Jim Lake Cos. bought up several blocks in the Bishop Arts District in 1985. Jim Lake Jr. brokered the deal for his dad, Jim Lake Sr., whose vision was to redevelop it with son Richard Lake and business partner Mike Morgan. “It was a horrible time to do it because in 1986 is when the real estate depression started, and we were trying to drag people kicking and screaming across the river just to look at space,” the younger Jim Lake says.
Bishop Arts had a few tenants when Lake bought it, including Goodier Cosmetics, a back rehab place, a travel agent and artist Stuart Kraft. “It was a very difficult time,” Lake says. “We almost lost it back in 1989. We were struggling to get people over there and just to keep them paying rent. I got involved in the ownership in ’89, got some capital, and saved it from going back to the bank, basically.” Lake says the company “toughed it through” most of the ’90s. Oline’s hair salon was one of the first tenants to sign on with Jim Lake Cos. in the district. Tillman’s Corner, the earlier incarnation of Tillman’s, opened in 1992. A turning point for the district came in 1998 when City Council, led by then-mayor Laura Miller, allocated $2.6 million to upgrades that included wider sidewalks, brick pavers, street lights and trees. The district also was rezoned that year to reduce the parking requirements, which allowed for more restaurants to open. “We’ve had some hits and misses, but we’ve paid attention to having the correct mix of sole proprietorships that work well together,” he says. Lake’s next big Oak Cliff redevelopment is the Jefferson Tower office building and adjoining retail in the 300 block of West Jefferson. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s unlikely to take 13 years to be transformed. Lake already is working with the city and Jefferson stakeholders to rezone the area. And the city has approved a $1.5-million economic development grant for the project, which will be given once Lake spends $6 million on renovations.