November 17, 2017

An inside look at Ross Tower’s $20M makeover in downtown Dallas

Dallas Business Journal: An inside look at Ross Tower’s $20M makeover in downtown Dallas

When a group of investment partners closed on one of downtown Dallas’ skyscrapers about 18 months ago, they knew the building needed a massive transformation.

The 45-story, 1.1 million-square-foot office tower at 500 S. Akard St. was only 50 percent filled with tenants, and there were some key vacancies, including a 7,000-square-foot retail banking space anchoring the high-rise office tower, that needed to be filled.

That led Bandera Ventures, in a partnership with Vancouver-based real estate firm Second City Real Estate and Austin-based HPI, to spend nearly $20 million upgrading the building’s curbside appeal, modernizing all of the elevators and bringing in two new chillers, said Chuck Anderson, founder of Bandera Ventures.

“We also wanted to build our fiber backbone and bring state-of-the-art connectivity to the building and infuse that technology where it’s needed,” Anderson told the Dallas Business Journal.

To bring the building’s occupancy rate up from half full, the partnership knew it needed to give Ross Tower a massive makeover to compete with other downtown Dallas skyscrapers for tenants. Several buildings, such as Bank of America Plaza, Chase Tower and Trammell Crow Center, have either recently undergone makeovers or are in the midst of massive upgrades.

“We needed to bring both the building systems and the building functions to its highest and best use,” said Hunter Lee, a leasing broker with HPI Commercial Real Estate LLC. “We had to decide what the millennial generation would be drawn to and create a sense of place.”

The ownership team brought in Dallas-based BOKA Powell to help with the redesign of Ross Tower.

The Dallas-based architecture firm helped reposition Ross Tower to include a new drop-off area for Uber or Lyft drivers, which could easily be converted into a valet area.

The team also got rid of a vacant glassed-in retail banking center to make way for a bright, wood-paneled Starbucks with double patios fronting Akard and Ervay streets. This tripled the size of the coffee shop in Ross Tower and brought it to street level to engage with the public seven days a week.

Even though tenants have meetings or work at the Starbucks, the ownership group extended that casual environment by adding a Wi-Fi lounge, tenant living room and a board room for companies.

Ultimately, the team wanted to weave together office space and hospitality in a way that has broad appeal, Lee said.

“The focus was to infuse the building with technology, and create a sense of place for people to work or have meetings,” he said.

But the ownership group couldn’t just cater to millennials, said John Hardaway, partner at HPI Commercial Real Estate.

“We really had to appeal to four generations, which was a challenge,” Hardaway said. “We had to think about four generations and what they wanted. We certainly didn’t want to offend any certain generation, but we appealed to all.”

And it wasn’t just about offending someone, Ross Tower had some good bones that needed to be preserved, Lee added.

“We also have a lot of granite and marble in the building, which is timeless from a cost perspective,” Lee said. “When we added new contemporary or modern finishes, we had to make sure they fit into that timeless design.”

So far, the redesign of Ross Tower has proven to be a success from a leasing perspective.

“Since we’ve had everything done, the leasing velocity has been phenomenal,” Lee said.

Ever since completing the renovations to the skyscraper about 90 days ago, the ownership group has brought the building’s occupancy rate to 55 percent. And tenants — from law firms to a high-tech recruiting firm that move in earlier this year — seem to be enjoying the building’s new amenities, he said.

“These improvements were critical to the success of the building,” Lee said. “We had to beef up our Wi-Fi capability because people are working differently and not spending all of their day at their desks. With the world getting more dense, employees need a little breathing room.”

“Now, tenants can have meetings or conduct meets in a lounge or coffee shop, and they are still able to be productive,” he added.