Subject: Dallas mayor's plan to spur southern growth focuses on key corridors

Staff Writer

Published: 10 February 2012 05:25 PM

Dallas’ greatest opportunities and most intractable troubles have long been wound together in the open land and scattered neighborhoods south of the Trinity River. Now, seeking to capitalize on those opportunities and minimize the troubles, Mayor Mike Rawlings is unveiling a plan he hopes will bring economic growth to eight key corridors of southern Dallas and help change perceptions of the entire area.

Returning to a key plank of his campaign, Rawlings sat down this week to discuss details of the plan that he will roll out Monday at a community meeting in the Cedars. “Growing southern Dallas is one of the most important things I feel I can do as mayor, and I want to make sure we do this in an organized fashion,” he said.

The plan, crafted over months with city staff, boils down to building on successes by focusing money on key areas, leveraging new investment as those areas grow and shifting attitudes by cleaning up and marketing the neighborhoods of southern Dallas. Past mayors, including Rawlings’ predecessor, Tom Leppert, had their own plans for improving southern Dallas that often made little progress.

But certain parts of southern Dallas have changed for the better — dramatically in some cases — over the past decade.

Rawlings pointed to the Bishop Arts District and to Pinnacle Park, near Interstate 30 and Loop 12, where strong private investment has taken root. And he talked about West Dallas and the area around the University of North Texas at Dallas, where major public investments can be capitalized upon.

Investors need to know that these are the places where the returns will be, Rawlings said. “I’m a salesman, unabashedly, about the investment opportunities I think exist. And I want to be clear about where I’m going to be spending my time in my administration,” he said.  He said he is already working to bring investors to the area to show them what has been done and what is coming.

KEY AREAS: Corridors emphasized in city’s plan

Mayor Mike Rawlings’ plan for southern Dallas focuses broadly on eight areas, with long-term (two years) and short-term (one year) goals for each. Here’s a look at some of the goals for each area:

West Dallas Gateway: Overhaul Herbert Street north of Singleton; continue work on restaurant district; build new Continental pedestrian bridge; replace Sylvan Avenue bridge; make improvements recommended by Complete Streets Demonstration Project.

Pinnacle Park: Begin construction of new frontage road along the south side of I-30 from Cockrell Hill Road to Westmoreland Road; begin construction of 130-unit Hillside West apartments on West Davis Street.

North Oak Cliff: Complete “Main Street Plan” for Jefferson Boulevard and strategic plan for Bishop Arts District; begin construction of Oak Cliff streetcar starter line; make improvements recommended by Complete Streets Demonstration Project and zoning changes consistent with Oak Cliff Gateway land use plan.

Greater downtown/the Cedars: Support funding requests for residential and hotel projects; complete South Lamar streetscape improvements; review operations at Dallas Farmers Market and consider options; complete design for Riverfront Boulevard reconstruction south of Cadiz Street.

Lancaster Corridor: Start construction of Lancaster Urban Village mixed-use project; make improvements recommended by Complete Streets Demonstration Project; initiate affordable-housing plan at the Kiest and VA Medical CenterDART stations; work with the VA Medical Center to build a pedestrian bridge over Lancaster Road.

Education Corridor: Overhaul water, sewer and roads; finalize plans for grocery store on Simpson Stuart Road; complete design for Complete Streets Demonstration Project on Camp Wisdom and Simpson Stuart roads; re-establish relationship with BNSF railway for potential intermodal facility; consider pursuing state funding for additional campus buildings at UNT-Dallas.

DART Green Line Corridor: Initiate affordable housing and other development at MLK, Hatcher and Buckner DART stations; improvements recommended by Complete Streets Demonstration Project; continue construction of Fair Park Estates single-family development.

Red Bird: Hire aviation coordinator to oversee land development at Dallas Executive Airport and Love Field; finalize approvals for Wal-Mart Supercenter at I-35E and Ledbetter Road; complete Home Depot distribution center expansion; identify potential private developers at Executive Airport.

SOURCE: City of Dallas

City’s focus areas

Rawlings held back some details of his plan for Monday’s meeting. But he said those ideas involve new financial tools for investing in the area, giving a hand up to schools and strengthening neighborhood organizations. He spoke at length, though, about where he wants to see City Hall focus its efforts during his time in office. And he said he wants to see results soon.

He called for the city to make Jefferson Boulevard, near Bishop Arts, a main street for north Oak Cliff. That means not only improvements to the streetscape, but also engagement with building owners to set a strategy for the future.“This is our complete street right there. Let’s just make this thing come to life,” he said.

He wants to see 2012 bond money committed to extending Herbert Street as a main street in West Dallas. And he wants a focus on improving basic infrastructure around UNT-Dallas and seeing a frontage road built along I-30 at the Pinnacle Park development.

Other ideas include improvements to the Lancaster corridor near the Veterans Affairs hospital, re-engaging the plan to build up the inland port, and driving development to the corridor along DART’s Green Line in southeastern Dallas.

The plan also involves efforts to shift perceptions throughout North Texas about southern Dallas.
Rawlings, former chief executive of the advertising firm TracyLocke, is calling for the city to hire a “brand manager” whose sole job will be to market southern Dallas.

“I’m a marketing guy, so I’m going to be staying very close with this person,” he said.

He wants to have ad agencies donate services to support the marketing plan.
And there is good news to market, city officials say. Crime in all of southern Dallas is down 33 percent from eight years ago. The area can boast that it is home to two nationally ranked magnet high schools. And few parts of the region have as many transportation options.

The area will be easier to market if it’s cleaner and more welcoming.
As part of that effort, the city plans to demolish 250 nuisance buildings this year, roughly the same number it destroyed last year.

Rawlings also wants to see the city help distinguish major neighborhoods with attractive gateway signs, of the sort recently erected in Pleasant Grove. Southern Dallas is often meshed together in many people’s minds when, in fact, it is composed of distinct and diverse neighborhoods, such as South Dallas, Mountain Creek, Red Bird and different sections of Oak Cliff.

Council member Tennell Atkins, who headed Leppert’s Southern Dallas Task Force, praised Rawlings’ plan as the right approach. “This mayor feels like we have a product, and that product is southern Dallas,” he said.

The product is also opportunity, he said.
“UNT, that’s an education opportunity. You know the institution is going to be there. You look at Bishop Arts and you know that’s a great opportunity. You’ve got Methodist hospital there, and a streetcar line coming. Look at the Cedars. Look at West Dallas. Southern Dallas is a good product for the city of Dallas,” he said.

But not everyone is so sure about the plan.
Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College and a respected southern Dallas leader, said that he knew nothing about Rawlings’ plan and that no one had approached him to discuss it. Paul Quinn is an important part of the “education corridor” around UNT-Dallas that Rawlings identified as one of eight critical areas of focus. Sorrell lives with the challenges that major parts of southern Dallas have presented for generations, and he is clear-eyed about the difficulty of overcoming them.

“To create lasting, substantial, meaningful change, there are some fundamental things which have to occur. You can fix housing stock, you can provide investment dollars, but if you don’t address the pervasive lack of preparation, of educational opportunities and of readiness for the citizens, then I’m not sure how you don’t wind up in a situation, even with all the best intentions, where you don’t maximize your opportunities,” he said.

Investment in land, infrastructure and business, without investment in the people of the area, “can lead to unintended gentrification,” Sorrell said.

City Hall understands change will come slowly.
And Rawlings said he wants to see all of southern Dallas participate in the change through stronger neighborhoods. The city can provide help, but he’s under no illusion government can do it all, he said. It will take investors, leaders and the people of southern Dallas, he said.

“So much of this is outside of the big-C City’s purview. The city, the institutional city, can only do so much,” he said.

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