Great Spaces: Eminent domain

Posted on 19 Apr 2012 at 5:30pm

Design District resource Lower Oak Lawn undergoes an identity makeover to serve both residents and businesses

Local-Business

The Design District has become far more than showrooms with nightspots like the Meddlesome Moth, center, and living areas like 1900 Alta. (Photos courtesy of Kendall Shiffler)

By Jonanna Widner

For the past several years, the website known as LowerOakLawn.com has provided dynamic content about the burgeoning area southeast of Stemmons Freeway, near the nexus of Riverfront Boulevard and Oak Lawn Avenue —which is to say, more or less, the Design District. Starting in May, the website will now be found under the domain name DallasDesignDistrict.com. The switchover may not make for the most dramatic of news flashes, but the truth is, the change represents a shift in the way Dallas sees the Design District. Or, more precisely, it indicates that Dallas finally sees the Design District at all.

“When we first launched, our audience didn’t necessarily know where the Design District was,” says Kendall Shiffler, marketing communications director for PegasusAlbon, one of the area’s main developers and the company behind the website, “but everybody knows where Oak Lawn is. From a development standpoint, it was important to let everyone know where they were going, so we started with LowerOakLawn.”

The site covered the exact same area, for the most part, as the new one will, continuing to provide blog posts, a business directory, retail and residential information, job listings and much more.

Consider the difference in the name, then, to be an indicator of just how much the area has grown, and just how differently the city views it. Originally, the Design District was the, er, domain of professional interior designers and industrial vendors. It was a trade area; the showrooms and shops housed wares that were not, for the most part, available to individuals for retail purchase. As far as the rest of it: Restaurants? Forget it. Housing? Pffft. An art gallery? Are you kidding?

PegasusAlbon saw an opportunity to forge the trade and industrial heritage of the area’s past with the potential of its future. As apartments were built and shops opened, a variety of tenants moved in. Shiffler says the website was borne of a desire to explain the area in more than just cursory ways.

“We sat down and said ‘We have all these different audiences – how can we talk to them all? “We couldn’t just buy an ad,’” she says.

“What gives this area life is the people, and we wanted the people to tell their stories. The whole blogging for business and Facebook for business hadn’t come along as a true marketing platform yet at that point. It was amazing how immediate the reaction was when we started [the site].”

Now, nearly1,000 occupants live in the district’s newly constructed apartment buildings. The soon-to-open 1400 Hi Line building will provide 300 more units. The area is peppered with restaurants like Oak, Royal Sixty and The Butcher’s Son and the healthy calendar of events spaces all hum with activity.

With such a dramatic transition, the change in domain name “is only natural at this point,” Shiffler says.

The switch in names will be coupled with added content.

“We want to take it to the next level,” Shiffler says.  “In July we relaunched the design and added a comprehensive business directory with more than 300 businesses in it.  We want to become more of the voice and the heartbeat of the district, but also a true resource for the area, like any newspaper.“

What does this mean for the LGBTQ community? Shiffler notes that the site is a good resource for non-profits looking for event spaces and catering, along with the latest news on housing.

“The Design District is already very closely integrated with the Oak Lawn area,” she says. “It’s very much an extension of that neighborhood. A lot of the apartments are filled with members of the LGBTQ community.”

So the domain name changes, but many things remain the same. Except for one thing: “Dallas tends to tear everything down, “Shiffler says.  “What makes the Design District cool is that there are all these old buildings. We wanted to keep them, to keep it preserved as it was.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 20, 2012.

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