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