Sylvan Thirty: Development In Dallas

December 1, 2011 by · Comments Off 

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Sydney Giesey
sschmidt@smu.edu

Sylvan Thirty Site Plan

Alex Burton has lived on Kessler Parkway in Oak Cliff for the past 40 years. He remembers the way nearby Ft. Worth Avenue used to be.

“That was the playground of Dallas,” Burton said.

He said there were bars, strip joints and several gambling places along the avenue. It was the main road leading into downtown Dallas and the life-blood of the city.

The addition of Interstate 30 changed everything, pushing traffic away from Ft. Worth Avenue. The once vibrant atmosphere slowly began to fade until it became a hodge-podge of run-down buildings, apartments, service stations and motels.

“The whole character of that particular strip has changed enormously,” Burton said. “It just sat there for years and years.”

But all of that is about to change.

New development is coming to the intersection of Ft. Worth and Sylvan Avenue. By fall 2012, the now razed 6-acre piece of land will be filled with a mixed-use area including 200 apartments, restaurants, retail stores, a park area and a grocery store. The development is called Sylvan Thirty.

Burton lives just around the corner from the development site and next door to its developer, Brent Jackson.

Jackson is the founder and president of Oaxaca Interests LLC and has been in real estate more than 12 years. He began working on the Sylvan Thirty development in November 2007. He said the existing demand for grocery stores and more retail in the neighborhood was grossly underserved.

“We felt there was clearly a need to provide that supply,” Jackson said.

Jackson also said he thinks the project will help bridge west Dallas and Oak Cliff neighborhoods.

“People often ask me, ‘Is this an Oak Cliff project or a West Dallas project?’ And I say, ‘yes,’” Jackson said.

Sylvan Thirty’s zoning application went before the Dallas planning and zoning commission on Oct. 6 and passed with a 10-3 vote and a recommendation from the city staff. The zoning application is tentatively scheduled to be voted on by the city council on Dec. 14.

Many residents and surrounding businesses are happy to see growth in the area, but some have voiced concerns regarding the development’s zoning standards. Monte Anderson, owner of the Belmont Hotel, is one of them. His hotel sits on the opposite corner of the Sylvan Thirty development site.

Anderson is a real estate developer and broker who has lived in southern Dallas County his entire life. He bought the Belmont Hotel on St. Patrick’s Day in 2004 and remodeled it in 2005.

“We were the catalyst project over here,” Anderson said.

He also said it is good to see development in the area, but would like Jackson to have a more urban design. According to Anderson, urban design consists of elements like three-story buildings with retail below and residential above, wide sidewalks, street parking, bike lanes and store-fronts facing the street. Anderson said Jackson has not adhered to these standards.

“He doesn’t value the urbanism,” Anderson said. “If he did he wouldn’t build like he’s building.”

One of the most contentious issues is the height of Sylvan Thirty. Anderson said its tall buildings would block the view of downtown from his hotel patio at the Bar Belmont. He is asking that the development’s building height be lowered to 60 ft. Because Anderson’s hotel is within 200 ft. of the development site, he was able to pay a $150 city fee to have the City Council vote postponed until December.

“We’ll fight them ‘til hell freezes over, and then we’ll fight them on the ice,” Anderson said his lawyer told him.

Jackson said the minimum height the development can live with is 70 ft.

Despite their differences, Anderson said he would like to have more neighbors. He said he needs places his guests can walk to. The hotel currently has a shuttle service that takes people into the Bishop Arts District because it is the closest attraction.

“We’re an island out here by ourselves right now,” Anderson said.

The Sylvan Thirty development was designed by Lake Flato Architects. Lake Flato is a design firm that has gained national recognition for architecture. In 2004, the company received the Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects, the highest honor an architecture firm can receive.

Jackson said he believes Lake Flato has designed a development that is in keeping with the existing community and meets the needs for the site.

“They are very gifted at creating a unique space,” Jackson said.

Jackson would also like to fill the site with basic retail like a bank, dry cleaners, pet stores and maybe a nail salon. Sylvan Thirty will also have an on-site concierge service for its residents. The park will be used for things like community functions, music, plays and other outdoor events. Jackson said he is currently looking for businesses to lease space.

“Without leasing you don’t have a project,” he said.

One of the highlights in Jackson’s plan is the site’s organic grocery store, Cox Farms Market. Jackson said much of the community has been asking for a grocery store like this. The market focuses on providing quality produce, service and fair price. Owner Mark Cox also said he buys local as much as possible.

Cox has been in the produce business his whole life. He grew up in West Texas and his grandfather had fruit stands that sent produce as far as California and Florida. Cox said he thought that was how everyone operated. One day he realized, it was more than a typical fruit stand.

“Nobody did it like us,” Cox said.

Cox Farms Market is not a chain. The only current location is in Duncanville; however, Cox said he has several customers that come from Oak Cliff and some from as far as Waxahachie.

“This grocer attracts from a pretty wide radius,” Jackson said about Cox.

Cox was hesitant to join the Sylvan Thirty development at first because he wanted to own his own property. Cox had been looking to expand several years ago, but started backing off in late 2006 because he worried about the economy. Less than two years later, the economy crashed.

“I was right. I knew I was,” Cox said.

Around that same time, Jackson started approaching Cox about joining the development. Cox said it took about two years for him to agree to be part of the site, but he is now excited and ready to go.

“There’s no hesitation from me,” Cox said. “Just hurry up and get it done.”

Future site of Sylvan Thirty. (Photo by Sydney Giesey/Beyond the Bubble staff).

As of now, the Sylvan Thirty land is an empty field. Everything on it has been demolished. All that remains is a sign that reads, “Alamo Plaza Hotel Courts.”

“Oh, it’s gone,” Desoto resident Willie Sanders said when he realized the Alamo hotel had been removed. “That’s why there’s so much space over there.”

Jackson said his company made a commitment to Preservation Dallas, a non-profit dedicated to saving some of the communities finest landmarks, to keep the Alamo hotel sign and somehow integrate it into the site.

Sanders drove past that intersection almost every day for 20 years. He took his daughters from Desoto to school every day at Trinity Street Christian Academy in the heart of Oak Cliff. This was the first time he had been in the area in about a year.

“It was somewhat of a shock to see it all gone,” Sanders said in an interview at the Chase Bank across the street.

Now that he isn’t driving his girls to school anymore, Sanders said the Sylvan Thirty site would give him a reason to come to Oak Cliff.

“I’m not in this area often, but if I knew it was here, I would certainly come.”

Original Local Art Featured In New Omni Hotel

December 1, 2011 by · Comments Off 

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Shelby Foster
slfoster@smu.edu

Art from the new Omni Hotel. (Photo by Shelby Foster/Beyond the Bubble staff)

Unique, original, and one-of-a-kind aren’t words normally associated with art hanging in hotels across the United States. Many guests have grown accustomed to seeing the same pieces repeated throughout rooms and hallways, lobbies and restaurants.

And for developer Jack Matthews, the monotony grew to be too much.

So when his company, Matthews Southwest, was brought on to build the Omni Dallas Hotel, a fresh take on art was a primary focus.

“I’ve spent too many days traveling for business in hotels,” he said. “Same picture, same thing, it gets monotonous. You get the feeling that it’s nothing special.”

The hotel, which is built adjacent to the Dallas Convention Center, opened its doors on Nov. 11.

Each of the 1,001 rooms at the Omni have around seven pieces of art, which equates to a whopping 7,000 original works done by more than 150 local artists.

The process of searching for artists from around North Texas and gathering pieces was not an easy task.

Jeremy McKane, of McKane Consulting, took on the responsibility of overseeing a large team to seek out the perfect art for the hotel.

One artist who was chosen to participate in the art initiative at the Omni was Luke Sanchez, a sophomore studio art student at Southern Methodist University.

He worked in collaboration with McKane and his team to create five large paintings for the hotel.

“All the paintings focus on Dallas landmarks, and since SMU is close to my heart, several depict Dallas Hall,” said Sanchez.

The greatest reward, according to McKane, was not filling the Omni with beautiful art, but truly impacting the lives of the artists.

McKane is incorporating a database system so that when a guest finds a piece they love, they can access the name of the artist and contact them directly to purchase a similar piece.

“Now we are talking about something that just keeps giving back to the arts community here in Dallas,” said McKane. “I think the process will continue to effect the community in ways we never imaged.”

So not only are the artists earning a one-time commission from the Omni, they can also broaden their client base and gain the benefits of having exposure in the hotel.

The database will be located in the gift shop in the Omni, aptly called “Collections.”

Among the usual personal necessities and trinkets, the gift shop sells homegrown products unique to Texas, like chocolate crafted into various shapes, books devoted to the history of cowboy boots, products by local soap companies, and handmade purses.

For guests looking for instant art gratification, there are a few pieces of art available for purchase in Collections, like architectural photography by Linda Wilson and abstract paintings by Willis Davis.

Art for sale in the Omni. (Photo by Shelby Foster/Beyond the Bubble staff)


Matthews said that a lot of the art around the Omni was created in a working conversation between the artists and the hotel during a two-year-long-process.

“We looked at what the artists have done in the past, and of course encouraged Dallas themes, buildings, entertainment,” said Matthews. “It was a delicate balance because we wanted to be true to what the artists’ wanted.”

They also made it a priority to feature mostly unknown artists, to give them an opportunity to grow their business.

According to Matthews, only around 25 to 30 percent of the art budget was spent on well-known artists.

Although the Omni Dallas has only been open for a few weeks, guests are already noticing that there is something different.

“We have a photo of Big Tex in our bathroom,” said Shalonda Shoat, who was celebrating a birthday weekend at the hotel. “There is also a beautiful one of the Majestic. They did a great job of blending the old and the new Dallas.”

Shoat was also fond of the dessert salsa made by a Texas-based company called Dread Head Chef that was for sale in the gift shop.

Jennifer Mask, who was visiting from McAllen, Texas, immediately picked up on the art due to her artist mother.

“My mom wanted me to make sure I checked out all the art and reported back to her,” said Mask, who had just checked in with her husband. “I can’t wait to see all the art in my room.”

Matthews hopes that the Omni Dallas won’t be the only hotel to incorporate the surrounding art community.

“We had a lot of people that said it could not be done. But now, I think we’ve raised the bar for other hotels,” said Matthews.

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Saint Ann

March 23, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Natalie Blankenship
nblankensh@smu.edu

(PHOTO BY NATALIE BLANKENSHIP/ SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Rating:
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Price: $$

On a beautiful 80 degree evening, my friends and I decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner on a patio.

Located downtown on N. Harwood Street between the Saint Ann building and the Rolex building, you can easily find parking in a convenient covered lot right in front of the restaurant.

Once you’ve walked up the wooden steps to the restaurant, you are greeted with a large wooden patio with lots of wooden tables and chairs, strung lights, a fire pit and lots of people enjoying the lovely evening. It’s a great place to relax and have a drink, bring the whole family to enjoy a full meal or even have a small event.

The inside is very open and has almost a beachy-luxury feel, leaving you with a feelings of vacation time. But, not so fast. Here, you’re a student. The menus are school themed with lined paper and red pen marks. When asked if we were still thinking about we wanted to order, the waiter nodded his head and understood we were still “researching.” But that’s where the school theme stops.

The patio at Saint Ann (PHOTO BY NATALIE BLANKENSHIP/ SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Before we began to munch, we started the evening off right with the Skinny Basil Lemonades. Under 100 calories, this concoction was so yummy it went away a little too fast. Veev acai (a liquor made from the acai berry), lemon juice, agave nectar, basil and club soda, I’d go as far as to say this was an almost healthy cocktail. If you don’t have time for a full meal, go just for this drink.

Most everything on the menu looked good to us, so it was difficult to choose. To start, we had the tomato mozzarella salad. It came out with heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and a balsamic reduction. Crisp and refreshing, it was your classic caprese salad done right.

(PHOTO BY NATALIE BLANKENSHIP/ SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

The Neapolitan pizza was thin crust and delicious. We ordered ours with prosciutto, basil and extra cheese. Mmmm it had the right amount of crunch and the flavors were addictive. It was large enough for two and it only costs $6.50 and then $1.50 for each additional topping, leaving us with an $11 pizza that tasted like a $20 pizza. It was that good.

If you’re a meat lover, don’t miss the Italian Sammy. Packed with oven roasted turkey, Capricola ham, salami and swiss cheese, this sandwich is so delicious and it comes with either a side of sweet potato fries, house fries or a house salad. We went with the sweet potato fries—and you should too. The fries were perfectly salted and slightly browned, with a sweet almost confectionary taste to it. Perfect complement to the Italian Sammy.

(PHOTO BY NATALIE BLANKENSHIP/ SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

And the good prices weren’t just for the pizza. At such a nice upscale restaurant, you would never expect the reasonable prices. But this is what Saint Ann is all about: comfort and relaxation. And the waiters provide just that; they’re attentive, friendly and provide excellent service.

After we had enjoyed our entrees, we couldn’t resist the dessert menu. With funky items like Red Bull ice cream with a Jager reduction or the Shiner Bock ice cream, our waiter assured us they were delicious despite the odd names. We went with the traditional fresh berries topped with crème fraiche, which were spot on. But, we didn’t stop there. Possibly my favorite item at the restaurant was the chocolate croissant bread pudding with espresso whipped cream. Warm and gooey with chocolate baked into little bits of croissant, I’ve never had anything quite like it, and I know I will be back for more.

So grab your best friends for a cocktail and dessert before a night out or grab your significant other to make a night out of it. Either way, run, do not walk, to Saint Ann for an incredible dining experience here in Dallas.

RESTAURANT REVIEW: Tei An

March 2, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Natalie Blankenship
nblankensh@smu.edu

Rating:
Atmosphere:
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Price: $$$

Japanese caipirinha (PHOTO BY NATALIE BLANKENSHIP/ SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

From the moment you step into Tei An to the second you try your first bite, you feel as if you traveled all the way to Japan.

With the traditional rice paddy outfits the wait staff wears to the gorgeous larger-than-life décor, this exotic Japanese eatery is more than just dinner. It’s an experience.

The service is usually pretty good, and with tables situated in little nooks of the restaurant, the noise never seems to be a problem.

Located in One Arts Plaza in downtown Dallas, Tei An highlights their special: soba noodles. Not only are their soba noodles delicious, but they’re healthy as well. Made with buckwheat flour, soba noodles are thin Japanese noodles that can be served hot in a broth, or cold with a dipping sauce.

Although the menu is a bit hard to understand, the waiters are always helpful and happy to help. With soba noodles come many decisions—what length, cold or hot, what meat, what broth, etc. If you’re not into soba noodles, there’s also udon noodles, or thick wheat Japanese noodles.

For starters, there are several delicious appetizers including sushi and my favorite, the white seaweed salad. The dressing is refreshing and just right, and the seaweed has a special, almost crunchy texture that just works.

If you’re looking to start with a drink, the cocktails are creative and nothing short of awesome. I ordered the Japanese caipirinha. It was made with a Japanese vodka, limes, sugar, and a dash of bubbly water. It came out in a fun glass garnished with lychee and other fruits.

During my first Tei An experience I ordered the short soba noodles with chicken and broth. It came in a large bowl served on a wooden tray. The presentation was great, the noodles were easy to eat, and delicious. It was so good, I found myself finishing the whole bowl off and wanting more.

The next time I went, I tried the chicken stir-fried soba noodles. It was much more filling than the soba noodles in broth, and was really yummy with stir-fried vegetables.

Still have room for dessert? Well, make room. The soba ice cream with honey is like a savory vanilla ice cream, and with the honey and what I think was finely crushed graham cracker, it was a match made in heaven. Mmmmm.

And if you’re not into trying exotic Japanese food, you have to go just to see the bathrooms. As crazy as it sounds, I’ve never seen a bathroom quite as amazing as this one. When you walk in the stall the door is clear glass, quite confused I closed the door and the door fogs over so you have privacy. Then, once you get in there, the wall has several buttons with interesting options like adjusting the temperature of the toilet seat to more private settings that make Tei An’s bathrooms the smartest I’ve ever witnessed.

The prices are a little high, but you’re also paying for the breathtaking atmosphere and swanky location. I’d say save this for a special occasion with your special someone or your best friends for a birthday. But make sure your dinner mates are somewhat adventurous.

VIDEO: Downtown Dallas Vacant Office Space Affects Business

September 27, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Video: Downtown Dallas Office Space Vacancy from SMUDailyMustang.com on Vimeo.

Mustang Interactive Editor Andy Garcia reports on the amount of vacant office space in Downtown Dallas and its detrimental effect on business.