Does a Skybridge Fit Preston Center?

Everyone seems to agree that something needs to be done about Preston Center. But what that something entails is a matter of contention among property owners, residential neighbors, and frequent visitors.

When developers proposed a pair of luxury apartment complexes last year — a high-rise in the heart of Preston Center and a high-density project just to the north — both met with significant opposition from residential neighbors and were scuttled before even reaching a Dallas City Council agenda.

Those same opponents prompted the city to fund a land-use study to help plan a revitalization of the aging retail center. That study, being overseen by council member Jennifer Gates, likely is still several months away from completion.

So where does that leave property owners in the meantime? That’s the dilemma facing Crow Holdings, which in November purchased Preston Center Pavilion, which was previously home to Sanger-Harris and Foley’s, but now is subdivided among multiple tenants.

When Ross recently moved out, Tom Thumb expressed interest in taking over a 50,000-square-foot space on the upper level, above Marshall’s. But as with most things at Preston Center, parking was an issue.

Their proposal? Building a pedestrian skybridge that would link the northwest corner of the second level of the city-owned parking garage in the middle of Preston Center with the grocer, therefore allowing shoppers to bypass street-level traffic.

“We wanted a big tenant that could anchor Preston Center West. We wanted to make the access easier and safer,” said Anna Graves of Crow Holdings. “We feel like the whole project is an amenity to the neighborhood.”

It’s a concept that has area property owners split, along with the Dallas Plan Commission, which voted 7-6 to give Crow Holdings a special-use permit following a lengthy discussion on March 5. The proposal still needs to receive approval from the city council before going forward.

“I see the skybridge tied to a single tenant and benefiting a single property owner instead of benefiting the entire center,” said Marguerite Archer, whose grandfather opened a Preston Center restaurant in 1937. “I think our employee parking will be compromised.”

The 77-foot covered skybridge would cost about $750,000 to build, and it would include an elevator. It’s a detached structure that would extend over Westchester Drive, just south of Berkshire Lane, 14 feet above the pavement.
[pullquote-left]“My issue is street-level vibrancy. You’re putting the cars ahead of the people. The problem is the traffic, and at the end of the day I think it’s a Band-Aid.” — Bobby Abtahi[/pullquote-left]

Graves said the amenity would not compromise the 800 spaces in the garage, which can fill to capacity during certain times. The company also plans to contribute $1.1 million toward painting and electrical work in the garage if the skybridge is approved.

If the proposal isn’t allowed, then Tom Thumb likely won’t be interested in the space, Graves said, leaving the owners to look for other tenants. It’s also not known what would become of the existing, smaller Tom Thumb location in The Plaza at Preston Center if a new one is built.

Former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, who successfully lobbied against the Crosland Group high-rise proposal last year along with several of her Preston Hollow neighbors, said such development might compromise the land-use study and should be postponed accordingly.

“The applicant wants to build a skybridge to a parking garage that is already full. The approval of a skybridge will exacerbate any existing problems,” Miller said. “The parking situation is incredibly awful.”

The land-use study will be the most comprehensive examination of development in Preston Center since the late 1980s, when the city undertook a similar effort after receiving an abundance of rezoning requests.

“It complements Preston Center and it enhances a city-owned parking garage,” said District 13 commissioner Margot Murphy, who said she hasn’t received much written opposition to the proposal. “People cross Westchester wherever they want. It’s a free-for-all. I just think this would be safer.”

However, commission vice chairman Bobby Abtahi said he’s concerned that the skybridge doesn’t address the real problem.

“My issue is street-level vibrancy,” he said. “You’re putting the cars ahead of the people. The problem is the traffic, and at the end of the day I think it’s a Band-Aid.”

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