Probably even before the Sheppard King mansion — now home to the Mansion on Turtle Creek — was built in the 1920s, Turtle Creek was one of Dallas' most fabled boulevards.
But unlike other tony streets, Turtle Creek has been known, at least since the 1960s, for its residential high-rises, attracting a Venn diagram of acrophiliacs and downsizers.
However, in recent years it's become our boulevard of broken developer dreams.
Graveyard of pitched projects
- First there was Canadian developer Great Gulf's Limited Edition at Turtle Creek and Fairmount, billed as the ne plus ultra of high-rise living. After years of marketing its ultra-ness, only a handful of contracts materialized, and it remains an empty lot.
- Turtle Creek Gardens is another project that in recent years has done the dance with no pants with two developers. Both ended, I’m told, due to developers unable to stump up the cash to close the sale, let alone build.
- The site of the old Republic Bank building, west of The Mansion on Turtle Creek, was secured by Prescott, who planned a trio of high-rises: office, luxury apartments, and a lavish combo hotel-condo project. They blew up the old bank building in September 2019 (in one go), but that's where things have stalled.
- The Mandarin Oriental project at Turtle Creek and Gillespie, on the other side of The Mansion was to have also been a hotel and likely record-breaking luxury condo project.
- The Hillwood office building, in a space next to the Mandarin lot at Cedar Springs and Turtle Creek, was planned but said they wouldn't build until they had tenants – which apparently in the past three years they still haven’t got.
- Sprinkled into this are two Turtle Creek-adjacent projects planned by Portugal-based Teixeira Duarte – their first in North America. Corporate financial issues saw them abandon the projects and sell their parcels.
Totaled up, we’re talking about roughly 15 acres of announced developments who couldn’t get a shovel into the ground in recent years. The only successful large-scale project close to Turtle Creek seems to be the most controversial – the Toll Brothers high-rise at Welborn and Congress. It’s been steadily rising for many months.
But two of the sites above have seen recent activity:
Turtle Creek Gardens
Cushman & Wakefield has been retained to market the 4.5-acre property (yet again). Call it at least the third bite at the apple. But sources tell me that at least one developer, cash in hand, had offered to purchase the property for the same amount of their last failed sale. They were refused because ownership felt the market had changed and their property was worth more.
I never understood the parameters of that second offer, but the first was more than whispered to be $43 million – roughly $10 million per acre.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that now that a broker is involved, trying to best their last deal, plus the brokers’ fees, will be difficult – in fact the cash buyer is said to have balked. One who might be interested in paying those broker's fees is Houston-based Hines who are also working on high-rising Maple Terrace's back parking (by-right so they don’t have to face compromise).
Given its similar lot size to the neighboring Prescott trio, I suspect a deal would involve two, if not three, high-rises.
Personally, I’d have thought "twice burned, thrice take the outstretched hand full of cash" would have been the better move. We’ve seen this affliction before – PD-15’s Preston Place owners are also waiting for their next better offer.
Last Thursday, JMJ Development, the folks behind the Mandarin Oriental project, were at Central Planning Commission getting an OK to re-present their plans. You see, once a zoning case has passed the city, there’s a two-year moratorium before you can go back to the well. JMJ wants to re-diddle their plans significantly enough to start the approval process all over again.
Their plans were to ditch the 2004 French Chateau office building built by John Eulich and construct a 235-foot tower containing the Mandarin Oriental hotel topped by MO-branded condos. Apparently, a new architect has found a way to preserve the chateau.
I'm sorry, as grand as it is (and it is luxe inside), it's not historic. At 16 years old, it’s one man’s folly. I can’t imagine what new design would incorporate its “Beverly Drive” exterior into something to propel Turtle Creek into the next century.
What has me twitching is the zoning agreed to in support of the new tower was generous. It passed Oak Lawn Committee, Plan Commission, and City Council. It also, at the 11th hour, passed the local resident gauntlet of Turtle Creek money and power who successfully demanded no entrance or exit on Gillespie.
To get all those entities, along with their high-cotton neighbors, to agree was no easy task. To petition to return to square one, unless something else is afoot, seems ludicrous.
I’m also concerned that council member David Blewett, who’s already in dutch with the locals over Reverchon Park, would be more apt to placate residents wanting a lesser project. Politics would say that you don’t piss-off your wealthiest constituents, but since that ship has sailed, maybe you hesitate to being summoned to The Mansion’s woodshed twice.
What is perhaps an unrelated note, back in April, the Dallas Morning News reported that Chinese investors in other JMJ projects were seeking to push the firm into bankruptcy due to missed payments.
I reached out to JMJ Development’s and Mandarin Oriental’s PR representatives after Thursday’s Plan Commission meeting. Mandarin Oriental’s Abbey Nayor responded stating that “Mandarin Oriental was still attached to the project” but after at first seeming unaware, later had no followup comment on recent developments.
Similarly, JMJ media representative Melanie Bonvicino acknowledged my inquiry but did not respond by press time.
And there you have it. Between all these tracts, there’s roughly a dozen high-rises probable on those 15 generously-zoned acres. And yet, no one can seem to get any of them out of the ground.
So I ask, is Turtle Creek cursed?
A version of this story originally was published on CandysDirt.com.