Just as the local economy has soared over the last few years, so too has the popularity of urban, luxury residential-condominium living among a somewhat surprising cohort: well-heeled baby boomers. From Uptown and downtown Dallas to Frisco, Flower Mound and Plano, more and more multimillion-dollar high-rise condos are being snapped up by wealthy boomers who’ve left their detached, single-family homes behind.
The growing trend involves buyers who are “opting for more manageable residences, but who still want luxury,” says Faisal Halum, a Realtor with Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, who’s sold upscale condos to a number of high-net-worth individuals from Preston Hollow and the Park Cities. Just now, Halum is working with Capitol Peak Ventures and Laurie Harrison, executive director of Dallas’ Rosewood Corp., on a high-end condo project called The Terminal at Katy Trail that targets such buyers. The mid-rise development is scheduled to break ground this fall, with prices for its 19 units ranging from $2.5 million to $7 million.
Among the prominent Dallasites who’ve traded more conventional homes for luxury condo living are investor Tom Hicks and billionaires Tim Headington and Ross Perot Jr. The list also includes G. Michael “Mike” Gruber, a renowned civil trial lawyer with Dorsey & Whitney LLP, who moved with his wife Diane into Museum Tower in the Dallas Arts District several years ago. In the following conversation, Gruber, 63, describes life inside the posh, 42-story condo building and tells why, for the Grubers, relocating from Preston Hollow to downtown Dallas made sense.
What made you want to move?
I think it had to do as much as anything with the burdens of homeownership for a period of about a year before we made the move. First, we had a tree fall on the garage. Then everybody in the neighborhood changed their drainage, so we had to have a really expensive drainage project to keep from having a lake in the front yard. We just said, ‘There’s gotta be a better way.’ We’ve got a neat little place, about 300 acres down in Bosque County on the Bosque River, and we found ourselves going down there as often as we could for three-day weekends, and going through everything that was needed to get the house in shape to leave. In the meantime, Diane and I had both attended things at Museum Tower, and just everything about it kind of knocked our socks off. We’d already been going to Klyde Warren Park for different things, and enjoying it. And even though we were only living out in Preston Hollow, traffic was becoming an issue. I usually liked getting into work in downtown Dallas early, but it seemed like the traffic hour kept expanding.
You commuted from your house to your office in your car — usually via the Dallas North Tollway?
Yeah. But if anything went wrong on the highway, you’re talking about half an hour or more, 45 minutes. Especially at night, it seemed like it was taking that long to get home. And you’re only talking about traveling 10 or 12 miles. Then, up to three times a week I’d go home, get through traffic, pick up Diane, and we’d go back down to something we had that was in the downtown or Uptown area. So, we just kind of figured out where all our activities were and made the move.
Where had you been living in Preston Hollow?
The last house we had was an 8,000-square-foot home on Valley Ridge Road, near the intersection of Midway Road and Walnut Hill Lane. Before that, we had a roughly 10,000-square-foot house on two acres on Strait Lane. Dirk Nowitzki came and wanted to buy it from us, and he wanted it more than we did. That was one of those really fun things; he is such a great individual, it worked out great. While we were on Valley Ridge we were unsettled for several years as to what we wanted to do, until we found the place at Museum Tower. We knew we kind of wanted to get smaller and spend more time out of town on weekends. So it worked out perfectly.
It wasn’t a case of wanting to downsize after your children moved out, then?
Well, it was really kind of a sad thing. We had two great pets — a beautiful golden retriever and a really cool little rat terrier — that died at age 13 or 14 or something, both around the same time. Probably a year before that our last kid had finished college and probably wasn’t going to be coming back to the house anymore. So all of a sudden we were in a position where we could move someplace where we wanted, without having to worry about all the other issues.
There are a lot of choices for luxury condo living in Dallas now, from Blue Ciel and One Arts Plaza to the Ritz-Carlton Residences and the Residences at the Stoneleigh. Did you consider any other properties?
Not really. My wife’s in real estate with Dave Perry-Miller and has done a lot of large condo projects, besides selling Preston Hollow and the Park Cities. But there were several things that were just so different about Museum Tower. First of all, it’s right on Klyde Warren Park. It’s within walking distance to where I was working at the time and to the office I have now at The Crescent. It’s also one of the few buildings that does not have hallways. Instead, there’s a private elevator that takes you directly to your floor. It’s also just a great community. We have a big happy hour, grill nights, and all these kinds of things, so people get together a lot if you want to. You can also pull into the garage, go to your private elevator, and go right into your residence and never see anybody. And there may be times when you want to do that. When we get back from the ranch, for example, we’re kind of grubby looking, and that’s a good time to avoid everybody.
As you know, I’m sure, Museum Tower has been controversial ever since it was finished in 2013. The Nasher Sculpture Center next door says reflected glare from the tower has been harmful to the center’s outdoor garden and indoor galleries. Some have also criticized the Dallas Police & Fire Pension System for its ownership of the luxury property. Did those things affect your decision to relocate?
We really checked before we moved in, and we felt pretty comfortable doing it. I actually thought a lot of the criticism was causing problems for the pension fund. That may have been a little bit of an incentive to back (the pension fund) effort, because the tower was an asset, and I think a lot of the publicity was detracting from it. I don’t know if there’s been any kind of rapprochement or truce or whatever. I will tell you that most of the people I think in the building visit the Nasher Sculpture Center, use the Nasher, have parties over at the Nasher, are members of the Nasher. I think we’re members of all the museums in the area. So maybe that helps a little bit. But we don’t hear about (the controversy) near as much. In fact, we almost don’t hear about it anymore at all.
Possibly because of the controversies, sales at Museum Tower were slow for quite a while. What’s the situation now?
I think when we moved in three and a half years ago, the property was in the 30s (percent) as far as occupancy goes — maybe 35 percent. Now it’s over 90 percent. And what’s really interesting is the population, or the density, of the building hasn’t increased in the same ratio that the occupancy has, if you’re talking about occupancy in terms of square footage. Because what’s happened is, people tend to get in and — if it hasn’t been sold already — they buy more of their floor. In fact, a lot of people buy the entire floor. That’s really nice, too.
The owners decide after the fact that they want more space.
That’s right. Everybody’s expanding. We have a nice spot on 21, and then my wife uses a smaller space on 17. I think we have probably 6 or 7,000 square feet total. Diane’s got a really nice office there on 17, and that’s also where the kids can stay. They love to come downtown, go to all the different festivals, then come back and sleep there. Or if we have them over, they’ll spend the night down there on 17. It just works out really well. Diane gets an office, and then we have a space for people to stay. It’s kind of nice also to have them on another floor!
Were there other things that attracted you to the place?
The company that manages the building is really amazing, and the concierge is probably the best in town. They have things like car service, and they will run errands if you need them to — things like that. If you want to have a fundraiser or a party, say, there are incredible spaces for that. There’s also a very large grassy quiet area that sits above the city a story or two up. And, just the access to the park and everywhere you want to go in the central business district, and surrounded by all the Arts District amenities.
We use StubHub a lot. We’ve got tickets to some things that we do on a season basis, but the biggest thing is (the flexibility for when) you wake up Sunday morning and want to go see a matinee at the opera house or something like that. We’re not huge arts patrons — we’re getting into it more — but Carol Burnett was at the Winspear a few weeks ago. We saw that show after deciding to do it at 5 in the afternoon. We got tickets and walked over, and it was spectacular. We do that a lot, because the building is across the street from all the museums and the theater and the opera house.
Have you had fundraisers yourself at the property?
Yes, we’ve done a number of political events, some Christmas parties, some charitable events, things like that. It works out great. You turn it over to the staff. I can’t even say how many business meetings I’ve had there. They’ve got a big conference room with all the setups you’d want, so that’s very helpful, too.
Any other advantages?
It’s also not having the upkeep, the maintenance. I mean, if a lightbulb goes out, five minutes later there’s somebody up there fixing it. You put your laundry outside for cleaning, and it’s hanging in the foyer closet two days later. The thing that probably cinched it was — when I was sitting there and the question was, do we sign or not sign? — the guy that’s the manager of the property had a great closing line. He looks at me and says, "Mr. Gruber, if you move in here, you may not notice that great a difference in your lifestyle." But then he looked at Diane and said, "Mrs. Gruber, if you move in here, you’re finally going to know what it’s like to have a wife." How do we refuse that? That’s probably a little bit sexist, but we both understood. Men are lousy at helping out, that’s just all there is to it. I don’t care how modern we get, they’re just not very good at it.
How about your commute now? Do you walk to your office at The Crescent?
I do, unless the weather’s really bad. It’s about half a mile. I enjoy it, and it clears your head in the morning and going home at night.
So, would you say your living situation has improved?
I really would. There are some of the greatest people we’ve ever met there, and everybody’s kind of in a similar situation. A lot of people were at a similar place in life, still working, and probably not quite ready to retire. There are so many people who moved to Museum Tower to be close to the airport. There are a lot of people who moved there from the Park Cities, but also a lot of newcomers to Dallas. With one couple, the husband principally has business interests in Vancouver, and the wife has family and business interests in Sydney, Australia. So they chose Dallas because they can get to either location easier than anyplace else they could be. They spend about six months here, and then they’re each traveling the rest of the year. A lot of friends we’ve made there have business interests all across the country, moved there, and found what they feel is the perfect place to live.
Years ago, a single-family home in a suburban-type area was the ideal for many people your age. Did you ever imagine yourself living in the heart of the city in a high-rise building?
No. We lived in guest quarters when we were in school and in an apartment or two, and we didn’t think we’d ever want to go back to that. But this is amazing. It was built in such a way that it’s very, very private. I’ve never heard anything above or below us, ever. I don’t know how they did that, but they did. It probably helps a little that even though you’re in the middle of the city, it never seems crowded. You go out on your balcony and can look a couple hundred yards in any direction before there’s anything else. But knowing that we’ve got a getaway place (in Bosque County) helps too. If the city get a little bit too much for you — it doesn’t happen too often — but if it did, we’ve got an escape place. So it’s probably psychologically a lot easier that way.
How are the views?
They’re spectacular. We watch the sun go down every night and we can open the drapes on the other side and watch the sun come up in the morning. It’s got a good-sized balcony that wraps around the west side to the east side and gives you the north side. It’s just a great view.
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Are there other aspects of the property, or this type of living, that are important to point out?
A lot of times, if somebody has a charitable project or something like that, you may have 50 people from Museum Tower at their event to support them. We see a lot of that. In the same way, somebody will have a politician come—somebody running for the city council or mayor—and everybody will go up and support the resident and respect their views and listen, that type of thing. We have some really influential people living there. One of them — a government official — on regular occasions has events involving public policy, and people love to go up there and hear that. That kind of thing is going on all the time. And then, every few months, they’ll have a really talented singer from the opera, say, or the solo violinist from the symphony, in for a mid-week event in a large gathering area with great acoustics. There is a very strong basis of support for the Arts District in the tower. Everybody on occasion will walk downstairs, and there’ll be a group, or maybe just a couple, walking across the street either to the opera or the Wylie and certainly to all the museums.
So, do you see yourself living there forever?
In the long term, we call it pre-assisted living. (Laughs.) And it really feels like that. We’re both being spoiled.