DALLAS — South Dallas has always had a reputation — some of it deserved and some of it not — of being tough and dangerous.
Some residents, city officials and developers have worked on a small scale to change the area. However, it took a Canadian to step up in a big way.
Jack Matthews says he saw nothing but opportunity just south of downtown. Looking for a place to build a business and develop major land projects, he came to North Texas from Ontario, Canada in 1988. He was told Texas was the place to be and found his place in Dallas.
However, he picked the one place that others told him wouldn’t work, South Dallas.
"There was a line of people who wanted to tell me, 'Don’t put your money in South Dallas,'" said Matthews, who heads the development company Matthews Southwest. "I found it fascinating that people are so bold to basically tell you you weren't so bright."
South Dallas did have its challenges. Drugs and crime were rampant on some streets. Many families who could leave did leave. It was tough.
But, Matthews suspected the area had reached a tipping point.
"There was a heavy perception of crime," he said. "And reality was there wasn’t much crime at all because there was no one here."
Club, apartment homes for thousands and many other projects in the area all started in the mind of Matthews. Now, after a quarter century of hard work, crowds pack the rooftop of his NYLO Dallas South Side hotel. After that, they can head a few doors down to clubs like Gilley’s for entertainment or a business meeting. Ford just unveiled its newest F-150 at Gilley's.
It’s all just steps apart from his first project, the South Side On Lamar, which is housed in the old Sears complex. Matthews answered security concerns by donating a large spot of land to the city just across the street from his first project. Its on that land the Dallas Police Department built their headquarters.
"That’s about a thousand people who work at the police headquarters," Matthews said. "And, you also get the the people visiting and police cars."
With police, residents and businesses packing the area, all the naysayers suddenly understood. Matthews wasn’t crazy; he was just ahead of the rest of us.
Matthews has no plans to stop. If you look north from Grand Avenue all the way to downtown, Matthews owns just about every empty space you see in South Dallas looking north to City Hall. He wants to fill each spot with something special.
He’ll tell you he’s no miracle worker. He just had a vision and a little faith in the future.
"What I saw was land that was incredibly cheap," he said.
Earlier this month, Matthews announced his latest plans for the area. Another building at a cost of nearly $30 million will house 280 apartments, some retail and a parking garage.