Out of thin airOut of thin airDavid S. JonesJones, D.
Infrastructure & Transportation

​​​Who says they aren't making any more real estate? Dallas did, and it's been an overwhelming success.

I first heard about plans to create a city park out of thin air while attending a National Association of Real Estate Editors meeting in Big D. The idea sounded crazy. They were discussing creating a five-acre park by covering a section of the eight-lane, below-street-level Woodall Rogers Freeway. Simple idea, complicated engineering feat. No one had ever done such a thing.

The idea of piling tons of dirt, trees, grass, restrooms, a restaurant, concert pavilion, and park infrastructure on top of an existing freeway was almost laughable. In fact, when the idea was first proposed to city staff, some did just that.

The idea for the park was "grounded" in the fact that when the freeway was built in the 1960s, it was below grade. Momentum began to build in 2004 when a $1 million grant from the Real Estate Council funded a feasibility study. This incubator stage spawned The Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation, the nonprofit organization that led the project's development and continues to operate it today under a long-term agreement with the city.

Construction on Klyde Warren Park began in 2009, and it opened in 2012.

Hurdles were numerous. Financing was one of the biggest. Public support included $20 million in bond funds from the City of Dallas, which said from the outset it could afford no more. Another $20 million came from state highway funds, and $16.7 million was stimulus funding. Remember "shovel-ready projects?" This was one of them. The balance came from private donors. An expert's initial drive-by assessment put the cost at an estimated $60 million. In fact, it cost $110 million when all the bells and whistles were included.

Engineering/design was another huge hurdle. The park had to be built at street level while preserving clearance for a freeway carrying 300,000 vehicles per day beneath it. The deck includes more than 300 concrete beams arranged in spaced groups. Concrete slabs span the spaces and form trenches, which act as planter boxes, allowing trees to grow to the desired size. A combination of Geofoam and specially designed soil keeps the deck from being too heavy.

The park is owned by the city and operated and managed by the private foundation. The park has changed the landscape of Dallas, literally and figuratively. The park attracts 1.2 million visitors annually, many of whom participate in the 1,200 free events held there each year.

Park features include an outdoor reading room, children's garden, botanical garden, five water features, bocce and badminton courts, a putting green, and a game cart with equipment. As many as nine food trucks can be found there each day.

Klyde Warren Park has had a significant impact on surrounding real estate properties. The pre-park sales price for an adjacent office tower was $220 per square foot. After the park was built, that same office building sold for $450 per square foot. That's more than a 100 percent increase in just four years. Another nearby office tower went from $300 to $508 per square foot, up nearly 70 percent. Staggering.

Rental rates in an office building adjacent to the park went from a triple-net, pre-park rate of $22 per square foot to $40. Another premiere property jumped from $25 to $40. Speakers at the recent Urban Land Institute meeting in Dallas estimated the park had a $1 billion impact on the city economy, not including a recently announced $250 million, 200,000-square-foot, twin-tower project overlooking the park. They called the influence of the park "unprecedented."

By all accounts, Klyde Warren Park has exceeded all expectations. Now, many of the park visitors are officials from other cities and countries eager to learn how they, too, can create real estate out of thin air.

The park at a glance:

  • Size: 5.2 acres.
  • Hours of operation: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
  • Location: 2012 Woodall Rodgers Freeway, Dallas, TX 75201, between Uptown and Downtown Dallas over Woodall Rodgers Freeway between Pearl Street and St. Paul​

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