Vision 2020: Deep Ellum Looks Forward

Deep Ellum's story is one of many peaks and valleys, but neighborhood stalwarts and newcomers say the Dallas neighborhood's current upswing is built to last.

For Billy Milner it was the architecture and loft-style living.

Lydia Benitez credits the live music scene.

Frank Campagna needed a place that doubled as an art-gallery and impromptu concert hall.

No matter what it was that brought them to Dallas' Deep Ellum neighborhood, they all stay for the same reason. There's no other place like it.

"You don't go to Italy to eat at Olive Garden. You don't go to New Orleans to eat at Papadeaux. If you want real Dallas culture, this is where you come. It's that simple," said Campagna, owner of Kettle Art Gallery.

As the new decade approaches Deep Ellum will continue to undergo a number of changes and face a variety of challenges related to its increased popularity and prime location near the city's urban core.

Developers are banking on an influx of new residents to fill new multi-million dollar mixed-use housing developments in the popular neighborhood.

Longtime business owners see the potential for a growing customer base - a must-have in order to survive rising rent costs that have already shuttered some businesses.

But some view the changes with trepidation. They're concerned about public safety, rising costs of living, traffic. They also worry that the hard-earned, creative, rough-around-the-edges character that the neighborhood has come to personify will be watered down. The "Uptown-ing" of Deep Ellum some call it.

"A lot of people want to experience it, and they want to live here. So, if the market can deliver more housing then more people can enjoy it," said Joe Beard, CEO of Westdale Asset Management. "There are a lot of long-term tenants down here that have been here for decades, and they haven't been run out. They're adapting, and as the neighborhood gets better and more commerce comes they benefit from it."

Westdale has been in Deep Ellum since the early 90's. The company owns hundred of apartments and more than 300,000 square feet of commercial real estate.

Westdale's current project, the Epic will be the latest mixed-use development to come to Deep Ellum. A sign of the times in a neighborhood that for decades has been on somewhat of a boom and bust cycle.

"In the 80s it was off the radar. There were a lot of things that happened then that don't happen now," Beard said.

Campagna remembers those years well, but the Deep Ellum he had come to know in the early 80s was full of activity, if you knew where to look.

"I had my first one-man art show in 1981 down here in a small gallery which is long gone. By 1982 I had an art studio that was twice the size of this space. 5,000 square feet for $450 dollars a month. I was able to paint pictures and have my friends band play on the weekend," he said.

"I had such infamous punk bands as the Butt Hole Surfers, the Dead Kennedys, Social Distortion, the Misfits, all play in my living room."

By the 90s many started taking notice of the thriving live music and art scene in Deep Ellum. Bars and restaurants flourished, but harder times were on the horizon.

The neighborhood emptied out in the 2000s before being rebuilt again. Major infrastructure improvements were made putting the neighborhood on it's current trajectory.

For business owners like Billy Milner and Lilly Benitez Deep Ellum is trending in a positive direction.

"The best thing going in is the building of more residential space. It's very much needed. I'm glad I have another source of income because on the retail side of Deep Ellum its been a slow rise," Milner said, standing behind the counter inside his Life of Reilly interior design store.

Benitez is looking forward to recruiting more students for her barber academy, but public safety concerns weigh on her mind.

"I don't think that Deep Ellum is going to be able to survive if...if people don't feel safe. My staff, my students, and my clientele need to feel safe and secure I feel everybody deserves that."

Campagna is among those who wants to see the neighborhood thrive, but often asks at what cost.

"I've seen a lot of really beautiful buildings being torn down through the years. They already took the whole block where the Epic is going up. I think it's going to squeeze Deep Ellum down to probably three streets - a three block by two block neighborhood," he said.

Milner said Deep Ellum's character is too ingrained for it to be lost.

 "I don't ever see that happening. There is too much older architecture, there's the music component, there's just a lot down here that its not going to go the way of Uptown," he said "It may go down the path of what Bishop Arts has done, but there's just too much character in all the structures down here that I just don't see that happening.

Beard said he understands those concerns, but said he's optimistic that what Deep Ellum has become won't change just because more people call it home.

"To have a sustainable community we need more residents and we need more workers in the neighborhood," Beard said.

"There are a lot of things that have come into this neighborhood that have been able to adapt and mix in. The biggest thing we want is to keep the diversity in the neighborhood diverse offerings so that everyone can enjoy it."

And if there is any doubt that Deep Ellum can hold on to its unique characteristics, Campagna said he'll be here to help make sure it does.

"I plan on sticking around and making sure it stays true to its Dallas roots," he said.

Contact Us