By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
In North Oak Cliff, the neighborhoods are beckoning, if not begging, for the developers to come. The Bishop/Davis Plan would cut developers some serious breaks in exchange for their agreement to reuse old buildings instead of tearing them down.
Here's the stunning thing: In a month of talking to people in North Oak Cliff, I did find some who were worried about the plan, but the much larger trend was for neighborhood activists and leaders to support the idea of giving developers a break, in the interest of attracting more re-development.
That's the kind of talk that could get you tarred and feathered anywhere within three miles of Lower Greenville in my part of town. But it's also one of several reasons why North Oak Cliff could become the city's new leading edge.
When I started hanging out in North Oak Cliff and talking to people, the first thing I was forced to admit to myself was that a more congenial attitude in some neighborhoods has already drawn some very cool re-development there. On Davis, one alley away from Winnetka Heights, Edwin Cabaniss, an Oak Cliff resident and entrepreneur, is restoring an old movie house, the Kessler Theater, built in 1941, as a community cultural center, dance studio and music venue.
His main consultant on the music venue is Jeff Liles, one of the creators of the club Trees, in Deep Ellum, that in 1990 helped spark that district's famous and then infamous career as an entertainment district and then high-crime area.
If someone drove down Live Oak Street, a block from where I live in the Swiss Avenue Historic District, leaned out the window and even whispered, "music venue," angry peasants from my street would pour onto the cobblestones with torches blazing, shouting, "Give us the monster! Give us the monster!"
We're what you might call emotionally scarred.
But from the leadership of Winnetka Heights, Cabaniss gets something like hugs and kisses. David Haedge, the current president of the Winnetka Heights Neighborhood Association, says, "Cabaniss is the kind of guy you can trust, and if things don't work out, you feel that he's going to bend over backwards to make sure that the neighborhoods are happy."
Paul Maute, a past president of Winnetka, says, "Cabaniss has the neighborhood's interests at heart, because he is a neighbor. He's not coming in from somewhere else."
Yeah, we have neighbors like that in East Dallas. We have a name for them if they say "music venue": people moving to Waxahachie.
But we're also coming from the other end of the dial. We suffer from too much fun. Or think we do. Maybe we just don't like fun.
Oak Cliff does, according to Maute. "For a long time there were a lot more people in my community who liked it just the way it was, even though they had to cross the river to go to a grocery store they liked or, heaven forbid, a liquor store, or go out to eat or any entertainment.
"There are fewer of those folks these days and more that are interested in development, even what some people refer to as gentrification. They don't want to drive across the river. They want to ride their bikes or walk or maybe take a streetcar if that comes along."
Haedge, the current president, thinks it has at least a little to do with generations: "We've got the guys that are 40 and under," he says. "They're the new people. They're moving in. They want the development. They want the theaters, the stores and the restaurants and stuff.
"And there are guys that are 50 and older. They're probably more like East Dallas—still kind of leery about all these new things coming in."
Cabaniss is far from the only developer in North Oak Cliff betting on acceptance. Monte Anderson, a developer of both commercial and residential property in North Oak Cliff, is wagering all his time and money on a demographic he calls "cool people" coming into the area looking for what he calls "the grit."
The people he sees arriving already are just what the doctor ordered, he says—community-builders with some money to spend, people who are urban-tolerant and not out to ethnically cleanse or mall-ify the areas they colonize.
"We're getting people whose kids are grown, who are moving back from the suburbs, wanting to be in closer," he says. "Then we are seeing couples who went off to college, got educated, got their careers going and are having kids, 35-year-olds and 40-year-olds."
Scott Griggs, 35, an attorney and Oak Cliff community activist, recently provided a driving tour of the main area of impact—a triangle of territory with its vertex just across the Trinity River from the southwest corner of downtown Dallas.
We met at the Belmont Hotel on Fort Worth Avenue, a sophisticated re-imagining of an old Travel Lodge motel, developed by Monte Anderson. A steep lane up from the hotel lobby took us to a ridge where Anderson is developing new townhomes: We gazed out over downtown Dallas as if from a low-flying aircraft, a strange sensation for me after so many years of thinking of Dallas as a flat place.