Downtown Dallas Inc. has been overwhelmed with the amount of support for our Annual Meeting and Luncheon, presented by Baylor Health Care System recently at the Sheraton Hotel. More than 1,400 people attended—a testament, we believe, to the success of downtown.
Thanks to the board, stakeholders, membership, and the DDI team, we gathered as a community to not only pat each other on the back, but to also reinforce a commitment to the future of downtown and our city—to celebrate all that downtown has become and, more important, the exciting places we are headed. Although I did use the term “celebrate” at the meeting, I was quick to remind the audience that we should not get caught up in our press clippings. We all need to understand that downtown is at a critical point of moving from what I believe is “good to great,” and we cannot do that without your continued personal and financial support.
During the meeting, we said farewell to and recognized our 2011-2012 Chairman of the Board, David Lind of Corgan, and welcomed the incoming Chairman, Randy Robason of Grant Thornton. Steve Shepherd, longtime downtown resident and chairman of the Downtown Residents Council, was surprised as he was awarded the 2012 Chairman’s Award. After lunch, I was then honored to welcome our esteemed panelists Joel Allison, president and CEO of Baylor Health Care System; Ron Spears, senior executive vice president of executive operations for AT&T; Ryan Evans, assistant city manager, City Of Dallas (who sat in for City Manager Mary Suhm, who was recovering from neck surgery); and moderator Matt Thomas, assistant news director, NewsRadio 1080—KRLD and host of Pulse of the City.
Each panelist had the opportunity to talk about what downtown means to their organization and what the future has in store for their companies. Here are some highlights. (For a more comprehensive review of the panel discussion, be sure to listen to Pulse of the City.)
On what’s been the major catalyst in recent downtown revitalization:
Allison: I think what’s set the tone for revitalizing downtown was really making it safe and clean. An important aspect of any community trying to attract companies downtown is that it is a safe and clean environment.
Spears: We’ve been here five years in July, it seems like five days! There were three reasons we came to Dallas: first is the wonderful transportation hub that exists here for a global company, second, the talent pool we saw here in North Texas, especially in the technology and engineering business; third, Dallas is a great town for attracting talent. The Dallas Arts District played a role, and all of the professional sports are represented. When we look at how to recruit talent, you need a vibrant city, a place where families want to be, and we found all of those ingredients when we looked at Dallas.
Evans: We all know we’ve been able to open up a lot of amazing facilities in the past year, including the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Klyde Warren Park, and the completion of the Dallas Arts District. But quietly, we’re seeing a lot of renovations of old Class B and C office buildings over the last few years. Ten million square feet of obsolete Class B and C office space has been converted into hotels and residences downtown, which equates to more than 7,000 people permanently living in the central business district. In addition, the Omni has done wonders for the convention center, which is $4 million over budget in revenue this year—and the Omni was $14 million ahead of projections last year.
The council has been amazingly supportive of the initiatives downtown and recently voted to extend the life of the Victory Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District, in accordance with the Downtown 360 plan, which will allow some of the revenue from Victory to go over to West Dallas, so we can start to expand downtown into West Dallas. We have also extended the life of the Downtown TIF into the West End, so we can infuse some additional resources there.
On how the employee experiences have changed in the last several years:
Spears: We now have almost 5,000 employees downtown. That number was 40 percent of that five years ago when we moved here. We have at least another 400-600 employees en route and moving here in the next year from various parts of the country into our headquarters. With all of the hotels now available and shopping that is being made available, downtown is no longer a workplace where you just go home after work. I’ve worked in Washington D.C., New York City, and Chicago. We’re now starting to see how Dallas, over the next 10 years, is going to continue to evolve into one of the great cities in this country.
Allison: Well, Baylor has been here 110 years. We obviously believe in Dallas, and the commitment was made many years ago when we chose to stay in Dallas to serve as an anchor from a medical standpoint, and we will continue to expand. Since 2000, we have invested $600 million in the Dallas campus, which continues to be our corporate headquarters and flagship campus; we have six hospitals on the Dallas Campus. Everyone is aware that we are in talks to merge with Scott & White out of Temple, and it is very exciting to expand our footprint while maintaining our commitment to serving our communities where we are located.
We continue to develop our Dallas campus as a medical destination. We’ve opened the outpatient Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center and the new inpatient Baylor T. Boone Pickens Cancer Hospital, the only one in North Texas. We really are a health science center concept. Many people don’t realize we are a teaching facility and an academic medical center, home to the Baylor School of Nursing and the Texas A&M School of Dentistry.
On giving back to the community:
Allison: We believe in giving back to the community, and our board encourages us to be involved and give back because we get so much back from the community. They’ve been great supporters. One of the greatest things I’ve found is that Dallas is a very giving community. We have been blessed because we rely on philanthropy for so many of our projects and medical science advances. And as a good corporate citizen, we need to give back as well.
Spears: We made a big investment in the Performing Arts Center when we came to Dallas because we think the cultural side of the equation in attracting people and making sure the families that work for us to have that opportunity is important. We have the largest performing arts district of its kind in the country, and we’re prepared to continue giving. There is no reason that Dallas shouldn’t be considered one of the most world class cultural cities in America. That takes time and energy, and we’re prepared to give both.
On public private partnerships:
Evans: There was a point in time when the government and the city didn’t reach out as much as it should to the private sector. We’ve learned over the years we should reach out and shouldn’t do things on our own. We’re all very happy about Klyde Warren Park, and that’s not a capital project we probably would have taken on ourselves. It was obviously expensive and we were fortunate enough to have strong corporate citizens that actually came to the city with this concept.
I’ll never forget the day Jody Grant, John Zogg, and Linda Owen came into my office and said, “We want to put a big concrete slab over Woodall Rodgers—what do you think?” So we put together a plan on how to do it. For these things to happen, you have to have hardworking, honest and tenacious people. They had to go out and raise $60 million in private money to put a park above a freeway, and the coolest thing about it is they managed to magically create a park out of thin air.
On the evolution of Dallas:
Allison: There are a lot of great things going on in Dallas. We continue to watch it grow and develop, and the work DDI has done has been phenomenal. For example, the Arts District and Klyde Warren Park, which really connected Uptown to downtown, where you can walk from one neighborhood to the other for restaurants, entertainment, and activities. As we watch what’s happening, we’re growing with Dallas. The other example is the DART Line. The Green Line now connects our campus to downtown. More than 7,000 people show up on our campus every day, and to have that connectivity is very important.
On new developments:
Evans: You’re going to see Main Street essentially be redone. Much of it is done already, but there are a lot of new things on Main Street coming online. The quality of retail in the downtown area is going to go up greatly, thanks to this initiative. You’re going to find more soft goods, clothes, and gifts to buy in the urban core.
There are also big plans to redevelop the Farmers Market. Speaking of public-private partnerships, we went and found private partners, Spectrum Properties and the Farmers Market Trust, to completely redo the Farmers Market. This will bring $60 million in private investments, with plans for ground floor retail and residential. There will be a focus on fresh foods grown in Texas, and we will redo the sheds to be more urban and pedestrian-friendly. Shed 2 will be redone and filled with Dallas-based restaurants, boutiques, and local vendors. Quarterly festivals and monthly initiatives will be planned as well. We’re going to completely redo the Farmers Market, and we’re really excited about that.
On attracting new corporations to downtown:
Evans: We have two great examples on this panel. I don’t believe AT&T would have come to Dallas, had downtown been in the condition it was in 15 years ago. We need to be proud of the fact that we basically have the physical plant in our community to attract companies like AT&T and retain companies like Baylor. And we continue to put in the necessary economic tools to attract new companies and retain the companies we have. But it comes down to the people that work for the corporations, and are they happy with the quality of life of the community they moved to. It’s really important for us to continue to enhance the Dallas experience.
On future plans:
Spears: We were approached last fall about possibly becoming the title sponsor of Byron Nelson. We are very involved in professional golf, and the reason for that is because we cover the largest span of customers of any company in the country. Our customers range from those buying prepaid cards in Wal-Mart to IBM being the largest corporate customer. We need a sport that is attractive to that entire audience. We wanted to be involved in our own hometown, but knew if we took that on and put our brand on it, we needed it to be up to our standards, and we felt like it needed a new venue. The chairman said, “Go see what you can do.”
I remember the day I walked into the mayor’s office and said, “We think we can build a world-class golf course on this 400-acre landfill in South Dallas.” After 60 days, we came to agreement with public and private entities. We think we can build a venue that will change the landscape for professional and amateur golf in Dallas. It will be the home for SMU golf teams and create a permanent home for First Tee, a program for minority students that have not been exposed to the game.
The first question we got was “Where will we park?” Well, what you’ll find is that from the convention center it’s about eight minutes. I’m guessing downtown Dallas will become our parking lot. We’re very excited about that, and it’s a great partnership. We are convinced that the facility will be built and, once it is and the PGA tour agrees, it is our intent that the Byron Nelson is hosted in the city of Dallas.
Allison: We have a wonderful partnership with the City of Dallas, looking at new models of care where we have partnered with them in southern Dallas, an area that was underserved. With the city, we partnered to redo the Juanita Craft Recreation Center to create a center of excellence around Type 2 diabetes. We were seeing patients come too late to our emergency room, and they were losing eyesight and limbs because they hadn’t managed their diabetes or didn’t know they had it.
We have redone the Juanita Craft Recreational Center and expanded it with a fitness center and a physician to see patients, go to homes, communities, and churches to help educate people in an area with high prevalence about preventing Type 2 diabetes. After two years of this partnership, teaching them to exercise, eat healthier and giving them access to a farmers market, what we’ve seen is we’ve reduced ER visits for Type 2 diabetes by 40 percent, which is a huge savings.
Thanks to all who attended the annual meeting, and a special thanks to each of our 130 sponsors and table hosts who made the event possible. Overall, I think all those that attended left with a renewed commitment to ensure that the last decade of success will continue, and understanding the importance of investing themselves in downtown.
Whether it’s major investments and business alliances, becoming part of the growing residential fabric or choices in meeting locations, let’s keep our time, attention and money in the CBD, with the focus of moving downtown from good to great. Success breeds success, and this is the track we are on.
As goes Dallas, so goes downtown! The best is yet to come.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: DDI’s efforts will continue to be focused on four foundational principles—Clean, Safe, Fun and Community as provided in www.downtowndallas360.com, which serve as the essential building blocks of economic development. Be sure to listen to Pulse of the City each Sunday at 9:00 a.m. on KRLD 1080 or listen online. The complete Annual Meeting panel discussion is available online as well. And as event and festival season is upon us, we invite you to join us for the inaugural Main Street Garden Mudbug Bash on Saturday, March 30th from 2-8 p.m. at Main Street Garden. For tickets or additional information, visit www.mudbugbash.com. Be sure to ‘like’ us on Facebook and subscribe to our newsletters to stay in the know about all things downtown!
John Crawford is president and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.