Dallas Real Estate: $200 Million Project Gets Funded by Police, Firefighters

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Here's proof positive that when the banks stop lending, developers get creative. A $200-million high end downtown luxury condo development in Dallas that had been placed on hold two years ago due to the real estate credit crunch will plunge forward with a unique source for funding: Dallas police and firefighters.

Museum Tower, a contemporary feat of overlapping glass panels designed by California architect Johnson Fain, closed a deal with the $3 billion-strong Dallas Police and Fire Pension System to fund and actually own the project. The developers, Dallas-based Brook Partners and Turtle Creek Holdings, will also hold an economic interest. Once complete, the 42-story tower with 100-plus units will soar over the city's burgeoning arts district with the highest-priced air-dirt in town: $700 to $1,000 per square foot, with an average condominium unit priced at $1,000,000. (Sidenote: One of the partners in the Museum Tower venture is Dan Boeckman, who sold his Preston Hollow home to former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.)

Construction will begin next week with expected completion in two-and-a-half years.
The Dallas downtown condo market came out like a lion in 2006, with Ross Perot Jr.'s ambitious Victory Park development. It gave Dallas the state's first W Hotel and the 33-story W luxury high-rise condominium, just steps away from American Airlines Center.

Lucy Billingsley, the daughter of Dallas development icon Trammell Crow, built One Arts Plaza with a safety next of mixed-use: contemporary residential condos above commercial offices and some retail. Next came the Ritz Carlton Dallas, with both a hotel and two residential towers.

Then Swiss developer of local properties, Gabriel Barbier-Mueller, erected the 31-story, Euro-flair Azure, designed by Vancouver architect James K.M. Cheng. Deion Sanders owns a unit there that he's trying to sell for $7 million.

Then came The House by Philippe Starck.

Another development toward Uptown, attached to a historic Dallas hotel designed by Dorothy Draper and remodeled by her protege, Carleton Varney, went into bankruptcy but was recently purchased by a local developer: The Stoneleigh Residences.

The Mandarin Oriental had plans to build a Dallas hotel and ultra-high-end condo development near the W, but those plans were shelved indefinitely and the space is now a parking garage.

In April 2009, Hillwood ceded its ownership stake in Victory and handed both condominiums over to its German lenders, US Treuhand, losing about $100 million.

Thus the news that Museum Tower is back on track is like a giant dose of Prozac in the local real estate community, thrilling downtown dwellers.

"We would not have the hotels -- the $93 million Sheraton, $60 million Hyatt -- and now a $200 million Museum Tower if investors did not believe in the future of downtown Dallas based on the revitalization that has already occurred," says John F. Crawford, president and CEO of Downtown Dallas. It's a nonprofit organization that advocates for the improvement and vibrancy of urban Dallas. "The list goes on and on," Crawford says. "Success is a TEAM sport and we are making great strides in moving the ball down the field -- the best for Dallas is yet to come."

Still, the sales at existing condo projects have not exactly been brisk. Except for the Ritz-Carlton Tower I, none has completely sold out. There are a few foreclosures at the W, and only 10 percent of the 28-story House has been sold.

Two-thirds of the uber-chic Ritz-Carlton Tower Residences II remain for sale, and are being aggressively marketed by the developer, maybe even more so now that Museum Tower is a go.

Ritz sales have been brisk since January, though, when a new marketing team swept in and three nationally renowned designers -- Carleton Varney, Laura Hunt, and Jan Showers -- were called on to deck out three model units.

Critics are concerned about the police and firefighters putting their retirement funds into a project that could take years to sell out, based on current trends. And one of the fund's $27 million investments in Arizona real estate has not panned out very positively: 285 acres in Tucson, on which development has been stalled and squired in lawsuits, leaving a current land valuation of about $2500.

Perhaps that is one reason why the pension fund's administrator feels more comfortable keeping the police and firefighters' retirement dollars closer to home.

See more homes for sale in Dallas, Texas at AOL Real Estate.
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