As Warwick Melrose Hotel unveils plans for Bronx restaurant property, vacancy rate along Dallas’ gay strip nears zero for 1st time in 5 years


LODGING AND FOOD | The Bronx restaurant, above, has been vacant since April 2011. The Melrose Hotel, background, purchased the property and plans an addition that will house a 400-seat ballroom. Two blocks down, construction barriers have been removed from the storefront of Italia Express, below, a new restaurant at the one-time site of Hunky’s. (Photos by David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

The Warwick Melrose Hotel plans to begin construction at the site of the Bronx restaurant by early 2013, according to General Manager Larry McAfee.

The Bronx property has been vacant since the iconic Cedar Springs restaurant closed after 30 years and the Warwick purchased the property in April 2011.

Plans call for a parking structure, a conference facility, a spa with treatment rooms, a fitness center, a pool and a ballroom that seats 400.

“We’re a historic structure, and there are rezoning issues,” McAfee said, explaining the delays.

The company purchased the property to add amenities to the hotel. The current ballroom in the main hotel seats only 200, and pillars obstruct the view.

IMG_0109Because the hotel is a landmark, plans for the addition must be approved by the city’s historic preservation commission.

“And we discovered half of our parking area is dry,” McAfee said, meaning alcohol can’t be served there.

So the entire property needs to be rezoned wet. Otherwise, it could be illegal to carry a drink across the new ballroom.

As the Melrose moves forward with its plans, the vacancy rate along the Cedar Springs strip is approaching zero for the first time in at least five years.

This month, a spin studio opened in the location once occupied by An Occasional Piece and which served as a leasing office for ilume.

Keith Owens, owner of S4L Studios, said he moved his spin studio from McKinney Avenue to Cedar Springs Road. He said he brought most of his clientele with him from the old location and has been steadily picking up new clients.

A new restaurant, Italia Express, is going in to the former Hunky’s space — most recently occupied by Macho Nacho — on the corner of Throckmorton Street and Cedar Springs Road.

Construction barriers have been removed from the storefront and the interior is nearing completion.

Down at ilume, Monica Greene opened her new restaurant Monica’s last month. Greene said business has been excellent thus far.

A space next to Buli Café that was previously home to Zen Salon remains vacant.

According to Richard Longstaff, owner of Union Jack, there’s been a lot of activity showing the space recently, and he expects it to be rented soon.

Dave Richardson, owner of Skivvies and president of the Cedar Springs Merchants Association, said traffic in his store went flat during the year of reconstruction of the Cedar Springs bridge over the Dallas North Tollway. Then, when the recession began, business remained flat for his business while declining for others on the strip.

“What I’m hearing from merchants on the strip is business is returning,” Richardson said.

Last year was his store’s biggest year ever and this year he is on track for a 30 percent increase. Richardson said Caven

Enterprises put off remodeling the upstairs lounge at JR.’s Bar & Grill until they saw an uptick in business. That renovation is now complete.

“I’m seeing excitement and optimism from member merchants, customers and other people who visit the strip,” Richardson said.

In fact, throughout Oak Lawn, building is booming. Of the 15 high-rise construction cranes currently operating in the city, most are in the Oak Lawn and Uptown area.

On a long-vacant lot on Throckmorton at Hall streets, next to Thairrific, a row of new townhomes is nearing completion.


GIVING THE STRIP A SPIN | Keith Owens, right, owner of S4L Studios, recently moved his spin studio from McKinney Avenue to Cedar Springs Road. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

At the north end of the Cedar Springs strip, Crosland Group began construction on ilume Park, which should be renting next fall.

The new ilume will not have additional retail space but will add more than 200 residential units.

Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gyms corporate headquarters will move to a new six-story building on the former site of gay bars Buddy’s and The Brick on Maple Avenue.

About 275 employees will occupy the new building on the Old Parkland Hospital campus on Maple Avenue between the Tollway and Oak Lawn Avenue.

 The company is expected to move from Irving into its new Oak Lawn facility next summer.

About 1,000 residential units will be added throughout Oak Lawn over the next year and a half.

On the corner of Cedar Springs Road and Turtle Creek Boulevard, two eight-story buildings are under construction. The 6-acre lot, vacant for about 30 years, will be home to 347 residential rental units. An office building may be added later on the property that once housed the Gulf Insurance Co. building.

Across the street, on the corner of Bowen Street and Turtle Creek Boulevard, a property that has also stood empty for decades and now fronts the Katy Trail was purchased by Hillwood Development, the company that developed Victory around the American Airlines Center.

A new bridge will be built spanning Turtle Creek to access the property and a mixed-use development, like many of the buildings at Victory, is planned.

On Throckmorton at Brown Street, the Chevelle Apartments were torn down over the summer and the property rezoned for denser housing. Construction has not begun on that site.

Two apartment complexes on Congress Street, between Wycliff and Douglas avenues, have been vacated and are being renovated. One was damaged by fire earlier this year.

Just across the Katy Trail, the Oak Lawn building boom continues. An office building at 3000 Carlisle Street, the former home of

Dallas Voice, was torn down for new residential construction. Additional apartments are filling in most of the vacant land around Uptown/Cityplace Station.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 14, 2012.