Dallas Tunnel Businesses Could Be Asked to Move

Proposed plan for downtown revival calls for relocation to street level

A downtown Dallas revival plan would give shops and restaurants in the tunnels three to five years to move up to the street level.

John Crawford, of Downtown Dallas Inc., a booster organization, said the proposal aims to relocate retail and, as time goes on, encourage pedestrians and visitors to move up to the street level.

The downtown tunnels expanded in the '70s and '80s with the construction of the biggest office towers on the skyline.

Crawford and other downtown boosters say the tunnels contributed to downtown's retail shopping decline. Vacant storefronts still dot Main Street and other downtown streets.

"The retail going below ground has really been a detriment to the street-level activity," said Matt Heidelbaugh, a senior director at Cushman & Wakefield.

Retail and restaurant businesses went underground for shelter from the weather and greater control of visitors.

Now, at lunchtime on the street outside the Bank of America Plaza, the city's tallest building, it's hard to tell how many people work there because so many are underground.

"You have CVS down here, a pharmacy," tunnel customer Yasmin Alvarez said. "There are restaurants, convenient stores, just a little bit of everything. It's a more comfortable scene instead of being out there on the top."

Heidelbaugh said most downtown buildings are not connected to the tunnels.

"I think retail will benefit from being on the street rather than being in the tunnel because it's going to give access to more tenants," he said.

But Kuram Taslin, who owns a gift shop in the Bank of America Plaza tunnel area, said he is happy with the customers he has and does not want to move.

"I think this is fine, because people work in the buildings," he said. "We are more convenient for them because they already work here, so it's easy for them to come down, not to go in the street."

Cushman & Wakefield manages the Bank of America Plaza but also represents clients looking for street-level space elsewhere.

It recently brokered the relocation of architect PageSoutherlandPage to what was once the banking lobby of the historic Mechantile Building on Main Street.

Mary Miano-Sleeper, the architect's vice president of business development, said the revival of street-level retail was a big factor in her company's selection of the Main Street space.

"The vibrancy on the streets -- being able to feel the pulse, look out the windows and see people walking their dogs, see people walking with strollers and enjoying the downtown experience -- brings a lot of energy to our firm, and as a design firm, we thrive on that energy,” she said.

A Dallas City Council Committee approved the "Downtown 360 Plan" last week. The city developed the plan in cooperation with Downtown Dallas Inc.

The full council is expected to vote on the proposal next month. The relocation of tunnel businesses is likely to be a topic for additional debate.

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