Starting in the 1970s the city of Dallas hired a series of consultants to determine how the city could best house its arts and cultural institutions. In 1978 the consultants recommended that Dallas take the scattered major arts institutions from across the city and move them all together. The northeast end of downtown presented itself as the best location for this new conglomerate of institutions. Soon a lively mix of cultural and commercial destinations popped up, effortlessly blending contemporary and historic architecture.
In 1984 the Dallas Museum of Art, designed by Edward Larabee Barnes, opened as the first institution in the newly made District. Through the next 20 years, the development of the Arts District continued with the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect I.M. Pei (1989); the Crow Collection of Asian Art in the existing Trammell Crow Center (1998); the Nasher Sculpture Center, designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Renzo Piano (2003) and the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, recently opening a new addition designed by Brad Cloepfil (2008). The relocation of the major art institutions was complete In 2009, with the opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center. With the openings of Dallas City Performance Hall, Klyde Warren Park and The Perot Museum of Nature and Science in 2012, the District continues to meet its goals of being a hive for artistic and educational life by encouraging each visitor to explore their creative side.
At the time of the publishing of the Sasaki Plan in 1982, the nascent Arts District Consortium positing the following objective: to create an arts district “to reflect a multinational atmosphere, and contain mixed uses—arts facilities, office, retail and residential spaces, and cultural events—and feature Flora Street as a physical and visual link within the district.”
By most measures, the Dallas Arts District has surpassed all expectations: emerging as perhaps the most pre-eminent arts district in the nation, featuring, in one place, over 15 cultural institutions of local, national and international significance. Flora Street has indeed become the physical and visual link between these institutions lining both sides of the Street, beginning at the Dallas Museum of Art and terminating at One Arts, a mixed-use complex that features housing, office and retail uses as envisioned in the Sasaki Plan.
After 35 years of growth, the Dallas Arts District has nearly reached full build-out: only a few parcels remain for development, and nearly all of the City’s cherished cultural facilities have found their way to District. The most recent additions to Dallas’s cultural scene, such as the Perot Museum, have had to find a home at the periphery of the original district boundaries. Meanwhile, the standards established in 1982 have largely fulfilled their original intent to create a unified district, with infrastructure standards that set a high bar for the quality of Flora Street as the focus for the Arts. After nearly 35 years, mixed-uses are now finding a home in the Arts District, with hundreds of residential units built and in more in the pipeline and destination restaurants finding themselves on Flora Street.
Several sections of the Sasaki Plan need to be updated. District-Wide Concepts and the Urban Design Plan sections of the Sasaki will be replaced with a new vision for the district in the 21st Century. The former recommendations for Food Service, Retail and Arts Program will not be replaced in the new plan: The Dallas Arts District now actively manages arts programming in the District and advocates for retail and food uses without the need for specific plan recommendations. The changing nature of Dallas, including Klyde Warren Park and uptown and downtown housing development has eliminated the need for such specific use recommendations, nor were such plan recommendations effective in the past. As the Dallas Arts District has matured as an organization, certain parts of the Sasaki plan are no longer required.
Several elements of the Design/Development Guidelines have simply outlived their original intent, while others have not stood the test of time. The standards for trees and paving on Flora Street, for example, have proven to be problematic for maintenance, universal access and outdoor retail uses. As a result, most of the projects approved in the last decade have requested, and been granted, changes to both of these standards. Other development standards from 1982, such as the recommended street lighting, benches and street paving specify outdated technologies and need to be updated with current standards. The street lighting, for example, needs to be converted to LED fixtures and the thin stone pavers at street crossings are a regular maintenance problem for Public Works.
The regulation of buildings heights, particularly the regulation on Flora Street, has been implemented and has resulted in a pleasant low-scale feeling that should be preserved. Likewise requirements for building transparency of the ground floor have been implemented with good results on the street. These regulations will be preserved in the new plan.
Perhaps the most problematic element of the Sasaki Plan is related not to the plan recommendations themselves, but to the process that was adopted to regulate and enforce the plan provisions. The current procedure for review of projects within the Dallas Arts District is identified in the Planned Development (PD) regulations that call for Development Plan review for all Development within the Dallas Arts District. This section will be replaced with a modified version of the City’s Urban Design Peer Review Panel process with members of the Dallas Arts District added to the panel for all projects within the boundaries of the Dallas Arts District Planned Development boundaries. The purpose of this modification is to engage earlier and more fully in peer review of all projects before they need building permit approval. It is expected that such a peer review process will streamline the building permit approval time period and avoid the frequent use of the special exception process through the Board of Adjustment. Nearly every project in the past decade has had to resort to this time consuming process in order to seek exception from the outdated regulations in the Sasaki Plan.
These are the recommendations from the Sasaki Plan to maintain:
Verdant Pedestrian Landscapes
A hierarchy of roads
There are 5 notable improvement areas for the new plan:
Arts District Development Patterns
Arts District Infrastructure
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