When Boeing Co. went looking for a new corporate headquarters in 2001, they came to North Texas, flying over Exxon Mobil’s Irving facility and Las Colinas by helicopter, checking out the downtown street-level views by car.
One evening their driver, a young Bangladeshi named Mike Hoque, overheard an executive note how quiet—too quiet—downtown Dallas was after work hours. He’s right, Hoque says he realized.
Hoque had already started his limo business, first as a driver with one vehicle, but quickly expanding into corporate transportation services. A few years after his Boeing experience, he went into restaurants.
After a couple of false starts, he opened four downtown Dallas eateries: Dallas Chop House, Chop House Burger, Dallas Fish Market, and Wild Salsa. His DRG Concepts has since expanded to downtown Fort Worth and has more than 300 employees. “Mike saw the core of downtown was highly underserved. He’s certainly been one of our visionaries,” Downtown Dallas’ Garrett says.
Most people would find their hands full at that point, but Hoque, a high-energy guy if ever there was one, had his next venture planned. So, he has turned management of the transportation and restaurant companies—as well as sizable chunks of ownership—to employees and his hand-picked executives and moved into real estate development. In 2015, he bought the 27-floor, 1950s-era Adolphus Tower in downtown Dallas for renovation. And all the while, he was also chasing acres of property.
He says he has spent six years and an undisclosed amount of his own money on the effort. He dealt with close to 100 landowners and has had to piece together tracts as small as 7,000 square feet. For his troubles, he has a 15-acre tract in the Cedars neighborhood south of Interstate 30 between the Trinity River and Interstate 45, and the site near City Hall and Farmers Market, which is 20 acres. He has named the Cedars project SoGood @ Cedars, with plans for housing, retail, and office space.
He calls the other project New Park, and has partnered with Dallas corporate developer KDC. He hopes it will be a testament to the “revelation” he felt when he first saw Dallas. Back home in Dhaka, his hometown, he had never taken a plane trip longer than three hours. Flying halfway around the world to Dallas to visit an aunt, he was amazed by all he saw, especially the freedom to pursue what seemed like unlimited opportunities. And he sees a huge opportunity.
“All over the world, people want to get back to the city center,” to be close to stimulating places, he says. “They all want local experiences. People look for purpose. It is all about creating a place with a purpose. I have more than 300 DRG employees. Downtown housing costs $2-$4 a square foot a month. They can’t afford that. If developers, private-equity investors, the city all work together, we can solve that issue.”
He wants public transportation, nearby educational opportunities, and inviting public spaces near where people live and work. “If you create a project with mixed incomes and uses, people who might be down on their luck will meet a lot of people who have luck. They will learn,” he says.
In this group of developers, Hoque is the new kid on the block at age 46. He and KDC earned kudos locally for their bid to attract one of Amazon’s proposed second-headquarters (HQ2) locations. It was a finalist in the nationwide race for the corporate plum that ultimately went to suburban Washington D.C. So he has yet to pull off one of the mega-projects. That doesn’t bother him.
He says he has spent nine years talking to and learning from Jack Matthews, whose second-generation experience is something Hoque finds valuable. “What I learned is patience, and being the underdog. Jack fought for the Dallas Convention Center hotel when nobody knew him.” Hoque is OK doing the same.
This story was originally published in the Dallas-Fort Worth Real Estate Review.
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