by Jon Anderson
Last night. Council Member Jennifer Gates held the second public meeting about what to do with the dilapidated Preston Center parking garage. Since the first meeting back in September, consultants from Houston-based Walker Consultants have been busy scoping out concepts based on the Preston Road Area Plan (a bright spot in a dismal plan). The plan outlined a completely underground parking garage with 1,600 parking spaces (double today’s garage) and a public park on top at ground level. Think Klyde Warren but instead of Woodall Rodgers underneath, it would be a garage. You may also recall that the surrounding landowners unanimously poo-poo that plan (put a pin in that).
The parking lot itself is 3.15 acres – 137,332 square feet – and 800 parking spaces on two above-ground levels. This … space … in the middle of an area zoned for high density. Understand just how rare that is. Klyde Warren had to cover a highway to get its space and here we are with a molding parking garage that could be so very much more. Like I said, very, very, rare.
Now, burying so much parking isn’t on the same planet as “cheap,” but it’s the right thing to do. It’s worth saving up for. It’s worth sacrificing for.
Show Me The Money
Regardless of what’s built underneath it, the park is estimated to cost between $7 and $8 million. It’s certainly more than a few Home Depot runs. The big number is the garage itself. The Walker folks had three scenarios based on different levels of parking.
To build 1,005 spaces across three underground levels would cost between $30.7 million and $36 million. The 1,005 number was arrived at by assuming all the existing surrounding buildings were 100 percent occupied and calculating their needs. That brings a total between $37.7 and $44 million for the underground garage and park.
That’s a lot of money right there. But remember, the project has $20 million already earmarked ($10 million each from the last bond and NCTCOG). So glass half full.
Next up they tackled 1,200 spaces also on three underground levels which came in between $34 .2 and $40 million. That’s an increase of between $3.5 and $4 million for the additional 195 spaces. Those spaces are breathing room for future needs and easier parking today. Total with park is between $41.2 and $48 million.
The half-full funding glass is now slightly less.
The Preston Road Area Plan called for a doubling of the existing garage to 1,600 spaces. Essentially tons of extra parking that might not be used until a ubiquity of self-driving cars. But, this is supposed to be a solution for the ages, so it’s worth considering. The problem is that 1,600 spaces spills into a fourth underground level which really jacks the price. The parking would cost between $49.6 and $54.5 million, an increase of roughly $15 million over 1,200 spaces. The grand total here with the park is between $56.6 and $62.5 million.
At this level, our $20 million in funding is about one-third of what would be needed. Now’s the time for smelling salts.
What We Get For The Money
First we get rid of the existing eyesore. We get an area where folks can sit in the grass, order takeout from a nearby restaurant and maybe visit a farmers’ market or art fair. There might be some splashy things for kids to run through in the summer. All sorts of things besides an unsightly garage.
I hear you saying, “That’s all well and good, but is any of it bankable?” Yes. According to Walker Consultant’s research, properties surrounding similar types of amenity parks appreciate on average $80 per square foot. Selecting a random low-rise property on the southern, Luther Lane side of the garage, DCAD shows the property is valued at $251 per square foot. An $80 per foot increase would amount to a 28 percent increase in value. That would not only increase city tax rolls, but also rents because of the improved desirability of the property. It would bring them more in line with those collected across Preston Road at The Plaza at Preston Center.
Most things in life are a combination of time and money. Walker Consultants estimate 29 months from first shovel to ribbon cutting. That’s a long time to interfere with the functioning of a shopping center. I suspect it’s at the top of the list of why area landowners are against this plan. And I get it. Rents will temporarily go down (before recovering and quickly increasing).
My question. Would area landowners support this plan if instead of the single shift of work outlined here, work was around the clock? If 29 months were halved to 15 months.
Speeding up construction will add to costs, but we’d already need to save to afford this anyway, and it is absolutely the right answer for Dallas, and ultimately the landowners (even if they refuse to see it today).
Landowners’ plan: Cover the lot.
Speaking of The Landowners
Double dip, triple dip, stuff your whole head in the trough — the landowners came up with their own plan. In a nutshell, cover the entire acreage in a combination parking lot and 300-unit apartment building (or as I call it a larder of new customers). In exchange for providing the parking for their own businesses, they want the city to give them the 3.15 acre site … and the $20 million … and more. To be sure, there would be other monies needed, but the plan calls for the city to be bled dry first.
Oh, oh, oh, it doesn’t end there, my friends. Since the landowners require unanimous approval, their chosen developer? Robert Dozier, who purchased Harlan Crow’s Preston Center holdings (after the skybridge debacle) and is now one of the larger landowners. One of their own.
Dozier’s response to the city’s plan was more famine, plague, and pestilence than a Sunday red state revival tent. We were told that even after completion the park would scare away customers, businesses would close, and the caliber of business would decline (which wouldn’t happen with their plan, why?). This, said with a straight face, 10 minutes after Walker Consultants said there’d be a 28 percent jump in values. It was eye-rollingly laughable. I mean, surrounding the garage we already have Target, DSW Shoe Warehouse, Office Depot, and Tuesday Morning – nothing in danger of being poached by Highland Park Village. The only way to go is up.
Dozier went on to say that their plan would be the catalyst for surrounding landowners to improve and redevelop their own properties. If the landowners wanted the increased rents generated by – oh, I don’t know – the better buildings across the street at The Plaza at Preston Center, they’d have made improvements decades ago. The more likely reality is that their plan would be a silk purse surrounded by a sow’s ear.
The city’s plan is all about green space and an interactive park to bring vibrancy to the area. Less so the Preston Center landowners’ plan. See the pair of “earmuff” parks on the upper corners? That’s it at ground level – and that pittance was apparently an 11th-hour addition (nawww, really?) to original plans whose green space was only visible when someone dropped a salad.
The real green space is on top of the three-story, above-ground parking garage – the part not taken up by the 300-unit apartment tower. Who in the devil’s underpants is going to take an elevator to a raised park more than once? No one. It’ll essentially be an amenity deck for the apartment building. In a bone-toss to usefulness, their plan calls for a small restaurant on the roof to attract folks to the elevator.
Fans of Where’s Waldo will be thrilled way-finding the restaurant. I foresee either really, really cheap rent or a never-ending cavalcade of hopeful eateries going bust. Does “out of sight, out of mind” ring a bell here?
Earmuff park from above
The Peanut Gallery
When the floor was opened for questions, nearly all were directed at the landowners’ plan – most seeing it for what it brazenly is. My favorite was in response to the landowners’ dire predictions. An audience member noted that The Plaza at Preston Center’s underground parking garage (literally across the street) certainly didn’t crater their operation, so why would it harm theirs? You could have driven a truck through the silence.
Former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller asked several questions of the landowners’ plan. Each could be tied back to the landowners’ plan’s complete ignoring of the letter and spirit of the Preston Road Area Plan. And she’s right. The landowners used the area plan as so much toilet paper in their haste to print themselves a greedy sweetheart deal crushing any ability to realize the higher monetary and aesthetic potential of Preston Center.
Another audience member surfaced the oddest extrapolation of the city’s park plan. Namely the concern that a well-run park would increase area traffic, so an essentially static, un-programmed park with no activities would be best. It’s like telling someone mediocre results are the goal of expensive plastic surgery. Huh?
Replacing the garage will change Preston Center for a century. Do we want to be remembered for doing the right thing? Or do we want to be remembered for giving in to self-serving greed? The right thing is usually harder and in this case deliciously more expensive, but it’s right, and worth moving mountains to find the money.
If the landowners’ ode to self-interest is what’s built, a plaque needs to go up reminding people of our incompetence.
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