Alamo Drafthouse will soon be coming to Lake Highlands. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Alamo Drafthouse will soon be coming to Lake Highlands. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

How neighborhood home values are impacting retail projects

Lake Highlands is a desirable place to live, and developers and retailers are starting to take notice. These three projects reflect the neighborhood’s spiking home values, and may contribute to even more upsurges.

Read the ‘Million-dollar neighborhood?’ story here

Lake Highlands Town Center

Nearly a decade after its initial groundbreaking, dirt is finally turning at the Skillman-Walnut Hill project. Its new design is less dense and less ambitious than the original plans but better reflects what neighbors want and what the market calls for, says Bill Rafkin, who is developing the site. The shells of the Sprouts grocery store-anchored “Shops at Lake Highlands,” with retail shops fronting Skillman, should be finished next summer, he says, and the 257-unit apartment complex backing up to White Rock Creek will break ground this summer.

The transitioning neighborhood is the driving force behind which retailers are interested in the project, Rafkin says.

“This is a heavily residential neighborhood, and the demographics are changing — some say for the better, some say for the worse,” he says. “Some people are buying older homes and scraping them, then you have loyal Lake Highlands residents, so there’s a mix there.”

“You can’t go super high-end,” Rafkin continues, but he is seeing interest from a variety of restaurants, as well as a few service and “soft goods” retailers so that neighbors “don’t have to drive to Preston Royal or Timbercreek.”

Skillman Abrams Shopping Center 

(See an update to this development that broke after we went to press)

Several sources are telling us that Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse, known for its art-house feel and innovative food and drink menu, is looking to replace the old Tom Thumb at the northeast corner of Skillman and Abrams.

At press time, Alamo Drafthouse Dallas COO Bill Digaetano wouldn’t confirm the rumors, saying only that the company is “looking very hard for a location where Alamo can land in East Dallas. That said, we have yet to settle on an exact location.”

Tom Thumb vacated the building three years ago, leaving the Skillman Abrams Shopping Center on the intersection’s northeast corner without an anchor.

“A grocery store in there again is kind of a hard sell,” says Lake Highlands resident Ryan Fuqua, a senior associate with commercial real estate brokerage firm The Weitzman Group. He notes that with Super Target across the street, Walmart and Sam’s down the road at Timbercreek Crossing, and Sprouts under construction up the road at the Lake Highlands Town Center, the market is “already heavily dominated by big-box guys.”

An entertainment concept may be the best prospect for an anchor, Fuqua says, and if Alamo Drafthouse moves in, “I think it brings a whole new life to that center.”
“If a theater is going somewhere, they see potential,” he says. “I think it’s going to spark interest in everyone’s eyes if it gets announced.”

Skillman Gateway

Like the Lake Highlands Town Center, the Skillman Gateway project also is roughly a decade in the making, though it hasn’t received as much fanfare.

Elements of the project address the four corners of Skillman and 635, and include the construction of a “signature bridge” along Skillman as well as a plan to turn the isolated and underused Skillman-635 DART station into a transit-oriented, mixed-use development.

And, of course, detangling the confusing and accident-prone interchange where Skillman, Audelia and LBJ come together.

To move the project along, Councilman Adam McGough organized monthly meetings where the three entities working on the project — the City of Dallas, the Texas Department of Transportation and the North Texas Council of Governments — could come together and resolve challenges. At the most recent meeting, the signature bridge, which “adds a lot to this project, but is a substantial expense,” McGough says, was fully approved without the city having to pay a dime for it, thanks to conversations that revealed how the bridge would save money in other areas.

“This is the gateway project into the district and also connects between the north and south,” McGough says. He expects it to be a catalyst for economic development in the area, and that it likely will “become more of the center of the district than anywhere else.”