Chi-Town Disses the Big D

Chicago Tribune's architecture critic says Dallas Arts District lacks street life

By Ashanti Blaize
|  Wednesday, Mar 23, 2011  |  Updated 10:15 PM CDT
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Ashanti Blaize,

The Chicago Tribune's architecture critic says the Dallas Arts District lacks street life.

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It's supposed to be the crown jewel of art and architecture in Dallas, but the Dallas Arts District is catching some heat from the Chicago Tribune.

The newspaper's architecture critic, Blair Kamin, had praise for the buildings in the AT&T Performing Arts Center but questioned the decision to concentrate everything into a 19-block area instead of spreading things out the way cities such as Chicago do.

"... Despite its impressive architectural firepower, the Dallas Arts District can be an exceedingly dull place," he wrote in his article, which was also posted to his Cityscapes blog.

The Dallas Arts District does not have a lot of street life when there are no performances, and the district doesn't have many restaurants, businesses or residences, he said.

Real estate agent Mark Wolfe has taken dozens of his fellow agents on walking tours of the city's hot spots for last 18 years, and the Dallas Arts District is always on his list.

"It's a work in progress, but it's phenomenal," he said. "This is the largest arts district in the United States, and it's evolving and growing."

It's clear from the construction up and down Flora Street near Routh Street that the Dallas Arts District is in transition.

"I like to say we're 30 years into a 50-year plan," said Veletta Lill, Dallas Arts District executive director.

She said she couldn't be happier with how far the area has come.

"We already have a lot of activity around here," Lill said. "We do about a million and a half visitors a year."

She said the Kamin's criticism of the area was a shock.

"I think the first reaction was, 'Look, you're taking a snapshot in time and making decisions about an area that is under change,'" she said. "It's evolving."

Lill said she hopes Kamin will take a step back and let the Dallas Arts District grow into what the city envisioned.

"Cities like Chicago and New York are indeed older cities, and they've had time to fill in those spaces, which we are still in the process of doing," she said.

Kamin did write that any criticism of the district "must be accompanied by a large asterisk" because the district and the area around it are not completed. He said completion of the Woodall Rodgers deck park could help liven the area, and more housing could also increase foot traffic.

Brad Henry, manager of the restaurant Screendoor, has seen the district's evolution firsthand.

"You're starting to see more foot traffic," he said. "It's starting to be more visible as all the theaters are putting on different productions."

In 2012, the Dallas Arts District will look much different.

The Woodall Rodgers deck park is scheduled to open next year, along with the City Performance Hall.

Trolley service on McKinney in uptown will even expand to the area. Lill said those developments will add to the traffic in the Dallas Arts District for years to come.

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