By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
From the moment we first mentioned the competition on Unfair Park in December, the comments were ruthless: As in: "I'm thinking all the amenities: several dive bars, a needle gallery motel, plus a small Mexican grocery stinking of raw organ meats with a prominent lotto business and Big Butt Mamas magazine. Maybe a run-down Indian buffet where the curry gives a man the trots. In short, a full-on 'loaf-live-vomit' development." And: "Wouldn't you be able to smell City Hall if you lived next door?" By the time we began posting images of the winners, the knives had been well-sharpened: "It'll never work without millions of taxpayer dollars to sustain it—Dexter livestock and all. Tell me that's not where the 'developers' are going with this steaming pile." And: "Hideous in the extreme—all three finalists!"
Greenan and Brown know how the natives feel about the project. Of course, that's if the natives heard of it at all, because the truth is, outside of the Observer's blog and a handful of Web sites devoted to green issues and architecture, the Re:Vision Dallas project has received little mention in the mainstream media. Maybe that's because no one thinks it'll ever get done for whatever reason—it's too expensive or too foolhardy or just too "pie-in-the-sky," as Greenan says, echoing others' comments. Or maybe it's because Central Dallas Community Development Corp. is a nonprofit.
"And Dallas doesn't believe in the capacity of the nonprofit to do anything significant," says Greenan, who, during this interview, sits next to Brown at a small conference table at the front of Central Dallas Community Development Corp.'s Main Street storefront in Deep Ellum.
Brown picks up the conversation: "If you put in a for-profit development, and they said they would come out to do this, what would be the perspective then? They would have a spread in the paper. For us, the day you move in is when the success happens."
"There are imaginary projects that get front-page spreads at least in the business section in The Dallas Morning News," Greenan says. "If we had come in December with a set of conceptual plans and lots of pretty pictures and said, 'Look at this wonderful thing we are going to build,' everyone would have said, 'Look at what they are going to build.' But instead, when you say, 'We don't know what we are going to do build yet, we've got do research, run the competition, run designs and figure out the economic support,' gee, that's boring. That's like studying health-care options."
But, at the moment, that's precisely what's going on behind the scenes: research and number-crunching. Greenan, who's days away from opening Citywalk@Akard and moving a few formerly homeless into their new domiciles next door to affordable-housing pioneers, has relegated this task to The Real Estate Council, which has spread the duties amongst some 20 professionals divided up into teams—for instance, a site-analysis team, a finance team, an energy and engineering team, and a construction and budgeting team—donating their time to the project. Ann Allison says that for the last two months, engineers, architects, attorneys and construction company execs pored over the three finalists' plans, discerning the plausible from the impossible from the outright insane. In other words: There will be no Dexter cattle on the sky pastures of Entangled Bank, so sorry, Brad.
"These teams must come up with a feasible, doable project that will exist appropriately in Dallas and appeal to a market and fulfill the sustainability goals of the project," Allison says. "It's a grand experiment to apply a lot of green building principles to a single project. This is green building on steroids."
That said, Allison says what Greenan and Brown won't: Of the three finalists, Xero so far looks unworkable, while Forwarding Dallas and Entangled Bank have issues that could be solved in short order. (Sorry, Forwarding Dallas, no straw walls.) In November, Allison says, all three winning teams will pay a visit to The Real Estate Council's LBJ Freeway offices, where the volunteer army will grill them one final time before submitting their recommendations to Greenan and Brown. At that point, they will decide when—and how—to move forward with one of the winning entries or, perhaps, a mash-up consisting of elements of all three.
"They're kind of like children, in a way," Freed says when asked to pick a favorite. "There are parts of each I really love. I can almost imagine a fourth scheme that encompasses pieces of all three. It's really tough. I am fortunate in that I don't have to pick. John and Brent have the unenviable task of having to pick, not only based on architecture but budget, and that's important. But I really love the pedestrian plan of Xero. Forwarding Dallas is very scalable. And the Entangled Bank is striking, a beautiful building. At this point I'd be happy if any of those three are built."
First things first: They must buy the parking lot from Chavez Properties, which once owned the land upon which the city is constructing its convention center hotel. But where will the money come from? Grants, says Freed, and perhaps even some Recovery Act dough from the feds: "The timing," he says, "couldn't be better." And it will be constructed much the same way Citywalk@Akard was done, with millions in low-income housing tax credits and city money and foundation dough and bank loans. Freed and Greenan also hope companies looking to test their latest and greatest water-saving, energy-making doodads and gewgaws would consider donating them to the cause—the greater good and all that.