Over the last five, six years, Southern Methodist University has slowly, surely expanded its presence along N. Central Expressway -- beginning with the purchase of Expressway Tower, once the home of the Dallas Cowboys corporate offices; 6200 N. Central Expressway, which now houses Development and External Affairs' administrative offices; and the old Mrs. Baird's bakery on Mockingbird and Central, which will become an athletics complex and data center.
Tomorrow, at the City Plan Commission meeting, SMU will introduce yet another project in Dallas -- this one, a graduate-program mixed-use development on the southeast corner of Central and SMU Boulevard, behind Expressway Tower, that will consist of "office, student and faculty lodging and other related facilities." CIty staff's all for it, in large part because "the request site is within an area that is proposed for mixed use developments because of it proximately to the DART light rail station and access to a major thoroughfare (North Central Expressway)."
Brad Cheves, the Hilltop's vice president for development and external affairs, tells Unfair Park it's a perfect spot for development -- smack in between SMU and the Shelby (and the Barley House), not to mention right walking distance from Mockingbird Station. It's part of what he calls "a deliberate and strategic decision to move east into Dallas," which university president R. Gerald Turner has wanted to do ever since assuming the position in 1995.
"Our ambitions, of course, are to increase some of our administrative functions and some of the graduate programming and research activity" on the east side of Central, Cheves says, "which frees up some of the interior campus on the west side for more of the residential students and academic functions. It's a very clear decision: We needed to be in Dallas. We are very much a part of Dallas. ... We very much want to be Dallas's university, and this is a clear flag in the ground if you look at the top of Expressway Tower."
For now, says Cheves, this new Planned Development District will be limited to grad-school offices and research facilities. Housing, for students and visiting profs, is in the long-term plans -- maybe five, six years out.
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"But we want permission to do that," he says. "We have grown our graduate programming over the years across our disciplines, and it would be our hope, because of DART and its accessibility, that visiting professors would find it attractive to have affordable housing nearby. And our view is, we've been a positive force in that part of Dallas, adding value to what was a warehouse district."
The obvious question is: If SMU's moving its admin offices and some research facilities into Dallas in the hopes of growing its on-campus student housing, is that being done with the expectation of upping its student population? Cheves says no, not at all. Right now, there are about 6,500 students enrolled, he says, with an expected 1,400 warm bodies due in the fall -- same as always, more or less.
"But if you look at what's happened with Uptown, in terms of residential growth, and as people rediscover coming back into the city, you have this great cultural and intellectual community right across 75," he says of the university, which is but weeks away from its Founders' Day 100th-anniversary weekend celebration. "More and more you'll find there are a lot of folks who want to be near DART and good retail and also the Meadows School of the Arts and the hundreds of programs and the athletics.
"SMU is a contributing force to the community when you see who comes to Dallas through the law school and the business school and Meadows. Fifty percent of our incoming undergrad students for the last five, 10 years come from outside of Texas. We don't have the numbers, we don't have a drag like Guadalupe down in Austin, but in terms of the contributions -- in terms of things like the Tate Lecture Series or the Embry [Human Rights Program] or the Meadows or our athletics program, we offer a dimension and vitality to Dallas I hope people are rediscovering."