18 June 2010

Obit: M. Tom Lardner

The Dallas News

Dallas developer turned blighted area into Uptown

M. Tom Lardner had the inspiration for Dallas' Uptown neighborhood more than 30 years ago – when it was just a blighted area north of the central business district.

He was running a Chicago-based real estate investment firm when he first saw the potential of a high-density residential and commercial development here. In 1978, he moved to Dallas.

After nearly a dozen years of advocacy and many land transactions, he began to see his dream take shape with the construction of a 130-unit luxury apartment building, the first of many.

Mr. Lardner, 67, died May 24 of a heart attack while visiting Positano, Italy.

Visitation will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Sparkman/Hillcrest Funeral Home in Dallas.

A Mass will be celebrated for Mr. Lardner at 10 a.m. Friday at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe in downtown Dallas.

Mr. Lardner was what a good developer ought to be, said Trammell Crow Jr.

"He had a vision, not just for a profitable, long-term real estate project, but he really knew what he was doing," Mr. Crow said. "He knew full well that it would transform the central business district."

Mr. Lardner purchased much of the land roughly bounded by McKinney Avenue, Pearl Street, Hall Street, Woodall Rodgers Freeway and North Central Expressway. He also worked with city officials to create a tax increment financing district that paid for street and other infrastructure improvements.

The State-Thomas area of Dallas, where the Uptown development started, is now the most densely populated part of the city, officials said.

Mr. Lardner "was a serious, caring man who enjoyed life," Mr. Crow said.

Roger Staubach was a partner with Mr. Lardner in Uptown's first luxury apartment development, the Meridian building, which started in 1990.

"Tom will be missed – he was a great visionary," Mr. Staubach said.

Although Mr. Lardner is best-known for the role he played in Uptown, he remained civic-minded, through efforts that included his support of Texas Business for Clean Air, Mr. Crow said.

"TXU was trying to get permits for 11 coal-fired plants all at one time," Mr. Crow said.

Mr. Lardner was one of the first of about 10 major Dallas business leaders who opposed the fast-tracking of the coal-fired plants, Mr. Crow said. The group was concerned that the electric-generating plants would hurt North Texas' air quality.

"Perhaps more than any other member, he helped us with strategy, with contacts in Austin and with other business people," Mr. Crow said.

Mr. Lardner was born in Port Huron, Mich., and graduated from Barbour Hall Junior Military Academy in Kalamazoo, Mich., and Campion Jesuit High School in Prairie du Chien, Wis.

He attended the University of Detroit, now the University of Detroit Mercy, on a football scholarship. He received a bachelor's degree in business from Michigan State University, which he attended after the University of Detroit ended its football program.

Mr. Lardner later earned a master's degree in education from Michigan State.

He was a football coach and history teacher at St. Gabriel High School in East Lansing, Mich., before beginning his real estate career.

Mr. Lardner founded Lehndorff USA in Chicago and later moved the real estate investment and management company to Dallas, where it grew to have 700 employees while managing more than $3.8 billion of property.

The Meridian was the first test case in Uptown.

"That was to prove there was a market," said his son Colin Lardner, who followed in his father's real estate footsteps. "People were afraid at that time to do any investment, because of what had happened in the '80s."

In addition to his son, Mr. Lardner is survived by his wife, Ann Lardner of Dallas; another son, Eric Lardner of Dallas; and two brothers, Patrick Lardner of Port Huron, Mich., and Jim Lardner of Washington, D.C.

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