When the final touches were placed on the city-owned Omni Dallas Hotel in 2011, a new vision of Downtown Dallas began to take shape. But while the Omni flashed its LED-lit greeting to Dallas, less than a mile away, another iconic building downtown remained shrouded in darkness.
“We always saw the Butler Brothers Building as a bookend to the Omni,” says Nile Tuzun, creative director of design and branding for Alterra, the Turkish/Dallas-based development company that has overseen the renovation Butler Brothers Building. “The city has done a great job starting from the Omni, and they have really taken care of the streets and the streetscape. And then it kind of stopped right when you get to the plaza, and then there is the Butler Brothers Building.”
Now the 110-year-old building at 500 S. Ervay St. is once again fully lit and home to more than the transient visitors and vintage trash that once filled its halls.
The nine-story, 510,000-square-foot structure was built in 1910 as a warehouse for Chicago-based retailers George and Edward Butler, who continued to use the space until 1955, renaming it the Dallas Merchandise Mart. Since then, the building has occasionally been used as city office space, but for the most part, it has been vacant.
Plans for the renovation began taking shape after Alterra CEO Mike Sarimsakci purchased the building in 2012, not long after the Omni first opened its doors, but construction on the Butler Brothers Building began in earnest in summer 2016.
“We were lucky in that we had a lot of city support in bringing this building back to life,” Tuzun says. “On the other hand, the challenges were that it’s a big building. How do you break down a building that was designed to be a warehouse and make residences and a hotel out of it?”
When completed, the building will be home to 238 high-end lofts and a 270-room, dual-branded Fairfield Inn and Town Home Suites by Marriott. The loft portion of the building has been completed and is at 80 percent occupancy. Renovations on the hotel are expected to be completed in January.
More than $100 million in funding was raised to revive the Butler Brothers Building, including an unprecedented $23.9 million in Property Assessed Clean Energy financing and $10 million in tax-increment funding from the city. The PACE loan will go toward energy- and water-saving improvements to the building under a relatively new program that provides developers lower-cost loans for improvements to a building's efficiency.
“As a company, we are a little bit different in the sense that we’re not just contractors or owners of the building, but we get very intimately involved with in what that big vision is and what we want to bring to the city,” Tuzun says. “This is not just a one-off building for us. It has a story to tell, right? And we want to include the community with our buildings, and we want to give back to the community in the sense that we look at how it impacts what’s surrounding us.”
The lofts at the Butler Brothers Building have 10-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, full kitchens with stone countertops, and a gaggle of amenities and programmed events designed to foster relationships among tenants and invite others in.
“Because it was a historic building, as the director of designing and branding, it was important for me that this building was opened to the public and it was being used by the public, and people would come and see what it became in 2017,” Tuzun says. “We have a duty to open our doors to the public and have them enjoy the building as well.”
One upcoming event open to the public is a celebration of the Butler Brothers Building's first artist-in-residence, Isaac Davies. Tuzun wants the building to be a destination in downtown Dallas, and she thinks the artist-in-residence program is important to achieving this goal.
“Our whole idea with the Butler Brothers Building is to have the building be experienced by the community,” Tuzun says. “By creating events like the AIR program, other music events and food events, we are able to bring people from the outside who would not necessarily come to the building. … We’re utilizing these events to do just that.”
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