Ever driven out-of-town guests over to Fort Worth for a tour of the Stockyards, or a trip to the Amon Carter or Kimbell museums, followed by an authentic Tex-Mex dinner at J.T. Garcia’s? This itinerary is a staple in my entertainment repertoire when company comes, even though the distance to Fort Worth sometimes seems like traveling the Chisholm Trail.

Until now, downtown Dallas seemed a homely stepsister in comparison to the delights of Western icons and fine art on display in our sister city. Starting this month, though, I’ll have to rethink my tour circuit, because Dallas has weighed in with formidable competition in the form of the Nasher Sculpture Center.

Conceived and donated to the city by collector Ray Nasher, the center houses a collection of 19th- and 20th-century masters and contemporary artists that the Dallas real estate developer and his late wife, Patsy, acquired beginning in the early 1960s.

Residents of Preston Hollow are already familiar with many of the pieces in the collection. For years, the sculpture has enhanced the interior and exterior of NorthPark Center and the grounds of Nasher’s Preston Hollow home (another destination on my tour of the metroplex), where you can see the immense artworks from a drive-by perspective.

Initially, I was unhappy about Nasher’s offer to donate the collection to the city. The offer seemed coincidentally timed with the proposal Nasher’s development company backed to rezone land at the corner of Northwest Highway and US-75, from residential to commercial property. That zoning change resulted in high-density apartment complexes, a hotel, office buildings and retail shopping at an already congested intersection. Highland Park and Preston Hollow homeowners, whose neighborhoods the development bisects, wanted single-family homes instead.

You had to wonder about the timing of the zoning change, and the announcement of Dallas as the choice among several cities that vied for the honor of hosting Nasher’s renowned collection. The whole affair sounded like a tit-for-tat backroom agreement, and the sculpture collection seemed like a booby prize for having to endure endless traffic and gridlock into and out of the eastern quadrant of Preston Hollow.

In the years since the zoning change, however, the development across the street from NorthPark Center has not negatively impacted the quality of life in Highland Park and Preston Hollow the way I feared it would. The traffic pattern is routed to permit as little cut-through as possible, and the shopping center is set back far enough that entering and exiting doesn’t feel like pulling out into the fast track at Indy. And residents, myself included, have enjoyed the convenience of the shopping options the center provides without having to visit the mall.

So instead of a trade-off, Dallas garnered a win-win in this situation. Nasher won his commercial development battle, and Dallas received a world-class museum, completely funded by the Nasher Foundation, that greatly enhances the fairly paltry offerings in the Downtown Arts District. The architecture of the museum is as splendid as the collection itself, and if the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao is any example, architecture can be as large a draw as the contents of the actual museum.

So, thank you to Ray Nasher for his generosity to Dallas. The impact of such an important contribution to the arts in Dallas will hopefully serve as an impetus for more civic development in downtown.

I’m sure I’ll still make the pilgrimage to Fort Worth when guests visit, but now I have a worthwhile detour to the Nasher Center to make on the way west.


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