Six years ago, Japanese investor Takeharu Miyama had just sold a luxury apartment complex in Preston Center, and was looking to make another local buy. After scouring the market, he narrowed his options to two choices—St. Paul Place in downtown Dallas or 1909 Woodall Rodgers Freeway in Uptown.
St. Paul Place was a compelling opportunity; the gleaming, 22-story tower sits across from the Dallas Museum of Art on Ross Avenue. By contrast, the Woodall Rodgers building wasn’t as sleek or as large—a five-story dark brick building, plus a single-story motor bank next door.
But there were rumblings about a plan to build a deck park built over the freeway. If it happened, Miyama would own one of the few commercial sites directly adjacent to the park. If it didn’t, the Woodall asset still offered a terrific location, immediate access to major freeways, and abundant parking.
It seemed like a good bet, and that’s the option Miyama went with. He acquired 1909 Woodall Rodgers Freeway and the adjacent bank for about $10.5 million from Behringer Harvard Funds in August 2006.
Three months later, the park became a real possibility, after Dallas citizens approved $20 million in bond funds for the project. Today, of course, Klyde Warren Park is a new Dallas reality, and Miyama’s bet has paid off.
Dallas developers are desperate to get their hands on the site, which is rife with redevelopment possibilities. Sawako Miyama, Takeharu’s daughter, who lives here and manages the family’s North Texas holdings, says they’ve been approached by “all the big players in town.”
But the Miyamas aren’t interested in selling. Nor are they in a hurry to redevelop their jewel.
“Our culture is one of patience,” Sawako says. “We won’t be rushed.”
The Miyama family has a 400-year history of farming land in and around Chiba, a Tokyo suburb. It was Sawako’s grandfather who segued into the gas pipe installation business. In the 1970s, Takeharu was being groomed to lead his father’s company, but after graduating from college in Japan, he felt he hadn’t yet earned that privilege.
“My father thought he didn’t do well enough in school and that he wasn’t yet worthy to be a successor, so he wanted to challenge himself,” Sawako says. “He took a bicycle trip across the United States, by himself, from Oregon to Washington, D.C. He didn’t speak English, and he didn’t bring much money. He just had a bike, a tent, and a sleeping bag. He thought he could learn something—and he did.”
Takeharu was profoundly affected by the kindness of strangers along the way. Despite the language barrier, people welcomed him in to their dorm rooms or homes for a meal or to sleep. After making the difficult trek, and a subsequent bike trip through Europe, Takeharu felt he was ready to join his father’s firm.
The Miyama family got into the real estate business after Sawako’s great-grandfather passed away, to avoid Japan’s then-sky-high inheritance taxes. After developing a number of residential projects in Japan, Takeharu set his sights on America.
“My father’s bicycle trip is the origin of everything we have here,” Sawako says. “He wanted to invest in the United States to repay the generosity of those he encountered. At the time, the Japanese economy was very strong. The bankers told him, ‘You can invest in anything you want. We will loan you the money.’ ”
Takeharu honed in on Dallas, and, in 1990, he acquired The Shelton on Luther Lane in Preston Center from the Resolution Trust Corp. The 130-acre complex was built as a condominium project, but only four or five units had been sold. Takeharu converted it to luxury apartments. He then acquired The Forest on Duck Creek, a 130-unit multifamily property in Garland.
Growing up, Sawako and her family would frequently visit Dallas. During the late 1990s, Takeharu developed two dormitories for the University of North Texas, and Sawako would stay for summer-long stints, to study English. Her experiences helped her develop an interest in other cultures. Back in Japan, she majored in French literature in college, and was considering a move to France.
When she turned 20, Sawako’s father took her to Cambodia. Her family had been building schools in the struggling country as a way to give back. There was to be a celebration marking the completion of another Miyama school, and more than 1,000 people were expected to attend. The night before the big event, Takeharu told his daughter that she’d be giving the speech on behalf of the family. She was stunned, but knew she had to do as her father wished. Sawako spent the evening drafting the speech, which she gave the next day, as her parents sat behind her on the stage.
“That’s when my father felt I could be a successor in the business,” Sawako says. “It was like a test, which I guess I passed. After the ceremony, he asked me if I would be interested in going to Dallas.” She moved two years later, in 2002, after finishing college, and has been here ever since.
Sawako had to learn about real estate on the job, from scratch. Her father, who doesn’t speak English or use a computer, sent her weekly lessons that he jotted down on yellow legal pads. During his quarterly trips to Dallas, Sawako is his chauffeur, secretary, and translator in real estate meetings. “Translating helped me learn a lot, as I have to carefully listen to both sides of a conversation,” she says.
In 2006, when the condo market took off in Dallas, the family had an opportunity to sell The Shelton at peak pricing. Through a tax-free exchange, the Miyamas took the proceeds and bought the Woodall Rodgers property, as well as a 250,000-square-foot industrial complex near Interstate 35 and Northwest Highway, with 8 acres of adjacent land.
Not long after, occupancy in 1909 Woodall Rodgers dropped to about 30 percent, after its lead tenant, Precept Builders, went out of business and other tenants left. The Miyamas turned to Manny Ybarra of Pillar Commercial to help. With a focus on strong tenant relationships—and, of course, the promise of the park—the property is now nearly fully leased. Pillar has since had similar success at Cornerstone, the Miyamas’ industrial property.
Sawako says her family’s relationship with Ybarra, as well as Dallas Taylor of TGS Architects, has been critical.
“When my father first came here, he didn’t know anyone,” she says. “He started building relationships one by one. We have such a great
team surrounding us; without them, I don’t think we could have operated our business for such a long time.”
To show appreciation for their success, the Miyamas started a fellowship through the Dallas chapter of the American Institute of Architects—a tenant in their Woodall Rodgers building—and also provided space at no charge to the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation, as the project was getting up and running.
Linda Owen, chairman emeritus of the foundation, said keeping overhead low during the startup phase was critical.
“It was a huge relief to have the Miyamas’ support,” she says. “It took the struggle of trying to rent space in the Arts District or spend the money to build out and staff a presentation center off the table, so donations could go directly into the park project. ... The Miyamas still do business with old-fashioned family and community-based values.”
Those values are precisely what’s keeping them from rushing into any redevelopment work at 1909 Woodall Rodgers, recently rebranded as Miyama Parkside.
“We are going to watch what happens, how the park is used, how traffic is going to flow, how it will affect people,” Sawako says. “We know there is an opportunity—especially with the bank site; it would be easy to tear down.
“We come from a family of farmers. To be in that business, you have to cooperate with your neighbors, to get the water coming to the land. And once you plant the seed, you have to cultivate it and be patient,” she says. “These two projects—Miyama Parkside and the 8 acres of land we own near our warehouse—are like two seeds. We will wait for the right time to plant and cultivate.”