What Will We Build?

DFW 2020

Though the skylines of Dallas and Fort Worth don't carry the iconic weight of New York, Hong Kong, or Tokyo, to the locals who see Reunion Tower's lighted globe twice a day on the multi-mile commute, it's home. Hard to think it'll ever change, even 10 years down the line.

That's what experts at the Dallas-based Beck Group think as well. More than a construction company, the Beck Group includes designers, financial planners, and project managers in addition to their building services for clients all over the nation. While interviewing with Managing Directors Larry Wilson and Mike Webster, we got the feeling that while many things would change as we build the structures of the next decade, most of the unique elements of the Metroplex will stay at the forefront of construction, planning, and design.

Over the last two years, real estate has taken a huge hit -- that's obvious in the number of residental foreclosures and lease defaults -- and even a decade from now, those effects will be felt.

"It could take three to five years to recover," said Wilson. Before new businesses will build, he mentions, current vacancies -- plus some sure to come in the near future -- will have to be filled. Think back 10 years to Deep Ellum or the West End; both had businesses with strong support, now both have space that needs to be filled.

Financing is another pressure. With banks and lenders unlikely to take huge financial risks, repurposing the already existing real estate is key for new and expanding businesses. Another problem foreseen by experts is the strong possibility of local banks failing if more businesses go under in the next few months. Wilson believes many real estate financers may default if they don't restructure and reposition in the next five years.

Webster cautions that real estate moves in "10 year cycles," which means many professionals in the industry have experience with this re-adjustment period.

Adjustment in construction and renovation is another big change, specifically toward energy-efficent "green" buildings.

In the conversion of buildings to LEED standards, Webster said there has been remarkable acceleration of interest and capital from private enterprise. He suggests LEED buildings will be the norm, if not mandatory in just a decade. Higher "green" standards, like those mandated for buildings in Europe, could be seen in America by the end of 2020; especially if the government provides increased tax credits or other incentives.

Already, the change is happening as businesses attempt to use more natural light, apply new building "skins" made from better insulating materials, and install more energy-efficent air conditioning or lighting systems.

"There's no doubt we'll have smarter, greener buildings," Webster said.

One major project for Dallas currently in development would create a completely sustainable city block on the site of a old parking lot near City Hall. The concept (which we've featured here) would collect rainwater, wind power, and provide space for gardening -- all in the middle of the urban sprawl. If successful, Dallas would be the first city to have a sustainable city block.

Webster also mentions the increase in the use of local materials for building construction. Not only does the practice of using local materials show pride in the area's resources, it's saving companies money that would have been spent on transportation. In turn, shorter transportation routes leads to less pollution, making it better on the enviroment. Structures like the new Dallas Science and Nature Center will utilize both local materials in it's construction, plus local vegitation for the landscaping. Other projects, including the Fort Worth Museuem of Science and History, have already been completed using recycled local materials including 5,148 tons of concrete.

There's a reason the adage "Location, Location, Location" is so important to real estate; even while our transportation abilities increase over the next ten years, more and more people are looking to move into walkable, closely packed urban centers. Urban centers like Keller, we mean.

Though Webster and Wilson believe more young people will return to the city centers of Dallas and Fort Worth, they also see a continuing rise in the construction of "town center" concepts in suburban areas. Mixed-use properties that include retail, dining, and residential spaces are likely to increase as businesses try to capture sales with convenience services. These centers could also be entertainment hotspots as suburban residents may not want to travel to the once happening districts in Dallas or Fort Worth.

Amongst the "greener, smarter buildings" and "urban centers," the Metroplex has potential for a few more landmark buildings beyond the recently completed Dallas Center for the Performing Arts complex.

Creatively designed facilities like theaters, music halls, and convention centers "will likely only be for special purposes," Wilson believes. Many landmark structures are already in the plans for many suburban cities, with some places, like Irving, already building to bring more visitors to the area. Entertainment centers, like the ones recently completed in McKinney and Allen, are also being developed.

Home construction will continue to stall as financing options are sorted out, leading to a possible shortage in new home inventory for the next few years. Once the money flows again, we can expect currently outlying suburban areas like Celina to grow exponentially, adding thousands of homes to the landscape.

With no geographic inhibitor to stop urban sprawl, the Metroplex will likely continue to expand as more than one million people are expected to pour into the area in the next decade. Sprawl may dictate the next site for architectural innovation and new construction methods may be on land relatively untouched since this area was settled, instead of amid our concrete jungle.

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