Downtown Dallas's CEO on the Likely (Boutique Hotels) and the Would-Likey (Everything Else)

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So back to my conversation with Downtown Dallas, Inc.'s John Crawford. I'd called yesterday to talk about those big empty buildings. But Crawford loves to spread the good news about downtown, so our brief chat got the extended dance remix treatment once he began talking about the small empty buildings presently in play. Which ones, precisely, he would not say. But according to Crawford, two locations are presently under contract -- both of which would be reborn as boutique hotels.

"The deals aren't done," says Crawford. "But they're either on third base or between second or third."

I told him: People might have a hard time getting excited about more downtown hotels, given the back catalog of oldies-but-goodies downtown, not to mention The Joule expansion and the Omni set to open early next year. (Says Crawford, breaking news, the first event for the convention center hotel will be scheduled for "11/11/11," mark it down.) Locals want retail, affordable housing, cheap eats, green space, etc. But more places for out-of-towners to stay? Not so exciting.

"Yes, they are for out-of-town users," he says, "but the extension is, part of the reason we have the interest is because of the convention center hotel. There will be overflow from more and bigger conventions. But they'll also be used for local events and meetings and conferences. Look at the Larry and Ted Hamilton's aloft on Young Street. It's doing great. They'll knock if out of the park. It's neat. They do weddings, meetings there. I see all of this being part and parcel of a bigger mosaic."

Yes, yes, but ...

Where's the retail and all the other stuff locals have been asking for since forever? Where, oh where, are the waffle trees?

"Unfortunately, those hotels will have eateries and coffee shops, but, you're right: We don't have a grocery store, a book shop, a movie theater yet," he says. "But we're working on it daily. We just don't have the critical mass to make it happen yet."

Crawford, of course, does point to those so-called "quick wins" he hopes will be generated by the Downtown Dallas 360 plan. Some of those, he says, will be part of Tim Headington's Joule expansion, which went before the City Plan Commission only today. So, I asked him, what, realistically, is likely to be the first thing to pop up in downtown that might make locals happy (or as happy as we get)?

"I think what will happen first is some kind of a corner bakery -- not the chain, but a local bakery concept where you're having breakfast, lunch, and and it could be combined with a bookstore," he says. "We're trying to combine mixed uses like that. And we're moving aggressively. Right now, we're not talking to anyone about a movie theater. We talked to one two years ago, but the cost was exorbitant. Something like a Studio Movie Grill might work, but the ROI on doing a movie theater is huge. And grocery stores in Oak Cliff and Walmarts in Deep Ellum -- if those things take place, it might take away from a grocery in the middle of downtown. That could impact that. But we're working on all of this it daily."

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