A "New Deep Ellum" Rising. But What Else Will Fall First?

Deep Ellum looked like this once. Then it turned into something else. And now, it turns again.

"West Village." That is how people are beginning to describe the Deep Ellum of the near-future, once the DART station goes in on Good-Latimer Expressway and once all the boho and tattooed riff-raff's been good-riddanced for good. That's two years off, but the future is now, what with the eventual closing of the Gypsy Tea Room at the end of March, Club Clearview disappearing from view a few weeks back, Trees still nothing but a stump and other sad goings-on in the used-to-be-thriving neighborhood.

I've heard in recent weeks that many of the Deep Ellum landlords are banding together to pitch their properties as a collective whole to outside developers, one of whom's situated in the Midwest (Chicago, so "they" say). Barry Annino, head of the Deep Ellum Foundation and point man for most projects in downtown's shadow, tells Unfair Park today that's a true-enough rumor. After all, he says, "No developer in his right mind will buy a building here and there, so they'll have to buy big clunks at a time. There are talks of assembling things. Developers are looking. But the sale price and the buy price are pretty far apart."

Annino isn't hiding anything. He even has in his office renderings of the "new Deep Ellum"; folks from the city's Office of Economic Development make their way down their on occasion to glimpse the bright possibilities. They ponder the woo-hoo what-if. We're welcome to come down anytime and look at them for ourselves. Making a trip down there tomorrow, matter of fact.

But Annino insists Deep Ellum will not be another West Village. He says one is enough, and we could not agree more. And it will be no Mockingbird Station, either. Or State-Thomas. No, it'll just be the "new Deep Ellum," which will likely look nothing like the old Deep Ellum, for better or for worse.

"Deep Ellum as everyone knew it is over," Annino says. "That's not gonna happen again. The direction we're trying to take here with the owners is to build up a little bit -- make it a little more dense, give it a little more balance."

Balance. Barry, what, exactly, does that mean?

"A mixture of housing and retail and daytime activities," he says. "Less clubs, maybe a little more...quality. I don't know if that's the right word. We're gonna try to tie this whole thing into the train stations. The whole concept of the new Deep Ellup is the DART station and the infrastructure upgrades it brings."

So, in short, here is what he imagines: Sidewalk cafes. Art galleries. Bookstores. Record shops. And above them all, rows and rows of lofts. (It sounds like a Sesame Street soundstage, kind of.) He imagines a future in which the only street left containing the old original warehouses and auto-part store and pawn-shop frontages will be Elm Street. Commerce and Main will probably find their buildings razed and replaced by shiny new structures that will beckon fresh-faced newcomers.

"So, it's just not gonna be the West Village, because it can't," Annino ays. "It's not gonna be like anything else. It'll be the next genberation of Deep Ellum. We're not trying to get rid of the music. If you look at the zoning changes, we're promoting galleries, we're promoting sidewalk cafes, small boutiques."

Make no mistake: The city has let this happen. It has encouraged the slow death of Deep Ellum. A year ago, Mayor Laura Miller vowed to save Deep Ellum. She put together a Deep Ellum Task Force. Only, she forgot to mention that there would be no actual Deep Ellum Task Force meetings: After two, all other get-togethers were canceled -- six straight, dating back to August. And so the decline continues, till the resurrection of 2009 -- after the streets have been emptied, after the wallets have been replenished.

Preservationists will bemoan the destruction of the city's only collection of early 1900s storefronts. But the landlords and developers will tell you it's better to have a "new Deep Ellum" than no Deep Ellum at all. --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky