Dallas could spend $2.4 million to help breathe life into dying Southwest Center Mall

By November 17, 2015Uncategorized

In September, private equity investor Peter Brodsky bought most of the beleaguered Southwest Center Mall at auction — at a cost of around $13 million. And for now, Brodsky told the Dallas City Council’s  Economic Development Committee this morning, that’s “100 percent personal,” meaning he alone is investing in a dead mall the city has spent years trying to revive. “This is something that’s extremely important to me and will be done in a way that works for this community,” Brodsky said.

But Brodsky will not go it alone: The Office of Economic Development has agreed to kick in a $2.4 million grant, which will go toward acquiring other properties at the mall — likely, the vacant Dillard’s space. The committee agreed to pass along the grant proposal to the full council for a vote in January. Only one member of the committee refused to sign off: Carolyn King Arnold, who wanted more details concerning the mall’s future before agreeing to the public subsidy. Arnold, who spoke for close to 15 minutes and eventually accused committee chair Rick Callahan of cutting her off, said she wants to “stop giving city dollars to feel-good developments that just go” nowhere.

Her fellow committee members vehemently disagreed. Callahan thanked Brodsky, who was in attendance, “for your boldness in stepping up with this plan and leading this turnaround.” Casey Thomas thanked him for involving the community in discussions about its fate. Adam McGough, who once spearheaded Mayor Mike Rawlings’ GrowSouth program, said Brodsky’s involvement in Southwest Center’s redo represented “such an opportunity for GrowSouth and the entire city.” And Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Erik Wilson said, “I am hyena happy and peacock proud of what’s about to go down at Southwest Center Mall.”

Dallas City Hall’s been spending money on the former Red Bird Mall since 2009, when the council shucked out $120,000 on an Urban Land Institute study that ultimately concluded that the “mostly dead” mall could be saved if, among other things, ownership was consolidated, the city could find an interested developer and Dallas City Hall created a tax increment financing district that funneled public money into the overhaul. The TIF’s been in place since the spring of 2014, when the council voted to create the Mall Area Redevelopment Tax Increment Financing District that includes both Southwest Center and Valley View Center. And now, it has a developer. Karl Zavitkovsky, head of the city’s Office of Economic Development, told the council Monday morning his office started working with Brodsky during the auction process, and agreed to help him finance its purchase before he finally signed on the dotted line earlier this fall.

The city’s grant isn’t set in stone, though: It’s contingent on an appraiser setting the value for the piece of the mall Dallas winds up buying — either the old Dillard’s site or the vacant lot where a J.C. Penney once stood. The city would likely wind up owning the parcel outright if Brodsky’s redevelopment plans fall through and no one else steps in to take his place. Brodsky, of course, says that will not happen. He told the council he’s been meeting with community leaders over the past two months to hear their hopes and dreams for Southwest Center Mall; another larger meeting is set for December 1, according to Wilson and Thomas.

Brodsky told the council Monday morning that it’s “critical the community have a deep involvement in the re-imagining of this property,” and said he’s been told, repeatedly, it needs to have better restaurants, “quality retail,” a movie theater and, perhaps, even a supermarket. All options are on the table, but nothing’s on the immediate horizon: Omniplan Architects, which came up with the Dallas Midtown plan intended to replace Valley View and designed the 1.2-million-square-foot, $250 million expansion NorthPark Center that opened in 2006, is working on some renderings, but it’s still not even clear how much of the mall will remain standing following its redo.

Then there’s the issue of getting people to the mall: Council member Lee Kleinman told the committee Wilson and Thomas met recently with Michael Morris, head of the Regional Transportation Committee, about making sure the Southern Gateway redo addresses adding better access off Marvin D. Love Freeway and Interstate 20. “So that’s a key component recognized and acknowledged by RTC, to make sure that is funded,” said Kleinman. “And there are no tolls on that right now.” Which isn’t exactly a guarantee … Arnold refused to support spending $2.4 million on something she said was being rushed through council. She said she wouldn’t support adding a school at Southwest Center; she said she didn’t want to see any multi-family built on the mall site. She said she “didn’t see any examples of actual development I can sell to my neighborhoods, my constituents, and say, ‘We’re gonna be all right.’” And she compared the briefing and the grant and the coming vote to a “bullet train with no passengers, no conductors.”

She made it clear she would be against sending the $2.4 million grant to the council. And she did vote against it. Meanwhile, said Brodsky, there are many more public meetings to come as they sort through the suggestion box to see what Southwest Center Mall needs and what its patrons want. “We’re working with development professionals to see what’s realistic,” he said, “what’s doable and what’s not.”

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