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Downtown Dallas Steps Up Effort to Revitalize

DALLAS — A coalition intent on reviving retail in downtown Dallas is putting together an incubator to promote emerging Texas designers.<br><br>The cooperative store represents part of a broader effort to establish 200,000 square feet of retail...

DALLAS — A coalition intent on reviving retail in downtown Dallas is putting together an incubator to promote emerging Texas designers.

The cooperative store represents part of a broader effort to establish 200,000 square feet of retail business in a 15-square-block area that includes Neiman Marcus’ flagship and headquarters.

Neiman’s has been the only major retailer in the area for more than a decade, but hundreds of loft apartments and several restaurants have opened in the past few years as part of a push to revitalize downtown that began in 1996. The retail development is moving more slowly: A salon for the St. Pucchi bridal line has been open nearly two years in the shadow of Neiman’s, and Mark & Larry’s Stuff, a specialty store of decorative furnishings and fashion accessories, opened nearby in July.

“We have put a lot of funding into getting the residents downtown, and we understand it is necessary to bring in retail to support our previous efforts,” said Dorcy Sigel, economic development analyst for the city of Dallas. “The residents want a grocery store, and for downtown to be fun and easy.”

The neighborhood has benefited from its 1996 designation as a tax-increment-financing district. The 15-year plan has so far collected about $50 million in taxes to be pumped back into the neighborhood to rehabilitate buildings and improve infrastructure.

The idea for the incubator came from a local designer who has been producing silk suits for less than a year and sought help from the city to fuel her business.

“I’ve noticed Dallas struggling to be an international city, yet they are not quite getting it,” said Leslie Carpenter, the fledgling designer who brought the idea to the attention of the city. “I thought, here they have a fashion industry and yet they are providing nothing to help people get into the business or stay in it.”

The project quickly won backing from Neiman Marcus, which wants to attract more stores downtown, and developers who are promoting business in the area via a nonprofit association called Downtown Partnership.

“We have a vested interest in anything that promotes downtown because of where we are,” said Shelle Bagot, who is vice president and general manager of Neiman’s flagship and has agreed to serve on the board of the incubator. “Beyond that, the concept to give design talent an opportunity to develop a business is critical in any city.’’

The plan is to feature the work of six designers in a 1,000-square-foot storefront on Main Street near Neiman’s flagship by February. The group currently is assembling a board and selection criteria to choose the designers.

Carpenter envisions the incubator as a space for designers to sell their wares that would also stage workshops on running a fashion business, from financing to sourcing fabrics, production, wholesaling and marketing.

“The goal is to have designers prepared so they have the confidence to go out and open their own shops,” Carpenter explained.

Downtown Partnership is helping secure the retail space and steer fund-raising for the incubator. “Our role with the incubator is as a facilitator,” said Nancy Hormann, executive director of the partnership. “We think it is a wonderful use for downtown and a wonderful thing for the fashion industry. The heart of our district is Neiman Marcus, so what better complementary use than fashion?

“This is the new hip and cool area to live and work,” she continued, citing five historic buildings that have been transformed into apartments and condominiums. “Everything is coming alive down here now.”

Downtown Partnership is working to lease space to retailers that are not already represented in the city, such as H&M. None have signed so far, but Hormann stressed that the effort is only three months old.

“We have interest from retailers, but we don’t have any commitments as yet,” she said. “We are going after unusual and more regional stores — the type of store that if it is national has only three or four [units] around the country with none in local shopping centers,” Hormann explained. “You won’t create demand for people to come down here to go to the Gap. We are going for more upscale retailers to complement Neiman’s, which is working very hard with us to attract these retailers. They have given us a target list.”

“We want a mix,” Bagot noted. “Because people live here, we want some anchors that really address the residents, like a great book store with a coffee area, and a grocery store. Those are critical pieces, and beyond that a mix of national retailers with more independents, my way of thinking is Fred Segal — that kind of thing. We’d like people who have great vision who have not ventured into other parts of the country. The young designer store would make it a destination and more unique.”

Neiman’s flagship is itself a destination that draws some of the wealthiest residents in the city to its refined mix, including such labels as Valentino, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Jean Paul Gaultier and Roberto Cavalli.