23 November 2009

New Neighborhood Taking Shape In Old East Dallas

Dallas Morning News

When developer Mark Culwell chatted with his general contractor at the corner of Belmont and Bennett avenues a couple of years ago, the construction executive kept looking over his shoulder.

"He didn't feel safe standing here," said Culwell, senior vice president of development at United Dominion Realty.

There's no fear factor now. The jumble of run-down rental units and ramshackle houses is long gone from the Old East Dallas intersection.

In their place, developers have built an urban neighborhood that would be at home in Dallas' hot Uptown district.

So far, prospective renters don't seem to have any trouble migrating to Dallas' newest rental enclave.

"Most of them are coming from Uptown and downtown," said sales specialist Karly Kuby. "And we've had a few who are moving from out of town.

"We just moved our first resident into the project," Kuby added.

With 465 units, UDR's new Belmont apartment community occupies almost four blocks between Fitzhugh and Henderson avenues just east of North Central Expressway. Next door, another developer – Phoenix Property Co. – has just finished 182 apartments in its Eastwood on Henderson complex.

Together, the developments represent the biggest block of new housing constructed in the area in decades.

So how's all that working out with the recession?

"Our leasing traffic has been good," said Culwell, who's spent almost three years working on the project.

"We've been kind of holding our breath – it's not the perfect time of year to be opening a project like this," he said.

Or the perfect economic environment.

But on a recent Friday morning, potential tenants lined up to tour the new apartment buildings, which have the latest in architecture and – on the upper floors – killer views of downtown Dallas.

A month's rent will run between $800 and $2,000, depending on the unit's size and location.


The apartments offer three price levels of interior finish – from laminate countertops and carpet to granite in the kitchen and hardwood floors.

"So hopefully, we won't lose anyone because of our price points," Culwell said. "We want to have something for everyone."

To sweeten the deal, the landlord is throwing in a 42-inch HDTV as part of the appliance package in every unit.

"We are doing it in our apartments everywhere in the country," Culwell said. "We are buying a lot of TVs."

UDR has more than 150 apartment projects stretching across the county. Along with the Belmont project, the publicly owned developer is also building a large rental community in Addison.

To make the East Dallas project appeal to new urban residents, the developer added wide sidewalks along the streets, lush landscaping and streetside patio areas.

"This is not a retail location," Culwell said. "But we wanted to make the outside inviting and encourage people to walk. "We are just a couple of blocks away from all the new restaurant activity on Henderson Avenue," he said.

Mostly welcome

Phoenix Property's new Eastwood apartments next door are at the busy intersection of Belmont and Henderson. The seven three-story apartment buildings are designed in what the developer calls "mid-century architecture."

The first residents have already moved in.

Homeowners in the nearby Cochran Heights neighborhood between Henderson and Fitzhugh are mostly pleased with the dramatic transformation.

"The Dallas apartments have cleaned up that strip and are a nice asset to the area," said real estate agent Mitch Deshotels, immediate past president of the Cochran Heights Neighborhood Association.

Arlene Colbert, a longtime resident of the area, says the apartments are welcome for the most part.

"The apartments definitely improved the looks of the area, even though the apartment buildings are rather stark-looking," she said.

"We are worried about the traffic, particularly in the first two blocks of Henderson, east of Central.

"It is already really bad with no solution in sight."

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