The Good-News Government Center
Ryan Companies US, Inc. builds community-focused landmark ‘for energy and prosperity’
In December 2018, commercial real estate and construction services company Ryan Companies US, Inc. (Ryan Companies) was awarded the contract to build Dallas County’s new Oak Cliff Government Center at 702 East Jefferson Blvd. The $33 million dollar project involved the construction of a two-story facility and a three-story parking garage with 240 parking spaces.
The former facility, referred to as the Oak Cliff Sub-Courthouse, was located at 407 South Beckley Ave. and built over 50 years ago. It became expensive to maintain and ceased to accommodate increased government-center traffic and employees’ and taxpayers’ changed needs. “The maintenance issues were constant and costly—if it wasn’t the AC, then it was the toilets or the surrounding potholes,” says Dr. Elba Garcia, Dallas County Commissioner for District 4. “It was important that we eliminate the expenses associated with maintaining a structure no longer viable for county business and create a new, efficient facility equipped to serve present and future constituents.”
A Multifunctional Facility
Though the county’s desire was straightforward, its execution proved more nuanced considering the new government center’s variety of intended functions. Not only would the facility house elected officials and personnel, ranging from judges and constables to tax office staff, but it would also serve as a voting center on at least two occasions annually. In addition, roughly 10,000 cases and transactions each year would be reviewed and processed through the justice of the peace court and about 2,750 transactions per week would be processed at the tax office. What’s more, the presence of the tax office necessitated the incorporation of high-security features.
Paul Rowsey, Ryan Companies’ Vice President of Real Estate Development, was involved with the project from the acquisition of the two-acre project site through the project’s financing, entitlement, design and construction phases. He explains, “In the very beginning, we asked, how can we build a flexible space that can accommodate multiple uses and support the county’s current and future needs?”
Thoughtfully answering this question proved especially critical during the project’s design and entitlement phases. “Given the tight, urban site on which the facility sits, we knew the creation of a higher-density development was crucial and, therefore, coordinated with project architect GFF and the city of Dallas to design and secure proper permitting, entitlements and setbacks,” says Rowsey. “Our goal was to ensure that the way the building fronts the adjacent street makes it approachable, walkable and accessible whether on 100-visitor days or 1,000-plus visitor days—and to make the best possible use of the land.”
Ryan Companies’ Senior Project Manager Blake Evans emphasizes his team’s prioritization of communication throughout the project. Evans says, “We conducted weekly owner-architect-contractor meetings where key county leaders were provided project updates. We also hosted monthly site walks for Dallas County officials and provided each department team with a virtual walkthrough of their new space.”
“It all starts with communication, which was led by our project management staff,” adds Rowsey. “Our weekly reports kept project stakeholders informed about upcoming milestones and decisions to be made, including the right, wrong and indifferent impacts of each. We did a good job of arming our customers with the information necessary to make educated choices for the good of the project.”
Garcia confirms that Ryan Companies worked closely with the county to ensure even the seemingly smallest details of the facility were considered. For example, Judge Juan Jasso, who Garcia explains is “known for marrying most of Oak Cliff,” notes that, in his decades of experience, he’s watched dressed-up brides get wet walking from their cars to his courtroom on rainy days and their heels get stuck in and ruined by the pavers at the former Oak Cliff Government Center. “I never thought about this until I nearly tripped when my own heel got stuck in a paver,” Garcia says.
It was this feedback that influenced the type of pavement surrounding the building and that resulted in the addition of a covered parking garage, which is attached to the main building and includes a second-floor skybridge.
A Modern, Efficient Facility
Ryan Companies’ hard work and commitment to fostering open lines of communication with project stakeholders resulted in the successful construction of an aesthetically pleasing yet functional facility in line with the county’s vision. The 43,000-square-foot building is surrounded by a modern, glass curtain wall and is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-Silver-certified. The green government center includes bike racks and changing rooms to encourage visitors to use transportation other than cars; water-efficient, locally sourced landscaping; improved building-energy performance; lighting controls to reduce energy usage and more.
Beyond the building’s sustainable elements, the center features upgraded safety measures and building improvements that were added mid-construction to create safer work conditions in a post-COVID-19 world. Examples of design upgrades include additional active-use areas such as covered, outdoor gathering spaces, touchless building entries and exits, and plumbing fixtures and improved heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and air-filtration systems.
In spite of a variety of challenges—such as navigating changing COVID-19 regulations, material shortages and increased costs of materials—Ryan Companies helped deliver the project on budget and two months ahead of schedule. “All aspects of the project have exceeded our expectations,” says Assistant Dallas County Administrator Jonathon Bazan.
Dallas County’s vision for its Oak Cliff Government Center was twofold: first, to create a modern, efficient facility to allow county employees to offer exceptional services to constituents, and second, to ensure the engagement and representation of the local community. For Garcia, executing successfully the latter goal involved transparent communication with taxpayers, supporting and soliciting the feedback of local residents and business owners and opportunity creation for minority-owned firms.
Ryan Companies helped Garcia attain her goal by providing engaging project news and updates for the county’s website dedicated to highlighting county news, projects, success stories and recognitions. Additionally, a webcam was installed so that stakeholders could view construction progress any time of the day or night.
Before the project began, Dallas County made clear its desire to host a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate its commencement. Due to COVID-19-related safety concerns, the in-person ceremony was abruptly canceled the day before the event. Nevertheless, Ryan Companies adapted and worked with Dallas County to plan and successfully host the county’s first-ever virtual groundbreaking ceremony.
On August 26, 2020, a small group of Dallas County officials, project leaders and local community members gathered on the project site, wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance from one another, to deliver remarks about the project’s intended impact and participate in a ceremonial dirt dig. County employees, project leaders and community members unable to attend the ceremony in person, watched live via Microsoft Teams. Alejandro Rodela of Marsalis Avenue Church of Christ delivered opening prayers in both English and Spanish and leaders including Garcia, Rowsey, Dallas County Administrator Darryl Martin, GFF’s Maria Gomez and John H. Martínez, President and CEO of the Regional Hispanic Contractors Association (RHCA), shared remarks.
For Rowsey, the importance of this government center—not only to Dallas County but also to the surrounding community—became evident during the ceremony. “Though we were at the height of the pandemic, I remember being able to feel the heart and emotion of the community as Rodela delivered an opening prayer in English and then transitioned seamlessly to delivering the same prayer in Spanish.”
What’s more, on the day of the rescheduled event, lunches for the construction workers were provided in appreciation for their hard work, as well as prepackaged desserts from local bakery Panaderia La Hacienda Cristy. Workers on-site were also presented with gift cards to nearby restaurant, Del Sur Tacos.
“We never imagined that we’d be in the middle of a worldwide pandemic at the beginning of this project,” Garcia says. “Hosting our first-ever virtual groundbreaking ceremony was special, and Ryan Companies did a fantastic job ensuring COVID-19 protocols were followed and keeping workers safe.”
Ryan Companies’ commitment to community engagement extended even through the project’s furniture, fixtures and equipment phase. “To further the commissioner’s desire for the building to serve as a reflection of the local community, we developed a program to ensure the work of local artists would be displayed permanently throughout the facility,” says Evans. “Personal touches like this make this building a community landmark.”
Exceptional Minority Participation
Additionally, in line with the county’s intention to lead the way in opportunity creation for local minority-owned firms, the project team achieved 52% participation from Minority/Women Business Enterprise (M/WBE) firms. For context, Rowsey explains that more typical for government projects is 25% or less participation from M/WBE firms and, for privately funded projects, less than 5% M/WBE participation is common. They also engaged workers from the Regional Black Contractors Association’s (RBCA’s) Second Chance Education & Training Program.
“County officials introduced our team to local associations such as the RHCA and the RBCA,” says Rowsey. “I remember attending an outreach event and being impressed by the turnout. As a result, minority participation in the construction process mirrored the demographics of the surrounding community.”
“Realizing over 50% MWBE participation is great for the community and for Dallas County,” adds Bazan. “Ryan Companies’ commitment to engaging the local community was impressive.”
A Neighborhood Investment
Emphasized on Ryan Companies’ website is the company’s commitment to “build the backdrops to life’s stories.” One sentence reads, “Together, we build something far more profound than the physical presence of a building.”
By all available evidence, this project is proof of Ryan Companies’ stated mission. “There is an undeniable energy in this sector of the city,” says Rowsey, “and together, Dallas County and project leaders created a center for energy and prosperity, the heart of positive regeneration.”
From Garcia’s perspective, “Politics is always a mixed bag of good and bad news, but when I speak with District 4 residents about this facility, people are just excited.” According to Bazan, local business owners have told county leaders they are glad to welcome the Oak Cliff Government Center as their new neighbor.