Time to rename Dallas’ Design District

Brewery & Design District has a nice, modern sound

Cities are complex, multifaceted, ever-evolving organisms. Rarely is a city wholly planned but instead coaxed through zoning and tax initiatives in a direction that leadership wants and that hopefully benefits local businesses and residents.

Dallas has seen many high-profile development projects in recent years but one has grown and prospered quietly under the larger public’s perception. The Design District, that industrial swath west of downtown that hugs the Trinity River and Interstate 35W, has a history that goes all the way back to before World War II. It was constructed as a public works project from an existing floodplain made habitable by several levees, and after Eisenhower’s interstate was built local real estate mogul Trammell Crow transformed it into a quiet warehouse sector. When Crow wanted to create a North Texas version of the Chicago Merchandise Mart in the 1950s, premiere market centers located along Stemmons Freeway drew galleries, showrooms and designers to the area, and the modern Design District was born.

This rough and unrefined trade neighborhood was largely overlooked until after the turn of the twenty-first century. Existing almost unchanged for decades, it saw more high-profile development take place across the highway as the American Airlines Center and Victory Park developed in an attempt to revitalize Dallas’ upper downtown and breathe new life into its Arts District. In 2002, Jim Lake Properties had the area rezoned by the City and built the first residential developments in the Design District, and in 2005 created a tax increment financing (TIF) district to take advantage of public funds for redevelopment and infrastructure. Thus, the easily overlooked industrial quarter was forever changed.

Imagine playing host to a friend or client from out of town
and showing off your lively Brewery & Design District. That’s
the type of thing that cultivates cool and gets cities noticed.

With residents came commercial businesses and the area slowly started to blossom with some featured and acclaimed restaurants, boutique stores and coffee shops. The Meddlesome Moth opened in 2010, a more refined version of local restaurateur Shannon Wynne’s Flying Saucer craft beer halls, and the Moth has since grown in prestige to assert itself as best beer bar in the U.S. in several publications. At the same time, the North Texas brewing industry broke open with multiple breweries debuting shortly thereafter, invigorating the Dallas market with a fresh taste for locally made and locally owned beer. Peticolas Brewing, just the second brewery to open in Dallas a year later as part of the latest generation of craft brewers, occupied a warehouse mere blocks from the Moth among a maze of unimproved streets.

Texas Ale Project in a brand-new, custom structure.

Texas Ale Project in a brand-new, custom structure.

Attracted by favorable zoning and affordable prices, another brewery also opened nearby. Community Beer Company took a vast commercial location directly facing the freeway and the AAC in 2013, already accumulating a wheelbarrow full of awards and with an eye for growth and enough space to accommodate. The Texas Ale Project opened as a third brewery in 2014 only blocks to the west of Community, building an elegantly industrial custom brewhouse and taproom facing not only the busy Riverfront Boulevard but also the skyline of downtown framed amid utility poles. A fourth craft brewery, Noble Rey Brewing, is also poised to open within weeks in the same area, and Oak Cliff’s lone cidery Bishop Cider Company will soon move production to a space nearby while maintaining their original commercial presence in the Bishop Arts District. More are undoubtedly in the planning stages, and this is an easy area for a new craft brewery to consider.

Still largely a warehouse neighborhood for fashion and design, the nature of the Design District is changing. Its future may continue to include the traditional lifestyle and furnishings wholesalers but these will become a diminishing component in the area’s public identity as businesses and investors take advantage of the growing retail and consumer trend. Residential properties will continue to grow, drawing more retail and consumer-based businesses such as restaurants and brewpubs, which will further draw more prospective small craft breweries to the same area. The time is right for the City of Dallas to see and to take advantage of this commercial vision and to help it along with a bit of simple marketing, not even requiring a venture that would use precious public funds or impact anyone’s tight budgetary bottom line. Private/public business is taking care of the details, so let’s rename the Design District.

Velvet Hammer is the almost the brand for Dallas beer.

Velvet Hammer is almost the brand for Dallas beer.

The growth in modern craft brewing is not the prospective bubble it was a decade ago. It is now a legitimate and stable part of the consumer local-foods sector, and conditions are ripe to capitalize on part of this nationwide swing. Create not only a destination for beer tourism by popularizing an official/unofficial locale but also incubate a creative community by drawing local brewers, beer bars and gastropubs into close proximity in an affordable, walkable environment well served by public transit. Brand this area with a public identity, not one with ties to fading businesses better characterized by distant centers of money and fashion but one with immediate references to proud and independent owners that eagerly pour tax revenue back into municipal coffers. Give the District over to — or at least share it with — the local brewers.

What form should this new, inevitable name take? Some marketing firm will undoubtedly create a better-sounding brand than we can. Certainly, one would not wish to ignore the history of the area and purge “design” from the title entirely but “brewing” should somehow be prominently incorporated into this new affiliation. Imagine playing host to a friend or client from out of town and showing off your lively Brewery & Design District. That’s the type of thing that cultivates cool and gets cities noticed.

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