The forthcoming Harwood Park will be, in many ways, the ultimate urban neighborhood park. Historic buildings, modern amenities, and the iconic skyline will come together to create a unique public space in the center of the East Quarter District.
Real estate investment and development firm Todd Interests had a vision for the East Quarter District, and its come to rather grand fruition. We spoke with Patrick Todd, managing partner of the firm, who shared some of the history and future of this special corner of Dallas.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your firm Todd Interests.
Our firm Todd Interests has been around for 32 years; we’re a real estate and private equity company. We pride ourselves on finding deals that have a story to them, which often leads us to off-market acquisitions and means we may spend a bit more time on due diligence on the front end, than a marketed real estate deal. But in all things we do, we’re hoping to create out-of-market value for our investors.
What we’re known for specifically in Dallas as of late is urban luxury development, oftentimes adaptive reuse in nature. So that could be taking 20 buildings that are 120 years old and repurposing them. Or it could be one 60-year-old tower that’s 50 stories tall and 1 million square feet. We’ve found a lot of value opportunities in bringing things back to life that were once the cream of the crop and the crown jewel of development when they were built, but that had fallen into disrepair by no fault of the design or location of the building.
Can you tell us about how East Quarter came to be and the role Todd Interests played in its creation?
Often you think, “Hey, this could be a good area of redevelopment,” but you’re really waiting for development to come to you if it’s something on the outskirts of town. But in the East Quarter, we looked around and said, “This is really in the middle of everything that’s happening, with Deep Ellum and Farmers Market and Downtown’s renaissance.” You’re not waiting on anything to come to you; these areas are waiting on someone to connect all of them. It was just an idea that didn’t come to fruition until I joined Todd Interests a year or so later and got a call that one of the buildings might be for sale. My partner Shawn (who is also my father) started digging into it and saw there might be an opportunity. We spent two years tying up and ultimately closing on 32 contiguous properties, with 18 100-year-old buildings. The connective tissue to many of those is the site for Harwood Park which was going up for a bond vote to be funded, right when we were closing on everything.
East Quarter is a new neighborhood in Downtown Dallas, but it has a storied past. Can you tell us a little about the distinctive history of this District, and if/how it informed the new vision for the neighborhood?
It’s always been tech retail-focused, and retail has transitioned a lot over the last 100 years. The East Quarter was the automotive row for Dallas, in the 1910s and 1920s. And Cadillac, Oldsmobile, Ford – those were the leading tech companies in the 1920s. So if you think of tech retail stores today, an Apple store for example. They have magnificent LED and large panes of glass, just enduring craftsmanship that complements their product. Similarly, in the 1920s, they didn’t have LED panels or large stretches of glass but they did have excellent craftsmen. So the buildings themselves have unbelievably ornate stone carving, woodworking, brick masonry design, the original wood floors. We restored every one that we could, which is quite a few of them. Our buildings have just been dilapidated for years, but we’ve been able to bring them back to their original glory with a contemporary twist, with some new glass storefronts and things of that nature, but trying to enhance the original character, which was excellent craftsmanship and quality materials to complement the automobiles that they were selling.
Munger Cadillac (the highest grossing Cadillac dealership in the entire United States in the 1920s), their building on Commerce Street is now the home to the tech company called OrderMyGear, which is one of our tenants. And when you walk in, set in stone in the foyer is the Cadillac logo. So we’ve got ghost signs that say Oldsmobile, Automobile Clearinghouse, just all kinds of history in that respect. It’s fun to bring that back to life and really put a spotlight on it.
300 Pearl is open and residents are officially in the East Quarter. What’s on the horizon in EQ this year and beyond?
The East Quarter residences opened a couple months ago, and people are moving in daily, which is great. Our first restaurant, National Anthem, is open. Our second, Brass Ram, will open soon. We’ve got Etta from two Michelin star Chef Danny Grant opening later this summer. Park-adjacent is a building that was originally a Masonic temple, that is now an art space where they just showcased a Van Gogh exhibit, before they transition to a Frida Khalo exhibit. It’ll have another baker’s dozen exhibits roll through, so we’re excited about that long-term partnership with them to bring a museum to the area.
And if you think about the area, it’s really a neighborhood. You have a place to live, work, and break bread, a place for learning and recreation in a museum, but most importantly a place to be outside and have a common space, which is a park. We’re so fortunate to have Harwood Park there to really round out and add something that creates a neighborhood that a developer on their own could never do.
In 2020, Todd Interests and East Quarter Partners contributed $1 million to support the development of Harwood Park and name the Great Lawn. From a developer’s perspective, can you tell us about why urban parks are important for a community and what you hope to see when Harwood Park opens in 2023?
Urban parks are important in all aspects of quality of life. In all the other things we’ve talked about, you have to be in them to benefit from them. But a park you can benefit from simply by looking out your window. That’s massive from a beautification and green space standpoint. I think there are plenty of studies that talk about, if you can see natural light and see greenery that it instantly adds to your quality of life. That’s a major factor just from a visual standpoint, and then beyond that, the experiential place to be able to grab a cup of coffee and bring a book, bring a friend, bring a dog, and socialize in a green setting in the midst of a dense urban jungle is unbelievable.
You’re seeing a rise in urban families in Dallas, so a place to meet friends and have your kids have a safe, enjoyable environment to be a kid is massive as well. So the benefits of a park are literally limitless, and I think this one’s unique in that you have all these benefits, but rather than a row of suburban houses surrounding it, you have the magnificent Dallas skyline setting the backdrop to the park, which has been rated the number one skyline in the world like three times by USA Today. I don’t know that there’s a better view of the Dallas skyline than from Harwood Park.
When we look at Harwood Park, the park site was a collection of surface parking lots and vacant buildings in a historic district. The building of the park mirrors the emergence of the East Quarter: taking an area of Downtown and bringing new life to it. What do you see East Quarter and Harwood Park having in common?
They have a lot in common from a development point for sure. The potential for development is severely limited if that area remains simply parking lots and a thoroughfare rarely used by cars, and just a concrete slab. In my mind, it might be more complementary than mirroring, because we’re adding services that benefit each other. We’ve added density to an area that was a lot of parking and vacant buildings. So by adding people from sunup to sundown, (and even after sundown in residences), we now have natural inhabitants park-adjacent. It’s the Chicken or the Egg, right? If there’s no park what do those people do? But if there’s no people then what’s the purpose of the park?
Outside of the East Quarter, what’s one of your favorite places in Downtown Dallas? What areas should Dallasites explore that they might have overlooked?
I’m very biased. The National is my other favorite place in downtown, which has great restaurants, a great hotel, everything you could want. It’s really an urban resort cloaked in skyscraper form. What’s been amazing for downtown is AT&T’s World Headquarters; just the work that they’ve done to the ground plane there is absolutely fabulous. And they’ve got Jackson Beer Garden which, if you take a right out the door and walk down Jackson Street, you run right into Harwood Park. Talk about a great corporate neighbor, they’ve provided everything. We take our kids down there, the wife and I go down there for date night, we do office lunches, drinks after work…they’ve just created a wonderful environment at the heart of downtown.
How do you see Harwood Park and the Easter Quarter 10 years from now? What elements of each area will continue to grow and be part of the growing Downtown landscape?
It’s a great question. As a developer, you get so caught up on what’s happening next week, month, at most three years when the current project ends. So to sit and reflect upon what could it be in a decade? I mean, my hope in a decade is that it’s synonymous with the great parks and areas that go hand-in-hand across the country. Like Domino Park in Brooklyn; a place that’s known for quality and fun. A place where you can grab a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a donut or snow cone, and just have a breath of fresh air in the midst of the business around you.
I think you’re going to see the continued maturation of all sides of [Harwood Park], because it fronts Downtown proper on one side and the East Quarter on another, and Farmers Market on another. That mixture of neighborhoods can all funnel down into Harwood Park and bring this great diversity and vibrancy that I think would be really hard to capture in any other area of town. That confluence of all those things together, meeting in a park that’s so wonderfully well done.