A record-breaking 6,000 people committed to the Urban Land Institute mission gathered in Dallas, Texas this year for the organization's fall conference. There in October, some of the top minds in the industry discussed creative placemaking, emerging trends in cities across the country, and a keynote speech from former U.S. president George W. Bush.
ULI Kansas City members who attended the conference shared their experiences and lessons learned at a recent local chapter meeting. Moderated by Diane Burnett, the panel included Fred Merrill Jr. of Merrill Companies, Eric Bosch of the City of KCMO, Doug Stockman of el dorado inc., and Ashley Sadowski of DLR Group.
Prairiefire Developer Fred Merrill Jr. is a member of ULI's entertainment development council and has traveled to a number of cities to attend conferences throughout his 35-year career.
"The amount of perspective that the conference allows you to gain only can help us here in our own market in the Kansas City area, " Merrill said.
Doug Stockman, design partner and co-founder of el dorado, said the conferences help to bring back knowledge from around the world and apply it to our community. His practice, which focuses on urban mixed-use, has flourished under the guiding principal that every project should seek to weave together culture, community and craft.
After a guided tour of the city, Stockman was particularly enamored with Dallas' West End Historic District. The 67.5-acre district is packed full of restaurants, shops, museums and entertainment located in the northwest corridor of downtown Dallas.
According to ULI, the West End was once an entertainment and tourist mecca focused on the district’s historic brick warehouses, until newer, trendier options led to the area’s decline. Recently, proximity to the now-thriving residential areas of downtown have created a third wave of interest in this area for residential, office, and high tech, the organization says.
Ashley Sadowski, an architect with DLR Group and a co-chair of ULI Kansas City's TAP program, attended the conference as a 2016 Womens Leadership Initiative scholarship winner. Sadowski brought back stories of Trinity Groves, a retail and restaurant development west of downtown Dallas and Trinity River. The area was once neglected, until an entrepreneurial restaurant concept entered the space. Today, the area is bustling with new development as hotels, apartments, offices and restaurants flock to the scene.
"The idea was to provide the 'interesting things' and the community will follow," Sadowski said.
Another popular Dallas attraction is The Drever, the largest development project in the city's history. During the oil boom, the 52-story skyscraper became known as the home to First National Bank, the go-to place for loan-seeking investors. Today, Drever Capital Management is bringing the tower back to life with ambitious plans for the largest historical restoration project in the country. Plans call for the tower's eight acres of marble to be restored. Developers also managed to configure a 900-space parking garage within a data storage area previously full of file cabinets.
In another area of Dallas is Victory Park, a master-planned residential and commercial district surrounding the American Airlines Center.
"Plagued by heavy traffic on one-way streets and by struggling retail, Victory Park is now being revived by a new traffic pattern with bike lanes and two-way streets, wide sidewalks allowing for outdoor restaurant seating, and other amenities," ULI said.
The pedestrian-friendly sidewalks are three times the standard width in anticipation of the heavy foot traffic, designed to draw people into the surrounding stores and restaurants.
Eric Bosch, city architect at the City of KCMO, attended the conference to build upon his 25-year career in both the public and private sectors. He noted that Dallas is ahead of the game when it comes to special considerations like pets in apartments -- a seemingly irrelevant design consideration that ultimately makes a big difference to renters. Dallas developers realize this, so they put significant forethought into planning for spaces for pet grooming, pet sitting, pet shops and other amenities.
In Kansas City, Bosch would like to see a focus on the potential to connect the historic 18th and Vine jazz district to the Crossroads Arts District by building a stock of housing, retail and transportation similar to what Dallas has built.
Another conversation piece in Dallas is Klyde Warren Park, a central gathering space in the heart of Dallas.
By capping the Woodall Rodgers Freeway, developers created a new space for the 5.2-acre deck park. The deck is built across a 200-foot wide freeway, described by its engineers as "a combined bridge, park, and tunnel design all in one," D Magazine reported.
Bosch said for years, Kansas City has considered the idea of capping Interstate-670.
"We really should be looking at this again in Kansas City," Bosch said.
The group agreed on one major takeaway: that attractive public space can be an incredibly powerful tool in attracting private development.
The Urban Land Institute's 2017 Spring meeting is scheduled for May 2 to 4 in Seattle. The Fall Conference takes place in Los Angeles from October 22 to 24. For more information, click here.