January 3, 2019

DOWNTOWN, GOING UP

The Joule celebrates a decade on the rise

In celebration of The Joule’s 10th anniversary, we take a look back at the rebirth and renewal it has spurred in the heart of downtown Dallas. 

In 2001, Dallas city planners got a wake-up call. Despite much courting, the city lost out on a major bid for Boeing’s corporate headquarters. “Boeing said—very publicly—the reason they didn’t choose Dallas is because we had a dead downtown that lacked culture,” says Downtown Dallas Inc. President and CEO Kourtny Garrett. “It was an awakening that we had to do something.”

As bustling as Main Street is today, it’s hard to imagine this busy block with deserted sidewalks and shuttered buildings. However, that was very much the case a decade ago. A once-thriving hub of banking, insurance, and fashion retail, downtown flourished through the ’80s. But as the 20th century drew to a close, the city center was a very different neighborhood, far from its former glory.

“I’ve been working around downtown since 1990,” says John Sughrue, who co-founded the Dallas Art Fair in 2008. “Back then, people would claim downtown Dallas was the next Detroit. I remember walking from the site of the Art Fair on Ross Street to Main Street before The Joule opened and there were patches of the urban fabric so torn up I felt unsafe.”

As suburbs and malls lured residents away, only the Neiman Marcus flagship (established 1907) remained—a lone beacon in a concrete desert. “I remember coming to Dallas in the ’70s and downtown was pretty vibrant, but by the time I moved here in 1991 it was fallow,” says Neiman Marcus Vice President of Communications Jennifer Lassiter. “People would work here, but there was a mass exodus at rush hour.”

For entrepreneur and real estate developer Tim Headington, the opportunity to bring empty streets back to life had a personal connection. “Growing up, I looked forward to going downtown,” he recalls. “As an adult, I felt a sense of sadness seeing this once-lively area become so desolate.”

And so with the purchase of a vacant neo-Gothic landmark on Main Street (former home of the Dallas National Bank), Headington Companies embarked on a decade-long saga of permits, development deals, and renovation setbacks—all part of its quest to reinvent the area into a shopping and dining hub. “Restoring some of the iconic buildings and developing the neighborhood isn’t just about a long-term investment for me,” says Headington. “It’s also about building up the city of Dallas for the future.”

The first project to come to fruition was The Joule. Aptly named after the international unit of energy, it brought a much-needed charge to downtown Dallas when it opened in 2008. In its first expression, it was a 129-room boutique hotel with a restaurant and lounge. Four years later, as adjacent buildings became available, The Joule underwent a two-year expansion that included ballrooms and meeting spaces, a rooftop terrace, VITAL Fitness Studio, the 8,000-square foot subterranean spa, and CBD Provisions. (Additional restaurants Americano and Mirador followed, along with Weekend Coffee and Midnight Rambler, an internationally lauded cocktail bar.) “The Joule oozes class, while having a considered yet distinctive personality and vision,” wrote David Whitley in The National. “It’s somewhere that wants to be not just a part of Dallas’ future, but to play a key part in shaping it.”

Then came the retail surge. Traffic LA, Tenoversix, The TASCHEN Library, and Forty Five Ten have transformed Main Street into a major shopping destination. “With such established clientele in Los Angeles, opening a location in Dallas was a leap of faith,” says Traffic LA owner Michael Moldovan. “But with Headington Companies’ vision and the sheer density of businesses planned for this block, we believed we’d be able to build the same following here, too.”

The Joule and Traffic LA on Main Street, before and after the renovations

In its creation, The Joule provided a haven for a bit of Dallas history. Tim Headington rescuced more than 70 mosaics crafted by artist Millard Sheets from downtown’s former Mercantile Bank to adorn the public spaces and ballrooms of the hotel.

“The preservation of those beautiful mosaics and the sensitivity to the cityscape is really important,” says Lassiter. “It takes visionaries who understand the past but keep looking into the future to create something like that.”

Sughrue, who cites The Joule’s sponsorship of the Dallas Art Fair as a key component to its success, says, “I would compare The Joule to the Nasher Sculpture Center. I used to introduce it as ‘The Miracle on Main Street.’ Not only did Headington Companies refurbish the building, but with the art collection, it is helping Dallas become a cultural center.”

As necessity is often the mother of invention, the needs of The Joule inform the future Headington Companies’ businesses that will surround it. To supply the growing portfolio of restaurants with house-made breads, pastries, pastas, and meats, the team turned a vacant building on the corner of Field and Main into Commissary, an underground butcher shop, offsite kitchen, and street-level café. It’s also a work of art. The blue-tile mosaic, created by Jorge Pardo and fabricated by Guadalajara-based Cerámica Suro, is a lively addition to the block.

“We try to create businesses that add value to our existing assets, while at the same time filling holes in the Downtown Dallas experience,” says Headington Companies’ President Michael Tregoning. “We strive to create and develop projects that are unique, grounded in art/design, and express modern urbanism as we see it. It’s an approach that has been successful and one we feel will fuel growth in Downtown Dallas for years to come.”

More corporations are saying ‘yes’ to downtown; design firm The Beck Group and hedge fund Maverick Capital are among those who’ve made the move this year. AT&T, which sponsors the Performing Arts Center in the nearby Arts District, is evolving its four-block campus on Commerce into the “Discovery District” complete with a restaurant, a two-story food hall, performance spaces, and a Times Square-style video wall. “We’re very deliberate and watch the trends with Headington Companies and our surrounding neighbors,” says Angela Ross, who handles external and legislative affairs for AT&T. “This side of downtown needs to be a destination like the Arts District, so we thought we could contribute, too, and help make it a complete neighborhood.”

In the public sector, four new parks are slated after city voters approved a $1.05 billion bond package last year. (Ground has already been broken on a new 3.4-acre park, Pacific Plaza, just blocks away from The Joule.)

“When you go to any of your favorite cities, you go downtown because it’s unique to anywhere else,” says Garrett. “Five new hotels and more than 30 restaurants have opened in the past year, and there are more to come. This is a moment when all the stars are aligning. We believe The Joule and its family of properties served as a real catalyst for that and are leading the way.”

The next boom will be a residential one. According to Downtown Dallas Inc., the population had dipped below a couple hundred at one point. Now there are more than 11,000 people living downtown. Four major high-rise developments are in the works, and Headington Companies is joining the effort by renovating the 20-story building on Main Street currently known as the Davis Building. Built in 1926 as the Republic National Bank, it was converted to retail spaces and loft-style apartments in 2003. Dallas architect 5G Studio (who also built Commissary) is the new project’s architect.

But wait, there’s more. In addition to a retail space, a new restaurant on Main Street is in the works. And with nearly 10 acres of undeveloped land at the corner of Ross and Field, there’s no signs of stopping on the horizon.