlace plaza.
Mark Graham
Died and gone to heaven: Live music returns to the sitting-room-only MarketPlace plaza.
Is the West End dying a slow death? It's on a roll, says Greg Schooley, director of the West End Association.
Mark Graham
Is the West End dying a slow death? It's on a roll, says Greg Schooley, director of the West End Association.

There are other signs of health, too. In 2000, Owen Hannay, president of the advertising agency Slingshot, purchased the Awalt building, a structure that was in danger of being demolished. After a costly refurbishment, Hannay claims, the building is 97 percent leased with "creative companies and law firms." So giddy was he with his success, he picked up Landmark Center after the FBI vacated it and has similar plans for refurbishment. "I really feel like there's going to be an enormous amount of rebirth down here," he says.

But perhaps the most potent pieces of development in the area are the residences rising out of the ground on Ross Avenue by the Fram Building Group. In late August a 204-unit apartment complex called 1001 Ross opened with underground parking and 14,000 square feet of retail space at street level. In two years, Fram will deliver a historically correct 104-unit complex in the district on what is now a parking lot next to Y.O. Ranch Restaurant. "The West End three years ago was dying a slow death," says Luciano Bettin, who heads the Dallas office for the Toronto-based developer. "This can rejuvenate it."

Schooley insists the Victory project will further vitalize the district; the project will serve the "platinum level" arena visitors while the West End takes care of the rest. "We serve a very specific role," he says. "We take care of the upper and lower bowl, the regular fans in either the seats up above or down below."

District boosters say this formula boils with genuine urban vigor, the type that has eluded Dallas for years. "There's a helluva lot more life in that district than there is in Deep Ellum. I'll tell you that," says one Dallas developer. "Talk about tired."

Ellwood Blackman didn't live to see the West End resurrected. But just before he died, he predicted it would soon hum with the buzz he remembered and painted. "I see it coming back," he said, pointing his paintbrush toward the street. "But you got to bring it back. You can't just pussyfoot around."

There is no pussyfooting, insist the district's cheerleaders; the coming red brick renaissance will not be an illusion or hype. The West End's Schooley says the city council's move last month to raise parking fees in the district points to the confidence the city's leaders have in the area, though he wishes that confidence didn't sting so much. It says something, he notes, especially when the city gave Deep Ellum, a district suffering from crime and plunging entertainment revenues, a 45-day reprieve from parking fees. The West End will succeed, he insists, because the city and developers whose investments ring the district have too much at stake to let it whither. The upcoming Victory project depends on it. "We're mutually important to each other," he insists. "If we die, they've got a dead historic district between them and downtown."

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