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[IMGCAP(1)]DALLAS-Icon Partners LLC is focused on creating a 3.7-million-sf urban district, much like the Grove in Los Angeles, where identity is as prized as the uses being added to the commercial landscape. The $1-billion Icon Midtown is designed to emerge as a six-block district with the staying power of Uptown, Downtown and Preston Center.

“It’s not just another shopping center. We’re creating an authentic urban experience,” says Paris Rutherford, president of Dallas-based Icon Partners. “It will become an authentic place, a district in the city.”

Rutherford says the project’s name reflects the positioning in the metroplex, the sweet spot between the far northern suburbs and the heart of Downtown Dallas. Rutherford, Icon chairman Daniel Robinowitz and three architectural firms huddled over the design about 18 months. The planning began with the parking component and took six months to complete. “Weaving that parking into the project has been a science,” Rutherford says, adding each component far exceeds city requirements. “It truly has been a collaborative effort.”

[IMGCAP(2)]Rutherford says Icon Midtown’s 20-acre first phase will rise in one fell swoop: a 715,000-sf office tower, 500 residential units, 525,000 sf of retail and entertainment space, 50,000-sf food district with eclectic culinary shops, boutique hotel and destination spa. Rutherford says negotiations are under way with a hotel developer, theater chain, out-of-state Italian grocer, New York deli-bakery and a famous cooking school, which intends to include a TV studio in its space.

“Many are new to Texas,” Rutherford says, adding deals are being negotiated for about 40% of the retail space. “The guts of what makes the commercial side work is what we’re negotiating right now.” He says construction financing is in the process of being secured, now that preleasing is far enough along.

Rutherford says the first wave of tenant announcements will be ready to parade in 90 days. United Commercial Realty/ChainLinks of Dallas is preleasing the retail space. CB Richard Ellis’ local team has reeled in the office assignment. Icon’s team is taking on the residential component.

[IMGCAP(3)]Rutherford tells GlobeSt.com that it’s undecided if they will ground lease or sell select sites. “It comes down to the caliber of the tenants for any sales,” he says. Likewise, it’s undecided if Icon Midtown is going to be a long-term hold or merchant build. “The four components have been put together for the flexibility to hold or sell,” he says. “If there’s a compelling reason to carve a piece out, we can do that too.”

The Icon Midtown site has roughly 600 feet of frontage along Interstate 635′s access road. There are two vacant structures from Showcase Chevrolet that need to be razed and a dozen or so apartment buildings that need to be scraped. Rutherford says site work isn’t ticketed to start until January 2009, but it could get under way sooner. The bricks-and-mortar construction will take two years to complete.

Rutherford says the vision is to create a district with the vibrancy of the Grove. Food district tenants will be required to have outdoor displays like vendors’ carts and cooking demonstrations to create an open-air street fair. He says Icon Midtown’s interior streets will be reserved on weekends for pedestrian traffic and no vehicles allowed, which is why so much planning was needed for parking. The office tower and hotel will have shared valet parking. The residential component calls for lofts and apartments over retail in addition to luxury units attached to the hotel so residents can have direct access to amenities, according to Rutherford.

Icon Midtown’s 34-story office tower was designed by noted architect Ross Wimer of Chicago-based Skidmore Owings Merrill. Other components were crafted by Development Design Group of Baltimore and Gromatzky Dupree & Associates of Dallas.

“There are a lot of great development areas, but the foundation of this location works,” Rutherford says. “It’s the right development at the right time.”

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