If You Ever Wanted to Own 12,000 Square Feet of Main Street Retail Space Downtown ...

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Back in July, the London-based owner of The Metropolitan on Main Street auctioned off 35 condos in the one-time downtown office tower, rehabbed a few years back at the cost of $50 millionish. Fifty-five more went on the auction block only weeks ago. In two weeks, it's time to sell off the street-level retail space.

While looking for something entirely unrelated this afternoon I came across this: Beginning at noon on December 14, Jones Lang LaSalle will auction off 12,259 square feet of The Metropolitan's downstairs. There are at present but two occupied spaces -- the Original Italian Cafe and a 7-Eleven. Which leaves three more that can be all yours at The Nice Price.

The opening bid's $300,000, but JLL's Stephen Luik says he expects it'll go for much, much more: "There's a lot of interest from local investors who understand the retail market in the CBD," he tells Unfair Park, "and a lot of high-net-worth individuals in New York and Los Angeles who understand, 'I'm getting a good deal for cheap.'"

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I called an old friend of mine in the retail real estate business to get his take. He said he actually found out about this last week and thinks it's a bit "bizarre," separating the residential from the retail. And, far as he can tell, this is the first time downtown retail space has been sold off at auction. But Luik says the owner of the building hasn't "actively marketed" the retail space, which is why most of it's been empty for the last few years.

John Crawford, president of DowntownDallas, says this is the "first I've heard about" the sale when reached by Unfair Park today. "It'll be interesting to see how that plays out," he says. "And somebody needs to be fairly knowledgeable about what they can put in there, because we're working with the city and getting fairly strict about making sure what kind of retail goes in downtown."

While I had Crawford on the phone, I asked him about other efforts to get retail downtown and how this auction might factor in.

"Efforts are about to become very active, what with everything being done in the so-called Main Street Retail District, along with what Tim Headington's doing at The Joule and other plans to do other significant retail and restaurant development."

Crawford says he expects big changes "within the next 24 to 36 months," courtesy Headington: "We have a significant investor putting money into retail and restaurants downtown, and I'm greatly encourtged by where we are. There are restaurants opening in the first quarter of 2011 that are fairly significant. I try to be the eternal optimist, but I'm beyind that in terms of what I know. Expect quite a few changes."

He's hesitant to be more specific and instead extends an invite to the Downtown Dallas 360 town hall scheduled for next week.

At that point, Crawford says, there may be a sneak preview of "quick wins that dress up the corners and provide retail kiosks, without getting into the details, that will significantly enhance downtown retail."
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