I Meant to Take Pictures Inside The Merc. But, Really, That View is Amazing.

A view of the new Mercantile complex, The Element, taken from the original historic building

The Mercantile Place on Main's been open since March, and some 20 percent of the 66-year-old, 31-story building's occupied -- impressive, given the cheapest one-bedroom apartment in the all-rental rehab with 213 units is going for a not-inexpensive $1,488. And the $250-million Forest City project, funded with $70 million courtesy the city and former Mayor Laura Miller, is a fancypants project from top to bottom -- the top being the penthouse with the wraparound view of the city that goes for, oh, several thousand a month. (It's currently empty, alas.)

Daniel Hughes, Forest City's senior project manager, and James Truitt, the veep of residential development, invited Unfair Park on a tour of the Merc complex early this morning -- both R.L. Thornton's old stomping grounds and the new 15-story, 153-unit apartment building, The Element, scheduled to open next door come late fall, says Hughes. Some more photos and notes after the jump. Incidentally, if you want to virtually tour the residences, the site has plenty of photos from the model apartments and lounges and whatnots. Frankly, once you get inside, you kinda want to marvel at the views of the outside.

From the old Merc, a view of the Statler Hilton -- and the Forest City properties bracketing the historic building

Back when Unfair Park HQ'd on Commerce Street, we used to marvel at how expansive and historic a building had become, more or less, downtown's biggest toilet -- like, literally. Fifteen years after its final tenant vacated the premises, it's once more a majestic structure -- populated, Truitt says, by residents whose average age is 38. (He says its early tenants were in the 50s and 60s, and only recently have younger folks moved in to drop the median age.)

But it's not a cheap place to live -- could have been for some, had the city demanded an affordable-housing component to the deal back in '06, but it didn't, so it ain't. Incidentally, Hughes says he wouldn't have minded such a request from the city: "I'm from the East Coast, where you can't get a building done without some affordable housing, so we would have worked with it, absolutely." And for those wondering why The Merc and all other Forest City projects downtown are all-rental, well, says Truitt, "The condo market is dead." Hence, City Hall's recent plan to subsidize downtown homeowners' mortgages -- to spur the middle-class' interest in vacant properties developers can't sell at current high prices.

The Merc and The Element are not the only Forest City buildings set for the southeast side of downtown: The company also has the Wilson Building at Main and Ervay Streets, the Mercantile Continental building and the old Atmos HQ. Problem is, as you can see from the photo above, there's one giant building sitting smack in the middle of Forest City's properties: the Statler Hilton, high on the preservationists' to-do list.

Rumor had it that Forest City's been looking to buy the hotel, also known as the Dallas Grand, so it could tear down the structure and expand Main Street Garden, currently known as the patch of barren land sitting between The Element, the Municipal Building that the University of North Texas wants as the site of its law school and the Statler. Truitt and Hughes say Forest City did indeed inquire about purchasing the property, but its Chinese owners want way too much: $20 million. Last anyone's heard, a prospective owner backed out of a deal to buy the Statler some time around Christmas.

As for The Merc, what you see above is the view from the penthouse -- one of the views, anyway, as it provides a 360-degree view of the city from 31 stories up. And it's the sole penthouse on the 31st floor, which was formerly an executive suite. Truitt and Hughes like to say the apartments are "Uptown in downtown." What that means is they don't have the urban-explorer vibe of some of the more recent exposed-brick rehabs lining Main, Commerce and Elm.

The building looks almost brand-new inside -- because some of it is, as Forest City needed to build a new structure to link The Merc and The Element, which is the building that will house the swimming pool, the fitness center and the first-floor restaurant and retail (still no tenants announced). Still, though, those are the original ornamental elevator doors. And despite the fact that several of the building's larger murals have been purchased and removed by preservationists, there are many smaller original pieces of artwork scattered throughout the hotel -- and, as seen below, Forest City has also rescued the doors to the safe-deposit boxes and hung one in one of the residents' lounges, which open out on to balconies overlooking downtown.

Forest City expects to begin work on the Continental building "next year." It will have 200 units, bringing Forest City's total inventory in the three buildings alone to 566. --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky