Dallas has an Uptown, a downtown and a West End.
Now developers are rebranding a historic neighborhood on the east side of the central business district as the East Quarter. The name change is part of a redevelopment plan for more than two dozen historic buildings and construction sites near Deep Ellum along Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Commerce and Jackson streets.
At a groundbreaking Thursday, real estate firm Todd Interests unveiled plans for the makeover of 1920s and 1930s buildings.
“This is a neighborhood that’s been over 100 years in the making,” said developer Shawn Todd. “Some think it’s the best-kept secret in our city.”
The pie-shaped Magnolia Oil building that once housed KLIF radio is at the center of the project.
“This will be one of the finest corporate campuses in our city with views of the skyline,” Todd said.
Todd Interests plans to convert most of the 18 brick commercial buildings into a combination of office and retail space. The builder is looking at adding residential projects on some of the vacant lots included in the deal.
Todd is partnering in the development with institutional investors advised by J.P. Morgan Asset Management, the firm that owns Uptown’s landmark Crescent complex and the Trammell Crow Center skyscraper on Ross Avenue.
Dallas architect Omniplan, general contractor Andres Construction and SWA Group are all part of the planning and construction team on the East Quarter project.
Todd Interests disclosed its proposals for the area earlier this year and closed on the purchase of the properties in April.
The acquisition included about 200,000 square feet of buildings acquired from four owners.
Construction will begin immediately to renovate the first of the buildings, which originally housed automotive, manufacturing and equipment firms.
“We’ve already got two leases, and one of them is 30,000 square feet,” Todd said. “We are overrun with people and we haven’t even gone to market yet.”
Todd said he has lined up a new lease with ecommerce software firm OrderMyGear and has renewed a large office lease with marketing firm Tractorbeam.
“We fell in love with these buildings and the history,” said OrderMyGear’s James Skidmore. “We have 80 people on two floors in the building across the street, and we’ve been looking for a place to expand. We are super excited to be part of the growth of this area.”
Tractorbeam has been in a building in the district for almost 20 years. When co-founder Eric Benanti heard developers were buying up the area, he worried that they would tear everything down.
“This neighborhood is a weird part in the shadow of downtown — totally undeveloped,” Benanti said.
The developers plan to rent most of the renovated building space to creative, tech and entrepreneurial businesses.
Peloton Commercial Real Estate is leasing the office space.
“It’s not every day we get an assignment like this,” said Peloton’s T.D. Briggs. “People have driven right by these buildings for years and haven’t noticed them. That’s going to change.”
Kourtny Garrett, CEO of economic development group Downtown Dallas Inc., said the East Quarter is one of the last sections of downtown to see a rebirth.
“This is an area that has lacked that neighborhood feel,” Garrett said. “This location helps connect some of our other areas of downtown.
“Look around at where we are today and imagine what it’s going to look like.”
Garrett said the renovations of more than a dozen historic buildings in the East Quarter will enhance the planned Harwood Park to be built at Harwood and Jackson streets.
The almost 4-acre public space is being developed by Parks for Downtown Dallas and the city, and it will include preservation of several historic buildings on the blocks between Commerce Street and the Farmers Market.
“We want to make sure we do the right things with those buildings,” said Parks for Downtown Dallas’ Amy Meadows. “We are taking inspiration from what Todd Interests is doing.”
Todd Interests won’t waste any time with its redevelopment.
“All of this construction will be completed by the end of the year,” Todd said. “We are putting a couple million dollars of improvements into the streetscape out of our pockets.”