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Four Finalists Chosen For Updating Dallas Arts District Plan

by Jerome Weeks 16 Aug 2015 11:02 PM

The Sasaki Plan, the original guide for the Dallas Arts District – is more 32 years old, so it’s time to update it — like, how to make the district full of urban life and cultural activity the way it was originally intended.


The Dallas Arts District — the group that manages the 17-acre area as part of Downtown Dallas — has chosen four design firms as finalists for updating the more than 30-year-old Sasaki Plan, the original layout and guide for developing the district approved by the City Council. The four finalists include Sasaki Associates itself as well as Stoss and Shop, Boston and New York firms who also participated in The Connected City Design Challenge, a competition for proposals to link the city’s downtown core with its riverfront, somehow bypassing our tangle of freeways and the entire issue of the Trinity Tollway.

The four firms will make presentations in Dallas August 20th to a “diverse advisory committee,” which will then make a recommendation — and start the bureaucratic selection process that will possibly wend its way to the Dallas City Council, as per the “current Downtown Dallas 360 Plan adopted by the Dallas City Council in 2013.”

from one artssmall

The view of the Arts District from One Arts Plaza. Photo: Jerome Weeks

When it comes to sparking high-grade commercial real estate development of what was a fairly benighted quarter of downtown as well as, oh yes, getting leading arts groups like the Dallas Museum of Art, the Dallas Symphony, the Dallas Theater Center and the Dallas Opera together in one area and helping them put up some major new digs, the Sasaki Plan has been an undoubted success. But issues not dealt with in the plan include the fact that, in making Flora Street the ‘backbone’ of the district, the plan did not address the powerful traffic flows on Pearl Street and Ross Avenue, which truly bisect the District, instead of Flora, and in the process, inhibit pedestrian access from parking lots to arts facilities. Also, the original plan never anticipated anything like the Perot Museum, which has become a major attraction in the area but is not actually in the District and is seriously separated from it by, oh, all of Woodall Rodgers. How to integrate those crowds and the ones coming to Klyde Warren Park into a District made up mostly of separate, silo-ed, mostly car-friendly arts towers?

Conceivably, the new plan might even call for encouraging more retail and affordable housing in the area and — while we’re wishing for ponies –the completion of the Dallas City Performance Hall, which, as originally planned, included two small black-box theaters. The lack of them has left smaller dance and theater organizations in the lurch, essentially excluded from the Arts District and keeping it a ‘Big Arts Groups Only’ neighborhood. This isn’t a matter of fairness; it reflects a serious need to bring more activity, life and diversity to an area increasingly representative of the rest of downtown: stubbornly sterile and only-for-the-wealthy. Inventive, multi-arts events like Aurora and the success of food trucks in the area have demonstrated the serious need for cross-arts planning as well as wide public interest in using the District as the Sasaki Plan intended: strolling, eating, mingling, enjoying cultural activities.

The trick will be in finding ways that urban planning can actually make this a daily or at least weekly occurrence instead of the rarity it is.

The full release:


Diverse Community Stakeholders to Provide Advice on Final Selection

The Dallas Arts District has selected four finalists in its search for an urban planning firm to design a new Community Development Plan that will update and restructure the Sasaki Plan, which has guided the district’s development since the early 1980s.

The four finalist firms are:

    • NBBJ, Boston
    • Sasaki Associates, Watertown, MA / Fregonese Associates, Portland
    • Shop Architects, New York City
    • Stoss Landscape Urbanism, Boston /Interface Studio LLC, Philadelphia

“This is a very exciting time to be in Dallas, especially with the growing and changing dynamics downtown,” said Max Anderson, Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the nonprofit Dallas Arts District organization. “These four firms seem best able to capture the vision and spirit of the Dallas Arts District, and provide a realistic and visionary platform for the decades of opportunity in front of us.”The four finalist firms will meet in Dallas August 20 with members of a diverse community advisory committee. The firms will make presentations to the group, which will then make a recommendation to the Arts District Infrastructure and Planning Committee. The Infrastructure Committee and the Arts District Executive Committee will make the final selection in late August.

Once the firm is selected, the planning process will include the cultural, business, residential, City of Dallas, artist, transportation, urban planning, educational and religious communities in and around the Arts District. This will be done within the framework of the current Downtown Dallas 360 Plan adopted by the Dallas City Council in 2013, and in conjunction with the 360 Plan update process that is currently under way.

The Sasaki Plan is currently the planning guide for the District, but is more than 30 years old and has not been updated since its creation. Important updates were recommended in a plan created by Fregonese Associates in 2007, and while accepted by the Dallas City Council, the plan never became law.

The Dallas Arts District is the largest contiguous, urban cultural district in the country and has become a cultural and economic showcase for the city attracting millions of visitors each year. The area in and around the Arts District has seen tremendous growth, especially in the last five years. The district, which is leading and wants the selected firm to create a planning foundation to continue that momentum in a way that enhances the district’s cultural assets, improves the urban infrastructure and connects with surrounding neighborhoods.

Key projects include ways to make the heavily-used Pearl Street more pedestrian and visitor friendly and finding safe connections between the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, the Arts District cultural venues and Klyde Warren Park – all major visitor attractions for Dallas.