Dallas Morning News
August 14, 2003
By Steve Brown, Real Estate Editor
Dallas Morning News
About two dozen fashion wholesalers have leased space in downtown Dallas to create an apparel showroom center.
The group, called the Fashion Industry Guild, will take about a third of the recently renovated Southwestern Plaza office building at 1807 Ross Ave.
The leases represent one of the largest industry expansions in years for the central business district. Some of the showrooms will be new to Dallas, but most are relocating from the Dallas Market Center on Stemmons Freeway.
Developer Brook Partners- which owns the building that formerly housed Southwestern Life Insurance Co. – plans to have the first phase of the 100,000 square foot apparel mart open by January.
“This is a whole industry that’s coming to downtown- not just another tenant,” said Brook Partners CEO John Sughrue. A group of showroom owners began scouting the downtown area for a new location moths ago. Their earlier plan to move into the historic Mercantile National Bank fell through.
Now the same group, plus a few others have signed on in Southwestern Plaza and plan to create a small, independent apparel mart.
“We will be the boutique hotel version of the fashion market center.” Mr. Sughrue said.
Federico Mariel, who’s operated is fashion showroom at the Dallas Market Center for 18 years, said the independent showrooms want to broaden the options for retail buyers who visit Dallas.
“We’re going to offer a different shopping experience and attract the same buyer” as the Dallas Market Center, Mr. Mariel said.
The 23 showrooms will show dozens of fashion lines including Trina Turk, Tracy Reese, Rebecca Bruce, Tommassini, Puma, Ya-Ya, Me & Ro, Wasabi, Hat Attack, Vitamina Jeans, Central Park West, Nicole Miller and Tommy Bahama.
Mr. Sughrue said his firm is negotiating with an additional 10 to 20 showrooms that have expressed an interest in the building.
Peter Rauch, who represents the Tommy Bahama apparel line, said that a second fashion mart should bring more buyers to Dallas, just as a similar concept has done in Los Angeles.
“The biggest challenge for the independent showrooms in this business is the ubyers have so many opportunities. Mr. Rauch said. “There’s New York, and L.A. and Chicago, Atlanta, and Las Vegas.
“Our goal today is try to win more of them back to Dallas by offering something different he said.”
The showroom operators said their decision to set up a small fashion mart shouldn’t be characterized as a revolt from the much larger Dallas Market Center.
“This core group started looking months ago,” said showroom owner Suzanne Collier. “We needed a better venue because our buyers were going elsewhere to shop. We needed to give them something new.”
The location of the Southwestern Plaza building- between the Fairmont Hotel and the Dallas Museum of Art – is a radical change from the Stemmons Freeway locale of the current wholesale district.
“It was the location and the quality of the space- more than anything- that convinced this group to make the move,” said Lyle Burgin of Brook Partners.
Brook Partners began redeveloping the 1807 Ross building three years ago with an eye toward turning it into a high-tech center.
When the dot-com and telecom market burned out, the owners converted the five-level building into multi-use office space. About two-thirds of the building will still be used for general office tenants.
The new fashion mart will occupy the lower two levels and part of the basement. A three-story stairway will connect the showrooms. The showrooms will occupy about 80,000 square feet within 20,000 square feet set aside for seasonal, temporary display space.
The park in front of the building at Ross and Akard Street is also getting a makeover. The public plaza will be named for Dallas businessman Henry S. Beck, Jr., whose family’s Beck Group general contracting firm occupies the top floor of Southwestern Plaza.
“We will be able to create special events in the park associated with our trade shows,” Mr. Burgin said. “We see it as an extension of the common area space.”
Business owners in the area said they welcome the prospect of retail buyers coming to downtown. “This will give us an additional ability to market Dallas,” said Frank Naboulsi, general manager of the Fairmont Hotel. “It will help to revitalize the downtown core.”
Brandt Wood, whose company operates several restaurants and entertainment venues downtown, said the fashion center will add to pedestrian traffic.
“This is probably second in importance only to the new Nasher sculpture garden in terms of the cultural contribution it could make to downtown,” Mr. Wood said.
Operators of the much larger and competing Dallas Market Center disputed the notion that fashion buyers would want to spend extra time downtown. “Buyers want one-stop shopping – an efficient place with lots of parking,” said Cole Daugherty, public relations director for the Dallas Market Center.
Mr. Daugherty said the new downtown fashion market could wind up as a “hodgepodge” and that “it doesn’t hang together very well.”
The Dallas Market Center is in the midst of a $20 million, 1-million-square-foot project to remodel part of the World Trade Center. It announced earlier this year that it will close the landmark International Apparel Mart and consolidate the fashion showrooms in its largest wholesale market building. FashionCenterDallas is scheduled for completion in first-quarter 2004.
“We are marching ahead with our project. We have 600 tenants and thousands of lines,” Mr. Daugherty said. “We have a 40-year history in the apparel business here.”
He said independent wholesalers who are moving downtown have been “walking up and down our halls” trying to solicit tenants.
“The barriers of entry to opening up a comprehensive marketplace are incredibly high,” Mr. Daugherty said. “You cant just open up the doors and hope people show up.”