Dallas steps up construction

If you look skyward, particularly in the east end of downtown Dallas, you see what has become almost a small forest of construction cranes. In the west end, the 1,000-room, nearly two-year-old Hyatt Regency Hotel is adding space for 400 cars behind its silver-glass exterior, reflecting the busily building city around it.

Alongside burgeon the elliptical red girders of the $24.6 million sports arena, now at the first-level construction stage.

Back to the east, where blue-collar frame houses have long stood, are the enlarged charcoal glass towers of the new 65-acre Plaza of the Americas.

The $100 million, 2-million-square-foot business and entertainment complex, already the new home of the Texas Commerce Bank, member of the $8 billion Texas Commerce Bancshares Inc., will house besides offices, shops, and restaurants the elegant hotel of Trust Houses Forte Inc., set for a March, 1980, opening. The Trust Houses Forte Hotel is the first one to be built in the US for the British-based company, a vast international web of elegant lodgings, leisure businesses, and catering enterprises.

The "diamond" in this opulent setting will be the millpond-shaped ice-skating arena and ice chalet, surrounded by the 15-story enclosed grand atrium, beautified with trees, flowers, and plants.

The complex includes two 25-story office towers with 1.2- million square feet of energy-efficient office space within the spandrel window-walled facade. The 15-story hotel, to be operated in the European tradition, will low-key its 442 rooms for de luxe international and local traveler use and some smaller executive meetings, rather than courting the buzzing convention business.

Primary developers are Toddie Lee Wynne Jr., second- generation president of the American Liberty Oil Company and a Dallas native, and second-generation attorney Clyde C. Jackson Jr., an earnest young man in his 30s who is managing partner.

Saudi Research & Development Corporation, through a subsidiary, is a general partner. Trust Houses forte Inc. is the limited partner.

Financing, which the developers believe is a first locally for such a major project, involves a consortium of Northwestern Mutual Life, American National Insurance, Southwestern Life Insurance, Pacific Mutual, and Southland Life Insurance. Construction financing comes from Continental Illinois National Bank of Chicago, First National Bank in Dallas, and Westinghouse Credit Corporation of Pittsburgh.

Dallas-based architects, who have had a connection with many structures in the galloping growth of the Southwest, are Harwood K. Smith and Partners, architects, engineers, and planners for the new shape against the Dallas skyline.

In keeping with the trend to make business buildings "living centers," Plaza of the Americas will provide a full-facility athletic club, including a tennis-handball-racquetball and running track, as well as sauna and private dining rooms. For sun-frazzled visitors and Dallasites alike in the long summer months (and mild year-round climate), the new approach of an ice arena as a dynamic art form rather than a static one, is welcome, according to Clyde Jackson.

"Besides providing a changing scene all day, the arena attracts a lot of people watchers," he adds.

The plaza arena is the second in Dallas, one recently having opened in the giant Prestonwood Mall in the far suburbs. The Galleria's arena in Houston, part of the hotel-shopping mall, has attracted young and old alike for several years now.

Although Plaza of the Americas was planned as a "corporate environment of excellence," according to Mr. Jackson, the shops, stores, and restaurants, as well as the fountain and waterfall-embellished courtyard seven feet below street level, will invite the public to rest and be refreshed.

Retail shops are "a concept appropriate to a downtown population as it exists in Dallas, and not transplanted from Toronto or Atlanta," says Mr. Jackson.

Dining will range from a sophisticated cuisine served from Waterford crystal in the posh restaurants to gourmet hamburgers. Skyways, "more exciting than underground walk-throughs," will link the plaza complex with the nearby Southland Center, home of the parent insurance company and other offices and the Sheraton Dallas Hotel.

The teeming activity all over downtown Dallas (mostly now in the day but building for nighttime) is just a 10-minute walk away and two blocks from the freeways to all of Dallas, the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, and the mid-cities, stretching all the way to Fort Worth 30 miles to the west.

Of the giant construction equipment digging the bowels of downtown Dallas into new outlines in the sky, Mr. Jackson says:

"Downtown Dallas is coming into a whole new era. It now is a truly international city. With the direct overseas flights from the D-FW Airport, people are moving in who will expect a quality life downtown.

"One-half of the plaza's retail space is leased, and the South Tower was leased by topping-out time. The new Bryan Place housing development nearby, under way after years of labor by builder Dave Fox and the City Council for land acquisition, is already 70 percent presold."

Anybody expecting to find cowboys and Indians in Dallas will be disappointed.

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