Elm Street Building Revival Needs $30 Million Subsidy

A revival plan for the former First National Bank Building at 1401 Elm Street seeks a City of Dallas subsidy of $30 million.

The City Council Economic Development Committee will hear the plan Tuesday.

When it opened in 1965, the building was the city’s tallest and it's 50th floor observation deck was a big public attraction. 

But newer office buildings stole away the best tenants and the building closed in January 2010 with expensive asbestos abatement problems complicating reuse.

The building between Field, Akard, Pacific and Elm Streets sits beside a DART Rail station.

City leaders consider reviving it to be a crucial step for the vitality of the downtown area.

“It’s a big piece in the middle of the puzzle, but it also takes the public and the private partnership in order to make this work,” said Economic Development Committee Chairman Tennell Atkins.

The renovation plan calls for turning most of the office space into 520 residential units.  A portion of those dwellings would be set aside for low to moderate income families.

Also in the plans, the 50th floor observation deck would reopen to the public, a 9th floor patio would be restored to the original 1965 design and lower floors with public access would become retail shops and restaurants.

Among other things, the $30 million investment from a city tax increment finance district would help the developer handle asbestos abatement.

The remainder of the $137 million dollar project would come from private investment.

“You’ve 1.5 million square feet of office space, vacant. You’ve got remediation problems. You’ve got environmental problems. You’re trying to clean up downtown,” Atkins said.

People walking outside the building on a pleasant Labor Day afternoon had mixed feelings about the plan.

Sylvia Diaz and several of her relatives rode the DART Train from Plano for the day but found Downtown Dallas boring.

“It really is. For me, it is. I mean, we take the train from downtown Plano. That’s the more exciting thing, being on the train.”

She said the 50th floor observation deck, plus stores and restaurants, at 1401 Elm would improve the neighborhood.

“We’re kind of looking for something interesting for that. So, I hope they can open it soon,” she said.

Downtown worker Randy Franklin questioned the wisdom of a city investment in more retail and residential units in a slow economy if private investors have not already found a market for those things.

“That’s not where I’d put the money,” he said.

Atkins said the renovation would not happen without help from the city.

“Downtown is our core asset.  If we do not protect our core asset, how can you protect the outer part of the city?” Atkins said.

The full Dallas City Council is expected to vote on the partnership by the end of September.

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