No Pictures, No Floor Plans

Today we wrapped up a project that can’t be shown, located, or otherwise graphically communicated.

Sounds so hush hush!

The project is a securely designed facility for the discussion and storage of classified material.  Even though the facility is quite small there is a significant amount of coordination to separate the building’s systems, acoustics, and telecommunications to several layers of government standards.  The accreditation process will still take some time, but for the design and construction part, we are done, other than some documentation requirements.

So instead of a new picture of completed work, I’ll put up another “on the boards” image – these projects are still very much under development, and therefore I can’t be very up front about the details.  However, it is a privilege to work on projects like this.

Why visuals are important

In the first year of opening Greenlight, we started two zoning cases: one that was drawn and out successful, and one that went rather poorly.  As these cases progressed, I learned a lot about how the process has changed over time, and how to work with communities who, in the areas we serve, are more engaged than ever.

This engagement has affected the way we handle the process.  In the past, many city staff members ask us to do the bare minimum – this is a service to the developer, giving the team the freedom to develop design after the entitlement process is done, minimizing high costs of completing a detailed level of design before anyone knows if the project can even be built on the property in question.

So, for quite a while, city staff and planning and zoning commissions, who are trained in this process, helped us with very simple site plans, lot lines, and setbacks.  The planned developments in the City of Dallas is a good example (and easily accessible here).  There may be a detail of a property entrance, the metes and bounds of the property, and limitations on use – and sometime some architectural guidelines.

This type of document, along with appropriate documentation including narrative on use and parking, was more typical of everything one would submit for a zoning case.  This example was pulled for the Dallas City Attorney Site and was prepared by Good Fulton & Farrell (I have it on file because we were interested in buying the site).

This vague documentation is starting to become rare.  In some cities, the process requires a site plan approval even if the use isn’t changed.  In these cases, site plan approval, which sounds like you just need a site plan, is rather detailed – they require elevations, landscape plans, and sometimes fully engineered drawings.  Although these are quite detailed and require a substantial amount of work and cost, it has become obvious to me that it is still not enough once the project emerges from the weeds of the city planners and engineers.  Because it then becomes open to the public.  And the public, most times, wants not only to see what is going on, but wants to be actively involved. 

City councilmembers and the public in general want to know some simple questions – what will it look like?  Does it fit in our context and community?  Will it make our community better?


Something like this may provide a little more data.

These questions need to be answered without the need of a degree in urban planning.  So, I started updating how we do visualizations.  Our projects – particularly ones that go through an entitlement process – don’t just show the site, but how it relates to the buildings, public network, and green network around it.  Although the concept isn’t novel, the process needs to be applied to more and more projects.

Quality of graphics are important.  Even if the spirit of the project is in line with the community, one distracting detail can blow out of proportion and spread misinformation.

How a 250 unit complex would fit in an existing mixed use plan.

We started studying how larger urban planners handle these challenges on large scales and mimic the approach on our smaller projects.  After working on a few planning projects, I’ve settled on a graphics style for Greenlight – at least for now.  This style looks like the cool little models of days gone by – and they make me think of the old HO scale train models.  These finished contextual physical models can cost anywhere from $30,000-$60,000, which is why we don’t see many of them anymore.  With our investments in workflow and different layers of software, the entire process is MUCH faster and cost effective.  I also like to show the trees in autumn, well, because I think they’re beautiful.

A mixed use entertainment project I was pitching for Trinity Groves years ago.  I got a wild hair one afternoon and decided to play with updating the visuals.


Tyler Adams

What is a Catalyst Project?

This is an excerpt (with some additional background) from a presentation I gave to The Real Estate Council.  Our team, including representatives of Bank of America, Chase, Crow Holdings, Gensler, O'Brien Architecture, 42 Real Estate, Cassidy Turley, Marvin Poer & Co., Munsch Hardt, and Key Bank, put together an amazing presentation.

Catalyst projects can be risky, but more often than not in the long run they are great successes if well thought out and timed correctly (you know, because that's easy).  I have talked with institutional developers about being a catalyst, and my favorite quote is from one of the largest in Dallas: "you know, pioneers  end up with arrows in their backs.  I'm a settler, and I'm good with that."

Although you can't argue with that, especially given their success, for an area to actually change there someone has to author that one thing that gets it started.  Our team came up with several case studies on catalyst projects in multiple American cities, and one that caught my eye was West Village on the north end of Uptown.

Before West village was built, the area was, frankly scary.  I know this because when I started high school, I was taking the DART bus system to school.  The route system wasn't as straightforward as it is now, and I ended up having to go out of the way and stand around at a stop next to a 7-11 at McKinney and Blackburn (the Albertson's Site).  Looking back at those days, all I remember was North Dallas I high School, that 7-11, tumbleweeds, and apprehension.  I don't know how real the tumbleweeds were, but... That's how I remember it.

The area was north of State Thomas, which was already coming into its own.  To the east across the highway, development at Citiplace had stalled, to the west was the turtle creek area and some low rise multifamily, which had a solid border of the Katy line.  To the north was McKinney Avenue, which for the most part was mature and built out.  The West Village site was smack-dab in the middle of no-man's land.

I'm not old enough to know the story about how this deal was finally put together and financed, but visually the effects were staggering.  There were some external influences: Central Expressway was rebuilt, and the Katy line was converted into a great pedestrian trail, removing a hard line border from turtle creek and converting it into an amenity. With these improvements, West Village was timed perfectly, although it ended up opening right at the beginning of the tech recession in 2001. However, with its mix of anchor tenants, most importantly, as it has been pointed out to me, included entertainment (the Magnolia Theater), the project remained successful even with some struggling tenants.  One of the driving factors?  People wanted to live there.  People wanted to be in the middle of action.  It seemed like a big paradigm shift from traditional real estate in Dallas, but it worked, and it has worked repeatedly.

Below are the images I used in the presentation, and I flipped through them in succession a few times.  Over almost 15 years, the affects on real estate and quality of life in Urban Dallas have been incredible and the satellite images speak for themselves.

Happy Impacting.

 - Tyler Adams

West Village Site, 1995

West Village Site, 1995

West Village, 2001

West Village, 2001

West Village, 2003

West Village, 2003

West Village 2007

West Village 2007

West Village 2013

West Village 2013

Its game time.

This weekend wasn’t really about a football game for Greenlight.  Rather, this weekend, our new website was launched.

Not that this is earth shattering.  But, the move from a blog to a legitimate website was a step that took some time to make.  It also took us a little time to get together a little story to tell.

At this point the company is on the cusp of getting several ground up projects under construction, and our first interiors project – the Food Pantry and Kitchen at City Square’s opportunity Center – is receiving its final inspections this week.  We finally have pictures to show, and very little of it uses past experience as a crutch. 

This website is intended to be just a simple representation of the work we do.  This blog, to those who actually dig enough into the website to look at it, will - over time - tell our story in (more or less) real time. The News tab will continue to help keep contractors, subcontractors, and the media up to date on projects.  And as we continue to build, so will the projects here.  But the design intent of this site is to reflect how we do business: just keep it simple.