DFW Suburbs Choose ‘Urban Renewal Over Urban Removal’ As Adaptive Reuse Picks Up Speed

April 27, 2023

Much of the hubbub around adaptive reuse tends to focus on Dallas’ urban core, but areas outside of downtown are also embracing the trend as aging buildings across the Metroplex offer their own opportunities for redevelopment.

“Every building has a story to tell and a new life to be had,” Merriman Anderson Architects principal Jennifer Picquet-Reyes said at an April 25 Bisnow event held at the Marriott Dallas Downtown. “We really believe there is another way to use a building that is not currently in use, we just have to find what that is, what’s the right fit.”

Bisnow/Katharine Carlon
SHOP Cos.' Brittney Austin, Prevarian Senior Living's Allan Brown and JLL's Torrey Littlejohn

Garland is one suburb teeming with adaptive reuse potential. Prevarian Senior Living purchased 210K SF of existing buildings around the VA Medical Center and is partnering with the city to create Valoris Healthpark, a full-service medical district that will someday include a hospital.

“We’re trying to bring back the spirit, life, the density in central Garland where the people live and where we know a hospital can be really successful,” Managing Principal Allan Brown said, noting Prevarian will partner with retail and multifamily developers to add even more uses to the district.

Developer Candace Rubin has also tapped into adaptive reuse opportunities in Dallas’ suburbs. She purchased a block of property at Belt Line Road and Interstate 35 in 2015 to create Three Nations Brewery, a project that helped spur the addition of 3,500 new multifamily units in downtown Carrollton.

Rubin also has an 8K SF redevelopment project underway in downtown Garland at 500 Main St., the former Garland Furniture Store. Back in 2021, Rubin’s partner Tom De Nolf told Mayor Pro Tem Deborah Morris they envisioned bringing in a date-night restaurant, a small vineyard wine shop, an ice cream shop and a speakeasy.

Ease of doing business is one factor driving projects to the suburbs. Rubin said it now takes more than a year to get a building permit in Dallas, whereas in Garland she worked hand in hand with city staffers on her project.

Bisnow/Katharine Carlon
City of Garland's Judson Rex, Candace Rubin Real Estate's Candace Rubin, Cornerstone Community Development's Pastor Chris Simmons, SHOP Cos.' Brittney Austin, Prevarian Senior Living's Allan Brown and JLL's Torrey Littlejohn

“There’s not even a comparison,” Rubin said of the differences between working in Garland and working in Dallas. “In Dallas, it became a brain drain to get anything put through the city channels. Clients are saying, ‘Get me out of Dallas, I don’t want to buy here anymore.’”

Pastor Chris Simmons, who specializes in the revitalization of defunct properties in Southern Dallas, said developers have to be persistent and committed to the long-haul process of getting business done in the city.

“If we were not in it for the good of the neighborhood, we would have exited a long time ago because it gets frustrating,” he said.

Simmons’ company, Cornerstone Community Development, has breathed new life into rundown buildings once used for drug dealing, gambling and prostitution. His projects have added a bike shop, laundromat, convenience store, transitional housing for formerly incarcerated young men and a maternity home for pregnant teenagers to low-income areas south of Interstate 30.

Though it is rarely the cheapest or easiest option, Cornerstone has shied away from demolition to preserve the character and history of Southern Dallas neighborhoods, Simmons said.

Urban renewal does not always have to equal urban removal,” he said. “You don’t have to remove the people who have longtime roots in the community.”

Bisnow/Katharine Carlon
Gordon Highlander's Greg Gordon, Todd Interests' Patrick Todd, M2G Ventures' Amy Castellanos, Russell Glen's Terrence Maiden, Hines' Ben Brewer and Merriman Anderson Architect's Jennifer Picquet-Reyes

Malls are another asset ripe for redevelopment. Russell Glen CEO Terrence Maiden and his partner Peter Brodsky invested more than $300M in the Reimagine Redbird project, which took a defunct mall in Southern Dallas and turned it into a mixed-use destination.

At full build-out, the development will include residences, healthcare, retail and a full-service grocery store. The project also created thousands of jobs, Maiden said.

“Southern Dallas still has its challenges, but we are starting to see changes in the market, which is very encouraging,” he said.

The Hill, a formerly defunct Kroger-anchored shopping center in North Dallas, sat vacant at Walnut Hill and Central Expressway for 22 years before Cypress Equities bought the property in 2014. Two years later, the developer tapped SHOP Cos. to help transform the property into a wellness-focused, eco-friendly food and beverage shopping center that is now 99% leased, SHOP partner Brittney Austin said.

“It was built in 1977 and had beautiful midcentury architecture,” Austin said. “[Cypress Equities] really wanted to monetize on the existing use of the buildings and not tear it down.”

Dallas has a reputation for tearing down old buildings, and new construction isn’t going away any time soon. But moving forward, adaptive reuse will be an attractive option, especially for developers looking to avoid lengthy timelines and the elevated cost of development, JLL Managing Director Torrey Littlejohn said.

“Building new is not always the answer anymore because of construction costs and how expensive it is,” she said. “The evaluation of redevelopment is going to continue to take steam all over the Metroplex in all different types of projects.”