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Researchers Propose 50 Dallas Area Office Buildings for Apartments

A new report identified thousands of properties nationwide as physically suitable buildings to be converted into apartments, including more than 50 in Dallas-Fort Worth. But the typical conversion is only financially feasible in six cities.

The St. Paul Place tower in downtown Dallas
The St. Paul Place tower in downtown Dallas is among the buildings suggested by New York researchers would be physically suitable for apartments. (Shaban Athuman/Staff Photographer)
While many offices sit vacant and the nation faces a shortage of affordable housing, researchers have a potential solution and know just where to do it.

In a report titled “Converting Brown Offices to Green Apartments,” a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers at New York University and Columbia University identified thousands of properties nationwide as physically suitable to be converted into apartments.

The researchers provided The Dallas Morning News with a list of more than 50 properties in Dallas-Fort Worth as potential candidates for conversion. It includes downtown high-rise buildings in both Dallas and Fort Worth, such as the 35-story tower at 500 Throckmorton St. in Fort Worth as well as the Adolphus Tower and St. Paul Place in downtown Dallas. Many of the buildings, however, are older, suburban office properties.

The researchers found that the typical conversion is financially feasible only in six cities, not including Dallas: New York, San Francisco, San Jose, Boston, Washington, D.C. and Denver. They said executing such conversions will require concerted efforts from local and federal lawmakers.

“Modifications to local zoning regulations, building code adjustments, local property tax abatements and debt subsidies, and the activation of federal programs, including the Inflation Reduction Act, all have a role to play,” the report said. “The trade-offs inherent in generating affordable housing units necessitate thoughtful policy design, balancing the benefits of affordable housing creation with fiscal constraints.”

The researchers said converting offices to apartments can help solve the oversupply of office buildings in a world of hybrid and remote work; the shortage of affordable housing; and excessive greenhouse gas emissions, as they say renovating existing buildings produces 50 percent to 75 percent fewer carbon emissions than new construction. The report focuses on office buildings the researchers estimated produce high greenhouse gas emissions.

“It paves the way for restoring asset values and tax revenues, alleviating housing shortages, and meeting climate goals, while mitigating the negative externalities of vacant offices,” the report said.

In identifying possible buildings to be converted, the researchers took into consideration that not all offices have floor plans that can easily be converted into apartments. Some historic buildings may be easier than many modern office buildings with large floor plans.

The researchers considered physical characteristics and leases in place, identifying that high-occupancy buildings with many existing tenants are unlikely to be viable for conversion.

Some buildings on the list already include residential components. Others have already been converted to residences or hotels — such as the former office tower at 1600 Pacific Ave. that now houses a Hilton Garden Inn hotel — and appear on the list because the data set used may still classify them as office buildings, Columbia researcher Candy Martinez said.

Alto 211, a 65-year-old high-rise at 211 N. Ervay in downtown Dallas covered in azure and aquamarine panels, appears on the list but is already planned to be converted into apartments. A handful of other downtown properties have also been slated for residential redos.

©2023 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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