Last night was a bit of a tease. Just after 5:30 p.m., Browder Plaza (outside the Dallas Power and Light Flats on Commerce Street) was packed with pedestrians mingling, snacking on street vendor food and enjoying drinks purchased at a kiosk on the square.
City planners transformed the plaza into a fabricated, temporary mini-urbanscape (a bit like Park(ing) Day). What they called a "community forum and reception" was a delightful amuse-bouche and perhaps an indication of what's to come. The night sky dimming, the temperature ideal and the background music at the perfect level for talking, the perfectly and fortunately orchestrated evening was meant to celebrate the Downtown Dallas 360 plan, the strategy for revitalizing downtown and activating street life unanimously approved by city council in April.
The evening began in the Pegasus Ballroom of the DP&L building with an introduction by John Crawford, president of Downtown Dallas, Inc. "As goes downtown, so goes Dallas," said Crawford, who opened by saying he had talked to Mayor Mike Rawlings, a city manager and a councilperson about the 360 plan all within the last half-hour. People are "drinking the Kool-Aid," he said of the enthusiasm from the city. For the plan to survive and thrive, he stressed the importance of its public-private partnerships and long- and short-term goals. Quoting the "great philosopher Elvis Presley," he said, "We need a little less talking and a little more action."
For more detailed presentations, Crawford introduced Dianiel Iacofano and Chris Beynon of MIG, the firm that crafted the 360 plan. Iacofano stressed the importance of creating city life that is conducive to a growing young and creative population as well as inviting to innovation. Dallas, he said, has several benefits (a diverse business base, low cost of living, relatively new infrastructure) accompanied by numerous challenges (significant unemployment, an overabundance of people working in construction and a troubled economy).
"We can't deny that we are in a very challenging economy," Iacofano said. "We have to have a plan," which is where Downtown Dallas 360 figures in. "We know things will pick up."
Beynon detailed projects already completed or underway: Main Street Gardens (which opened in November 2009), the redevelopment of the Statler, the planned mixed-use development at 1401 Elm, the Joule Hotel, the Omni Hotel and restaurants with outdoor seating, such as Wild Salsa and Pho Colonial, all "adding life and vitality" to downtown.
"It's fantastic stuff," he said.
Closing the presentations, Crawford said, "Ten years from now, wait till you see it." Then, after a short Q&A session, the crowd of about 50 walked outside and seemingly a few years into the future. White cubic enclaves (temporary versions of glass kiosks that are part of the 360 plan) lined the sidewalk, each housing a different vendor, including Dirt (local husband-and-wife florist) and Beyond the Box (which provides the food for several downtown locales, including Main Street Garden's Lily Pad Cafe). The Rusty Taco and Paciugo Gelato vended from adorable little carts.
While most of the people in the plaza were hold-overs from the presentation, a few from the neighborhood stopped by. Amy Bourdreaux, who lives and works at Third Rail, enjoyed dinner at a temporary table and said the plaza had "a really good vibe."
Kourtny Garrett, the senior veep at Downtown Dallas Inc., told Unfair Park that part of the 360 plan is to streamline the permitting process for vendors such as the Rusty Taco. It's "a bit cumbersome and a bit restrictive right now," she said. Then she pointed out the sleek wood-and-metal bench and black planter nearby and explained that these items are prescribed by the plan for the Main Street district.
A short time later, Garrett revealed the evening's planned surprise. A nearby vacant storefront had become a temporary viewing space for the bold and bright paintings of local artist, Steve Hunter. His work, and eventually the work of other local artists, will be showcased in storefronts around downtown to liven up the vacant spaces. The program is so new that when asked the name, Garrett called it the "yet-to-be-named pop-up."