The heads up about a meeting this Tuesday concerning a design review of the Lake Highlands Town Center came last week from JAH Realty, landlord for Tom Thumb at Royal and Skillman. (To accommodate a potentially larger crowd than anticipated, the meeting has been moved from room City Hall 4CN #3 to the LI Auditorium off the LI parking garage level in the conference center closest to the green elevators.)
The initial heads up came in the form of an email from Trigate Capital, a company that matches capital funds with real estate projects, and copied on the email was Graham Irvine, whom we know as JAH Realty’s acquisitions director from previous conversations with him about retail projects in Far North Dallas. We were also familiar with JAH Realty through conversations last fall about Royal Highlands Plaza, which is anchored by a Tom Thumb.
When we responded to the email asking about the sender’s interest in the Town Center project, we were referred to Irvine, but he was tied up late last week and over the weekend, so he was unavailable for conversation. Though Trigate, he sent us the Concerned Lake Highlands Citizens presentation, and later sent the Town Center design review by city-hired consultant Street-Works, as well as the summary of Tuesday’s meeting.
We still didn’t know, however, about Irvine’s and JAH Realty’s involvement in the Town Center, other than assuming the company was concerned that if Tom Thumb opened a store at the Town Center, it could lead to the closure of Tom Thumb at JAH Realty’s Royal Highlands property. And we assumed, because the presentation sent to us was titled “Concerned Lake Highlands Citizens”, Lake Highlands neighbors were involved in the effort, so we wanted to talk with “Lake Highlands citizens” involved.
Irvine requested that we email him all questions, so here is the back-and-forth exchange of questions and answers, after the jump:
Q. What is JAH Realty’s involvement with or interest in the Lake Highlands Town Center?
You mentioned that the details of the proposed plan are “suggested by our website.” What website do you mean? JAH Realty’s website? Or the lakehighlandscitizens.com website in the presentation you sent to us?
Did JAH Realty initiate the Concerned Lake Highlands Citizens group, or are you involved with it somehow? If so, what other neighbors/neighborhood groups are you aligned with? If not, how did you come to learn of Concerned Lake Highlands Citizens, and what is your take on the group?
A. We are only involved because we own the shopping center at Royal and Skillman anchored by Tom Thumb. We have no affiliation with Prescott or the town center otherwise. We are in full support of the town center as it was originally planned. We started the website, LHC, out of concern on the direction the town center was headed, and yes, that is the website I referenced. If the TIF board would be flexible with Prescott on their delivery requirements and timing, perhaps it will transition back to the original design, and prevent the potential closures of two Tom Thumb stores.
Q. Are you or other JAH employees Lake Highlands residents? And is it solely JAH that created the website, or do you have other neighbors or neighborhood groups involved with you or supporting your efforts?
A. We are not residents, the bulk of our company is based out of OKC, however we are linked to neighborhood organizations, who have been very involved in our asset since we purchased the center in 2007 and remodeled the center in 2008. We have obvious financial interest in the protection of our asset; Centro the owner of the Tom Thumb on the south end of the market [Skillman-Abrams] is obviously concerned as well. We funded the website, and discussed with residents in advance, and have received substantial support.
Q. Sorry to be a broken record about this question, but can you be any more specific about who the residents are that you discussed this with in advance and received substantial support from? Are we talking about a group of 50, 500, 5,000? Are they specific organizations or HOAs?
A. Just individuals who are affiliated with the groups. I do not want to reference names. This is political, and I know the same individuals who support us, also support the Town Center and Prescott, and want it to be successful. … the [web]site was fully designed and paid for by JAH Realty, LP. We did receive feedback from some homeowners about our presentation in advance of going live with the website. Also, we will have a representative at the meeting this week who will read a statement written by our CEO, if the structure of the meeting allows.
This is not a campaign to hinder the development, but to point out the obvious — that what was originally proposed as a new lifestyle and mixed-use project could be changed to a standard shopping center, which not only was not the original pitch for $20 million in tax incentives, but also could leave two vacant centers flanking either end of the neighborhood. If this effort was not made, then a revised site plan showing a 60,000-square-foot box instead of a 30,000-square-foot box could have been approved without anyone from the TIF board understanding the consequences.
Not many people realize this but the original TIF agreement between Prescott and the city required all of the site infrastructure, 60,000 square feet of retail and a percentage of apartments be pre-leased by last December. The extension was granted to June 30. To date only the site work has been done, and Prescott is trying to meet the 60,000 square feet of retail pre-leasing with one grocery tenant of 60,000 square feet. The requirement was not for one tenant, and if it were reduced to, say, 30,000 square feet and more time was granted, Prescott and the City would both potentially win, as would we. Sprouts, 30,000 square feet, as far as I know has a signed proposal, as has Tom Thumb at 60,000 square feet.
Hopefully this makes sense to you, and you understand the importance of our message as a defense mechanism against what might appear to be a minor adjustment to a site plan already approved. As a reference, Southlake Town Center and Mockingbird Station do not have tenants larger than about 25,000 square feet. Southlake Town Center has a Barnes and Noble, 30,000 square feet, and a theater on the back, but entering from Southlake Boulevard it is all small shop. The revised [Town Center] plan being submitted this week is just a standard grocery store format center.