Real Estate

At Downtown Dallas Inc.'s Annual Meeting, a Call To "Invest Yourself" (And Your Cash)

Around lunchtime at the Omni today, a crew was dismantling those enormous red Christmas balls that have been heaped up on the lawn for the past couple months, while in the Dallas Ballroom upstairs, Downtown Dallas Inc. was holding its annual meeting. It was a $100-per-head affair ($125 for non-members) that crammed a three-course meal and a whole bunch of optimism into scarcely over an hour. Some 1,300 people were in the audience, including reps from quite a few banks and law firms, a virtual sea of suits and intimidating high heels. They hustled through plates of fried chicken and listened as the accolades on the state of downtown poured in.

The theme of this year's wingding was "Invest Yourself," and in what DDI president and CEO John Crawford called "the economic, cultural and social vitality of the heart of our great city." But besides fundraising, the other purpose of the luncheon was to hand out the "Chairman's Award," which this year went to City Manager Mary Suhm.

"You've got a tough job," said David Lind, DDI's chairman and an architect at Corgan. "I dunno how you do it." He praised Suhm for "creating a business-friendly city," as well as having "the vision and gumption to get projects done."

"I think I'm the luckiest person in the world," Suhm said, accepting a glass bowl-shaped award she fished out of a large navy-blue box. "And I have the best job in the world." She thanked her "amazing board" and the city's 13,000 employees, adding, "Downtown is an amazing place right now. I can't believe anyone would want to be anywhere else. Like my trainer tells me, the core of the city is like the core of the body. If it's not strong, the city's not gonna be strong, no matter how many bicep curls you do."

Taking the stage again as Suhm made her exit, Lind had plenty of specific things to get excited about downtown, including its beefed-up safety patrol, the new anti-panhandling ordinance and a bunch of new security cameras (there are 132 of them total -- good to know, right?). He was also proud of, among other things, the "130 days of programming" that brought people to various arts and culture events in the CBD in 2011, the "increased video boards and super graphics to increase vitality" in the area, along with more sidewalk cafes, street furniture and outdoor lighting. He said DDI invests some $4 million annually back into downtown each year, in the form of public safety, capital improvements and maintenance.

Lind also had plenty of promises for the coming year: the priorities in 2012 include "monitoring liquor and package stores" (been there), creating "vibrant streets and public spaces," and what he called "streetscapes and beautification issues." Also mentioned, of course: the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Belo Garden and the Woodall Rodgers Deck Park, all scheduled to open this year.

"Positive perception is built through positive experience," he told the crowd. "We're focused on engaging the community through first-hand experience in downtown Dallas." (We think that means he wants you to go there.) He promised to help "build programs that attract large corporations and small businesses to the city core." They'll also be working with the city to "encourage alternate mobility," which means pedicabs, bike shares, better walkability and "a permanent streetcar system."

It's all part of what Crawford called the "funnel concept," which is, in his words, "pushing economic vitality from the east and west coasts to the center of the country."

"Texas has become a third coast economically, culturally and recreationally," he said. "Our new downtown, I think, is the epicenter."

The last event on the agenda was the keynote speaker, Carol Coletta, former CEO of CEOs for Cities and current president of Coletta & Company, which, per the program, "accelerate[s] creative placemaking across the U.S." That apparently involves a lot of focus groups; she encouraged the audience to try to attract college-educated 24- to 35-year-olds to the city, who she said account for "58 percent of the success in any community." She said her research shows these elusive youngsters want to live downtown, near their jobs, and in a "spruced-up, clean and safe" environment.

Coletta praised Downtown Dallas 360, which she said would help attract "millenials" by creating "compact, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods" where being a pedestrian is "pleasurable."

"You have a good plan," she said. "Don't take too long to execute it."