After more than 10 years of darkness, white light bars that run down the sides of a landmark downtown high-rise returned Wednesday night.
The 52 story First National Bank Building was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River when it opened in 1965. Those lights were the distinctive feature on the Dallas skyline before the green outlined Bank of America Plaza or Reunion Tower.
“My generation doesn’t know this building as it lights up, right? It’s been vacant for so long. So, we tested the lights the other day and it makes it look like a brand new, class A building. It’s phenomenal,” said Philip Todd with development firm Todd Interests.
The firm is nearing completion of a $450 million renovation project on the building that has been closed for more than 10 years.
The building has been renamed “The National” as a tribute to the original tenant. It is the last of 42 Downtown Dallas buildings that were vacant 20 years ago.
The building was dwarfed by others on the skyline over the years, but it still occupies a key location on the whole city block bounded by Akard, Elm, Ervay and DART rail tracks.
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“When you've got an entire city block that is empty and vacant it sure is an eyesore,” said marketing director Shalisha Perry with the business group Downtown Dallas, Inc.
Downtown boosters have been very anxious to see life return to the long-dormant spot at the center of downtown.
“The National is also significant because it connects many neighborhoods in downtown,” Perry said.
In addition to renovated office space, the finished project will include 324 apartments, a 219-room boutique hotel, three restaurants and ground-level stores with a wide landscaped sidewalk.
“Really the goal is a great walkable, urban environment and we're super excited about that,” Todd said.
A 9th-floor amenity deck with a swimming pool and a 50th-floor observation deck are also included in the 1.5 million square foot building.
Todd Interests is the latest of a string of developers to tackle the job. The firm is finishing it amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has many people staying at home.
“We’re trying to do everything in a best of class manner,” Todd said. “It’s been a constant internal topic of discussion on how we’re operating and how we’re cleaning.”
Completing the project involved removing and replacing 30,000 pieces of marble. Some had fallen off. It was a threat to people on the street. Exterior pieces were sliced thin and reattached more securely with aluminum backing material.
“So now the building will withstand for its eternity without having the issue that you would have had previously,” Todd said.
Downtown Dallas Inc will move its headquarters to The National.
“That brings our safety patrol and our management office all under one roof so we're really excited for that,” Perry said.
The lights Wednesday night are a small step toward reopening of the landmark structure scheduled in the weeks and months to come.
“We hope this is something people will look forward to,” Todd said.
Apartment leasing is about to begin with the first units available at the end of September. Retail space should open in November. The first Thompson hotel in Texas is also due to open this fall.
The City of Dallas provided $50 million worth of incentives which are mainly payable after all the work is done.