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The Dallas Arts District has office towers, condos and new arts venues going up. What it needs now, a new organization believes, is a clear plan to become a real urban gathering place.
Wednesday afternoon, at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Mayor Tom Leppert, Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt and John F. Crawford, CEO of Downtown Dallas announced a new organization that will help guide downtown’s Arts District. It will be called simply Dallas Arts District. It will take over the duties of the old Arts District Alliance, but it will expand them significantly.
For the past 25 years, the Alliance has been a volunteer group that sought to promote the district. It ran a newsletter, scheduled public events and walking tours.
Former city council member Veletta Forsythe Lill has been named executive director of the new Arts District organization. She says that the district now needs more planning, more street-level connective tissue among the different groups and real estate owners, the churches and Arts Magnet High School.
LILL: “We’ve done a great job creating cultural institutions. Now we have residents, now we’re getting retail and restaurants. But we need to take it to the next level: How do we make it a viable, pedestrian-oriented urban district?”
Lill says that, to that end, the new Arts District organization is looking to the city’s 2010 bond issue to make improvements to the area. It hopes to coordinate parking, so that visitors will know where the public and private lots are — especially when, say, the Arts District garage fills up. Where would you try next? This will become crucial when the five-acre Woodall Rodgers Park is built in the next few years. People will drive down to visit it, and there will be no place to put their cars in the park itself, which will be built over the Woodall Rodgers Freeway from Pearl to St. Paul Street.
The Dallas Arts District also hopes to improve pedestrian traffic. The plan is to make it easier and more attractive for visitors to enter from the Pearl Street DART station, making the trip better lit, for one thing. There are also the ‘crosswalk’ issues presented by Pearl Street itself and Ross Avenue. The original “backbone” of the district was supposed to be Flora Street. That’s why entrances for the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center and the Crow Collection of Art all face Flora. But Flora is not a major artery; it gets bisected by the heavy traffic on Pearl — which pretty much splits the district into the performing venues in the northern half and the art museums in the southern half. Getting from one half to the other requires going up to Ross — or risking your neck on Pearl.
And the group hopes to encourage more retail, particularly in the undeveloped lots east of Ross Avenue. During a panel discussion about the future of the Arts District held at the Nasher Sculpture Center last fall, architecture critic David Dillon pointed out that retail is absolutely necessary for the future success of the district — to provide restaurants and shops for people to linger and enjoy their evenings or Sunday matinees. Yet we’re running out of room for any retail to grow in the Arts District itself, as it’s currently designated. The failure was the city’s — 30 years ago — for not controlling the spaces it could when the Arts District was originally set up. Instead, Dallas basically turned over everything to the arts groups and the real estate developers. It’s a chief reason the district has long been a case of “every man for himself” with relatively little coordination among the many different components.Now, the only significant, undeveloped parcels of land are on the east side of Ross. Lill said that her group hopes to encourage and influence retail development there — around the AT&T building, for instance, which could help make the “transition” from the Pearl Street DART station over to other side of Ross more attractive.
The new Arts District organization has been underwritten for 18 months by a grant from the Arts District Foundation. (Its first year’s budget is $300,000.) After that, the Dallas Arts District will be funded through dues paid by area stakeholders (see the list below). It will be somewhat like a business improvement district. In fact, the Dallas Arts District will be working closely with Downtown Dallas, which is a business improvement district.
Arts District stakeholders:
Booker T. Washington High school for the Performing and Visual Arts
Crescent Real Estate Equities
Crow Collection of Asian Art
Dallas Arts District alliance
Dallas Bar Foundation
Dallas Black Dance Theater
Dallas Center for the Performing Arts
Dallas Museum of Art
Dallas Symphony Orchestra
Dallas Theater Center
Hall Financial Group
Nasher Sculpture Center
Office of Cultural Affairs
One Arts Plaza
Saint Paul United Methodist Church
Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation