By STEVE BROWN Real Estate Editor
Published: 04 April 2013
Downtown Dallas’ art deco Lone Star Gas buildings have been overlooked landmarks. While other historic structures along Main and Commerce streets have been redone in recent years, the former utility buildings on the southeast side of downtown have languished.
But now developers are finally ready to turn the 80-year-old office buildings into 123 loft apartments.
The folks with Hamilton Properties and partner Central Dallas Community Development Corp., which will soon begin the $29 million project, admit that it’s taken awhile to get off the ground.
“We started working on this in 2009 at the height of the financial meltdown,” developer Ted Hamilton said. “You wouldn’t think it would take us five years to get it done.
“The financing on this one was the hardest yet.”
Hamilton Properties just received loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that will allow the project to start.
The company has already redeveloped an adjoining 12-story building constructed in 1979, converting the offices at St. Paul and Jackson streets into 107 rental units for low- and moderate-income residents.
“We leased it up in two months with no advertising,” Hamilton said.
The second phase of redevelopment of the Lone Star Gas properties will include the buildings constructed in 1924 and 1931. A 1960s office building on the back will be repurposed into a 200-space parking garage.
“I think this one will have the biggest impact yet on downtown,” Hamilton said.
The developers hope the refurbished Lone Star Gas buildings will help link downtown’s revitalized Main Street district with new projects going up in the Farmers Market area.
Dallas officials are relieved to see life added to the offices, which have been empty since utility Atmos Energy vacated the properties almost 10 years ago.
“Anytime a historic building is adapted to a new use and filled with people, that’s good news for downtown Dallas,” said Mark Doty, the city’s historic preservation officer. “I think this will be a linchpin to help with the continued revitalization of the east end of downtown.
“Those are great buildings.”
Designed by the noted Dallas architecture firm of Lang & Witchell, the stone and brick office buildings were enlarged and modified over the years.
The oldest building, at the corner of Wood and Harwood, started out with just four stories. Six more floors were added in 1927.
When the gas company ran out of space there, it built a larger, $800,000 office building next door and connected the two.
When the 12-story Lone Star Gas Co. building opened in 1931, it was hailed as “the largest building in the Southwest devoted exclusively to the natural gas industry.”
The exterior of the tower was embellished with art deco stone and terra cotta decorations.
Inside, the main lobby is a marble and terrazzo art deco palace where gas company customers lined up to order service or pay their bills.
Unfortunately, much of the decorative bronze architectural detailing in the lobby was removed over the years or ripped out by scavengers. A colorful painted ceiling was covered in acoustical tiles.
The interiors of both of the old buildings were pillaged by metal thieves and are buried in debris.
Hamilton Properties plans to restore the lobby ceiling and some other architectural details.
Dallas architect Merriman Associates is handling design.
“The outside of the buildings are very special,” said company founder Jerry Merriman. “It’s one of the few buildings like that we have left in Dallas.
“It will be a great space when it’s through.”
Construction will take more than a year.
Hamilton Properties is the most experienced redeveloper of old downtown Dallas buildings.
The company’s renovation credits include the Davis Building on Main Street, Dallas Power & Light buildings on Commerce Street and the Aloft Hotel near the Dallas Convention Center. The hotel was originally a Santa Fe Railroad freight warehouse.
“They are all their own thing when it comes to redevelopment,” said partner Larry Hamilton. “You try to go with the rhythm of the building.”
The apartment redevelopment gets a head start thanks to work Hamilton Properties did on the $16 million first phase next door. That project includes an outdoor swimming pool, park area and recreation space, which will be shared with tenants in the next buildings.
“That space was planned to be large enough and nice enough for the entire project,” Hamilton said. “The first phase was done under budget and ahead of time.”
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