By now, business knows that the cultural assets of a city are good for the business climate, too. Amid soaring new office towers in northeast downtown Dallas - not long ago a decaying area - the $2.6 billion Dallas Arts District, the largest urban development in the United States, is under way. Completion is expected in 10 to 15 years.
On the 60-acre project, designed by Sasaki Associates of Watertown, Mass., the block-long Dallas Museum of Art, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes, is already completed and will open officially in late January.
A new Symphony Hall, designed by I. M. Pei with acoustics by Russell Johnson, is to be completed in 1986. Surrounding the ''anchor'' museum and concert hall will be hotels, offices, galleries, boutiques, shops, fountains, walkways, downtown housing, a projected opera house, landscaping, and handsome ceremonial boulevards on streets realigned from dusty, hidden little blocks.
In recognition of the awakened concern for the city's vanishing historic buildings, the arts district is to incorporate the Arts Magnet School, the historic Belo Mansion (now headquarters for the Dallas Bar Association), St. Paul United Methodist Church, and the Gothic-style Cathedral Santuatrio de Guadelupe.
Dreamed of and agonized over, pushed and prodded by civic and business leaders and city officials from conception to approval, the project was a snarl of soaring land prices, land holdouts, land swapping, developers' wariness about building restrictions, and citizens' concern over whether there would be enough room for the ''little'' artists and craftspeople needed to make the area come alive.
All of it was ultimately coordinated by Dr. Philip Montgomery, associate dean at the University of Texas Dallas Health Science Center, a volunteer with a successful record of mediation.
A consulting firm, hired by the Central Business District Association (a coalition of more than 200 downtown businesses, developers, and banks under the direction of James Cloar), reported to the city on its choice of a location for the arts district: a piece of land already purchased land before the recent years of booming prices by farsighted Dallas Museum of Art trustees.
Major landowners in the area funded a study to help set guidelines for the new district. One important question was whether it should be self-contained, like Lincoln Center in New York.
Sasaki's winning design for an open ''district'' led to the recognition that the I.M. Pei concert hall, to include open space, would require more land, owned and eventually donated by the Borden Company.
But millions more were needed beyond construction costs ($29 million for the museum alone), and the leaders of the city who pride themselves on a ''can do'' attitude, swung into action. Contributions ranged from Arco's $1 million for the museum and $500,000 for the symphony hall to $100,000 from Texas Industries Inc. and Bozell & Jacobs, public relations and advertising.
From the Clearing House Association (of banks) came $1 million. Relatively new ''good neighbors'' participated. The Diamond Shamrock Corporation, a former Cleveland oil and oil products company whose glass and granite office tower now overlooks the Art Museum's Sculpture Gardens, made a large contribution.
Serving as general chairman of the Dallas Symphony Cornerstone Campaign to raise additional needed funds is Henry S. Miller Jr., second-generation head of the Dallas-founded real estate firm carrying his father's name. Remarks Mr. Miller: ''Business people recognize that a fine museum and symphony are good for business. They help attract business to the city.''
Of the $30 million already raised toward the $40 million goal set for the symphony, 25 percent came from the business sector, 50 percent from foundations, and the rest from private givers.
Art Museum director Harry Parker - a ''whiz kid'' under Thomas Hoving at the Metropolitan Museum in New York when he was hired in 1973 to revitalize the old Dallas Museum of Fine Art in Fair Park (site of the annual State Fair) - pushed for a new home for the museum's progressive educational programs and space for valuable collections waiting.
He remarked: ''Power structures give out a general civic pride, and the belief that it's good for business. But they have a real interest in the arts, as shown especially in the last 20 years.'' The Central Business District's Mr. Cloar sees the downtown amenities as ''people enticements,'' making it ''a better place to work and live, and certainly making it easier for companies to attract employees.''
It was Mrs. Margaret McDermott (widow of one of the founders of Texas Instruments, Eugene McDermott) who while chairing the museum's board of directors back in 1976 first started raising money to buy land for the museum. Spurred by the deficiencies of the 37-year-old cramped museum, she and believers such as trustees Stanley Marcus, Mrs. Eddie Marcus, Ray Hunt, and Vincent Carrozza (vice-president of the Dallas Museum Art Association) raised $1 million in private donations to buy land and eventually hired architect Ed Barnes, renowned for his museum designs. ''It was a gamble then,'' says Mr. Carrozza, ''but she kept the faith even after the first bond referendum was defeated.''
As museum building committee chairman, Mr. Carrozza recently joined other museum officials in a gladsome dedication of the barrel-vaulted new museum's Sculpture Gardens. Mayor Starke Taylor, museum board chairman George Charlton, museum president Irvin Levy (of National Chemsearch), and Mr. Carrozza told a beaming attendance that the museum was constructed $1,500,000'' under budget.
''We got $30 million in donated funds,'' says Mr. Carrozza, developer of one of downtown Dallas's less formidable-looking office towers, ''because business givers felt assured businesslike control would prevail.''
Visitors can now view sculptures from the permanent collection by Henry Moore , Mark Di Suvero, Barbara Hepworth, Max Bill, and Tony Smith, and commissioned pieces by Ellsworth Kelly and Scott Burton. Scheduled for the museum's opening blockbuster show is ''The Shogun Age,'' an exhibition of Japanese armor, March 17-May 27, organized in cooperation with the Tokugawa Foundation.