Reimagining Downtown Dallas

Assessing the Impact of Vincent Ponte's Tunnel System Plan on Downtown Dallas

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Last year, Downtown Dallas Inc President & CEO John Crawford and DDI Board Chair Shelle Sills, hosted 1,500 guests at the DDI 2011 Annual Meeting held at the Fairmount Hotel. At the meeting, Crawford and consultants Daniel Eacofano and Chris Beynon presented the 360 plan highlighting some of the key elements such as proposed changes in downtown transit, the beautification of publc areas, the creation of a viable and active downtown residential neighborhood focused on affordable housing, and creating a more modern urban design to support street level retail businesses among other things. The plan represents a tremendous effort by DDI to create a plan to revitalize downtown Dallas.

In order to build a viable street level retail presence downtown requires, among other things, the systematic elimination of retail businesses in the tunnel system. There was a time when City fathers, looking for a way to stem the decline in the downtown Dallas business district, turned to Vincent Ponte, a Montreal-based planner. Ponte unveiled a master plan to create underground malls and walkways, introducing a massive amount of underground retail space serving a dwindling downtown population. The plan also included re-routing streets so that a commuter from the suburbs could enter an office building on one-way streets, eat, work and shop in the tunnels and then leave downtown via one-way streets. People embraced the tunnels, and what transpired was an acceleration in retail store and restaurant closings.

Retail real estate broker Jack Gosnell was on hand when Ponte presented his audacious plan and describes the unintended consequences that accelerated the decline of downtown Dallas. Gosnell is a terrific storyteller, and he does not disappoint here. He also correctly points out that the tunnels are part of us - we created them. So what do we do with the tunnels in the context of the 360 plan? Can the tunnels play in the revitalization of downtown Dallas? We welcome your comments.

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