Century-old buildings near Dallas Zoo could be transformed

Yoga, a coffee roaster or a rock climbing gym are on the developer's tenant wishlist for East Dock.

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A local developer plans to bring new life to a dilapidated former ice house near the Dallas Zoo and the Southern Gateway Park being constructed over Interstate 35E.

Proxy Properties LLC, which has been doing adaptive reuse projects in the Oak Cliff area for 12 years, in October purchased the property at 900 E. Clarendon Dr.

Now the company is revealing more about its plans.

The current buildings on the 3-acre site include a 1900s-era ice house as well as warehouses added in the 1920s and '60s, according to the developer. The company plans to remodel the interiors and exteriors, a total of about 62,000 square feet, and create a mixed-use development called East Dock.

"We're trying to do something that is historic and kind of an industrial design, so true to the original form," said AJ Ramler, owner of Proxy Properties. "We're doing some art studio concepts in there because there's a huge art community in East Oak Cliff, and then we're going to do some public space."

The project will focus on retail and industrial uses. The developers plan to target tenants such as yoga studios, coffee roasters, educational or training facilities, art studios, small retail studios, a creekside restaurant and a rock climbing gym for the former ice house building.

"The idea is to have an interesting design, something that's unique to Dallas ... and then also something that's attainable from a price standpoint," Ramler said of the industrial space, adding he anticipates rent about "half the cost of the Design District."

The project will not require rezoning, the project team said in city documents. Originally built as an ice house, the property was also used as an airplane manufacturing facility, according to Ramler. He said his company is pursuing tax increment financing and will likely pursue state historic tax credits as well.

The southeast side of the property backs up to Cedar Creek and the southern property line is adjacent to the Dallas Zoo station for Dallas Area Rapid Transit's Red Line train.

"There's a lot of companies that are in the Design District and other areas that are looking for alternatives that are more affordable and still super close to the urban core," Ramler said.

As for retail, Ramler said the Dallas Zoo bringing 1 million visitors to the area each year presents a big opportunity.

"There's almost zero renovated retail on the east side of 35," Ramler said. "There's literally nowhere [for zoo guests] to go to have lunch afterward except for McDonald's and Popeyes, so I think there's a huge demand for that."

Ramler plans to do the project speculatively, meaning without tenants locked in prior to construction starting.

"That's how we've always done everything, and everything leases immediately, typically without brokers," Ramler said.

Ramler and the project team, including architect Alicia Quintans of JQAQ Atelier LLC, in April presented plan to Dallas' Urban Design Peer Review Panel.

The panel reviews potential projects throughout the city, including those applying for tax increment financing — a tool that uses property tax revenue from new development in designated areas to support public improvements and urban construction projects.

Ramler's company owns 350,000 square feet of residential and commercial real estate, largely in and around Oak Cliff.

"We rarely sell stuff; buy it, develop it, hold it is the game plan for us," Ramler said. "Which has been great, because obviously, you know, the Oak Cliff market's had probably some of the best appreciation in the entire DFW [area]."

Ramler previously redeveloped the Oak Cliff Assembly church along Morrell Avenue into an arts complex with offices and event space.

"It's been unbelievable the amount of interest we've had in that property," he said.


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