It was 1954, and Futurism was all the rage. Automobile designers rolled out streamlined cars with swooping tailfins and gleaming chrome; fashion designers paired astronaut-chic miniskirts with goggles; and famed architect Wallace K. Harrison designed the shimmering, aluminum-clad Republic Tower in downtown Dallas.

Harrison, the internationally acclaimed designer of the United Nations Building in New York, was invited to Dallas in the early 1950s to design a new headquarters. When Republic Tower opened in 1954, it was the tallest building on the Dallas skyline and brought a modern flair to the city with its curtain wall of embossed anodized aluminum panels—much of which came from World War II-era factories used for stamping out metal for tanks. The building was topped with a 150-foot-tall tower modeled after a rocket and outlined with pulsating neon lights.

The building was expanded in 1965 and 1985, but by 1994, the structure was mothballed thanks to flooding and electrical fires. Later that same decade, investors purchased the building with plans to renovate it into office space; they removed asbestos insulation and stripped the upstairs interiors down to walls and floors. Then, the office market declined, and they ended up selling the building for a significant loss.

 Republic Tower's transformation from abandoned offices to trendy apartments helped invigorate a Dallas landmark.
Republic Tower's transformation from abandoned offices to trendy apartments helped invigorate a Dallas landmark.

By the early 2000s, downtown Dallas found itself in the middle of an unprecedented residential boom. Renters jumped at the chance to live in warehouses converted into large, open lofts. Atlanta-based Gables Residential saw the empty Republic Tower, assessed the market, and came up with a new solution: Why not convert the empty office building into rental housing that would be a step up from the lofts proliferating in downtown?

MAKING IT WORK It would take a while for that idea to become reality. First, Gables had to put together a financial package that would make redevelopment feasible. “We had to go to every source we could find to squeak out a respectable deal,” says Tom Bakewell, vice president of Gables Residential. The final financing took nearly three years to negotiate and included |$6.7 million in Federal historic tax credits, an estimated $4.6 million in city and county historic tax abatements, and $4.6 million in TIF funds.

Negotiations were also required to garner support for the project within Gables. “This is the first adaptive reuse that we've done of this nature with a down-town, 34-story high-rise. So there were a lot of obstacles to overcome internally and a lot of concerns,” Bakewell says.

It took time to answer all the questions from senior management, but it was time well spent, Bakewell adds. “Finally the COO said, ‘I've done everything I could to kill this deal, but you guys have had answers for every question, so we'll go ahead,'” he explains.

DAZZLING DESIGN Project architects RTKL, based in Baltimore, focused on creating traditional urban apartment homes with sheetrock ceilings and hidden ductwork combined with upscale finishes such as granite countertops, designer pendant lighting, and wood floors. The 225 apartments range in size from 675 square feet to 1,500 square feet. In addition, there are four custom penthouses on the 34th floor that range from 2,700 square feet to 3,500 square feet and include home theater rooms and wine “cellars.”