WEISS/MANFREDI selected to transform former jail as part of massive Dallas park project
The nonprofit Trinity Park Conservancy announced that it has hired New York City-based multidisciplinary architecture firm WEISS / MANFREDI to transform an existing 10-story former prison on 106 Commerce West Street in downtown Dallas into an anchor for the coming Harold Simmons to head park.
The planned park, which was designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates of Brooklyn and extends over 200 acres along the Trinity River, will, when completed, connect the downtown core of the city with its west and south sides. At an estimated price of $ 200 million, the ambitious urban park project is set to be the first of several new parks adjacent to the historically underutilized waterway. Malone Maxwell Dennehy Architects (MMDA) from Dallas will work with WEISS / MANFREDI on the implementation of the adaptive reuse of the building.
The very conspicuous concrete-slab-clad building at 106 West Commerce, which was recently named the “ugliest building in Dallas” by the Dallas Morning News, is no ordinary building. Completed in 1997, the structure is the former home of the Jesse R. Dawson State Jail, an infamous privately owned facility that closed in 2013 and has been vacant since then. The Conservancy bought the abandoned property on the east bank of the river in May 2019 for $ 3 million to eventually incorporate it into the future park as an anchor landmark and give it a new purpose that benefits the community.
A design inspiration sketch for 106 West Commerce Street by WEISS / MANFREDI. (Courtesy of WEISS / MANFREDI)
Exactly how the old prison will be reused has yet to be determined, although restaurants, retail stores, affordable housing, and administrative offices for the park have all appeared in the local media as early speculative ideas. As mentioned in a press release, the founding directors of WEISS / MANFREDI, Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi, see the building’s potential as a “dynamic community goal and gateway to Harold Simmons Park”.
“The Conservancy is delighted to have selected WEISS / MANFREDI and MMDA to reinterpret this building and attract people from all over the city to the park to connect with nature and with each other,” added Deedie Rose, Chair the Conservancy, added Board of Directors, in the statement. “It will be an essential part of the public health infrastructure in our city, creating jobs, stimulating economic development and providing critical green spaces.”
This all sounds tempting and positive, but there are few details.
These details will be formulated and then formalized over the coming months through a comprehensive community engagement process in which the conservancy and design team will assemble the local Dallas stakeholders and residents who live and work in the triad of neighborhoods that are both prospective and future-oriented Both the park and the future park flank the old prison.
The infamous old Dawson Prison was and is one of the ugliest buildings in Dallas. (Courtesy Trinity Park Conservancy)
The goal, of course, is to gather opinions and ideas from members of the community on what the best reuse approach for the building should ultimately be. The needs and wishes expressed during the sessions will influence the further process. Those who have worked and incarcerated in the prison are encouraged to attend the upcoming series of listening sessions, the first of which will be held tomorrow, August 21st. Additional listening sessions will be held as required by the Conservancy to seek input from the community. The project is progressing.
WEISS / MANFREDI was selected from a shortlist of seven teams to breathe new life into the destroyed 238,000 square meter building. After an application for qualification issued by the Conservancy in early July, a total of 45 local, national and international companies responded to the request for a “visionary architect” to overhaul the building. The company was ultimately selected by an eight-person committee formed by the Conservancy, due in part – among other criteria – to its established track record in the context of office space, adaptive reuse projects, and projects requiring significant community input.