Judging from Downtown Dallas Inc. CEO John Crowford's state of downtown speech Friday afternoon, one would think downtown Dallas is an urban residential utopia.
Ninety-four new restaurants will open in downtown over the course of 2016 and 7,000 new residential units are under construction. That thing that downtown residents always complain about, the neighborhood's lack of grocery stores? A myth, Crawford said, pointing to eight full-service groceries either in downtown or under construction and ten 7-Elevens he said were downtown.
Crawford's claims, optimistic as they were, were confusing — if listeners didn't know that he was talking about what DDI calls greater downtown Dallas.
Greater downtown Dallas, as classified by DDI, encompasses the entirety of central Dallas. That means Crawford gets to count the Whole Foods in Uptown and the Fiesta just east of Baylor Hospital as somehow being in downtown, despite the fact that he'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who'd describe them as such.
Downtown workers and residents, as confirmed by the survey results presented by DDI President Kourtny Garrett just after Crawford's speech, say they want stuff to which they can walk, and a Whole Foods that's 1.5 miles away from the Forest City four-building residential hub on Main Street doesn't exactly fit the bill.
"Sixty-six percent of downtown residents say 'I like downtown because it's walkable, and I don't have to drive,'" Garrett said. "Sixty-seven percent of survey respondents still say they need a grocery store."
There is hope that a development at 1401 Elm St., now called The Drever, might feature a grocery store, but the final tenant lineup for that development is still up in the air. A Tom Thumb is coming to the Victory Park/Uptown border, but there are no current plans for a grocer in the Central Business District.
Downtown is nothing close to the walkable community residents and those moving to the neighborhood want, survey results confirm. Sixty-five percent of downtown residents still drive to work, Garrett said, and a full 99 percent of those coming to visit downtown from other areas of Dallas drive to get there. Once they are in downtown, 48 percent of people will use DART or a ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft to get around, but everybody headed to see the Christmas tree at Main Street Garden from somewhere else is taking their car to do so.
Building a downtown capable of attracting the millennials that any city needs to survive means building the alternative transportation systems and amenities that the generation who could make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025 craves, said Brad Segal, the president of Progressive Urban Management Associates.
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"Behaviors are shifting away from cars. Millennials buy 30 percent less cars," Segal said during his address to DDI's winter luncheon. Cities can respond to this, and he used Denver's construction of urban bike freeways after they were being pushed by local employers as an example. "You've got to get millennials to live here, work here and stay here," he said.
Downtown Dallas still doesn't have a single inch of protected bike lane despite more than 15 percent of downtowners getting to work on foot or on a bike. It's still isn't much of entertainment district either. Of those surveyed, more people said they'd gone out in Deep Ellum (51 percent) than the Main Street District downtown (49 percent), even though seven times more respondents lived in the Main Street District than Deep Ellum.
"Never in our lifetimes have converging trends favored downtown like they do today," Segal said, pointing to the explosive growth that could be possible as downtown Dallas continues to remake itself.
The survey results say Dallas still has a long way to go, though.