Archive for August, 2009

Absentee Experts on the Inner Workings of City Hall

August 25, 2009

It seems like city officials are always under fire for various things at City Hall. It comes with the territory, but it would be nice if writers dug a little deeper when working on complex and important stories.

If a so-called City Hall expert claims in an article that “people can’t go down there and get a fair hearing without paying off everybody in the world,” surely that person should have some evidence to back up such a claim. Surely you’ve been to a City Plan Commission or City Hall hearing in the last 2-3 years. Right?

Here’s my point: I’ve been reading some of the blog posts and newspaper articles in recent weeks, and been left in amazement. Some of the articles use quotes from people that I’ve never seen at one of our City Plan Commission Meetings or City Council Meetings, that never put public comments on the record about cases in their neighborhoods, but yet claim the fix is in on every case.

I wonder if these same people will support the consultant registration idea now that Mayor
Leppert’s plan has come to light. I know the answer to that one.

She must not have been down there two weeks ago, when Jim Dodd came to City Hall and singlehandedly fought a platting case against real estate giant Ridge Property Trust.

With his personally prepared handwritten packages and freehand maps, Mr. Dodd explained to us why he would be flooded out of his home if the plat was approved. Of course, if you just listen to some of the people quoted in these articles, you would think that we were playing Uno at the horseshoe until Mr. Dodd finished his presentation. On the contrary, what resulted is one of the longest discussions we have ever had about a platting case and the case was denied. Mr. Dodd, of humble beginnings and background, beat the well-financed developer. In fact, the story was covered here (before the vote) and here (after the vote). That’s just one example.

A lot has been made about the need for registration, and now it’s here as evidenced in the article cited above. Well hey, these quoted “experts” didn’t know everything. Now they know.

Just like the electronic campaign filing process that is now being used, more things are coming down the pike. Such news runs counter to articles and blog posts doubting that anything would be done regarding consultant registration or any related issue.

Contrary to what’s written in the paper, nobody on our commission is too naive to know what’s going on. Knowing how much a person gets paid for their work is their business. Whether they volunteer or bill by the hour at a high rate is not my concern. It’s our job as city plan commissioners to ignore all of the noise, campaigning, and random conjecture and look at the merits of the case. Such merits don’t change whether it’s a citizen like Mr. Dodd or a well-financed company looking to win a case. It makes for a boring backstory, but if you come to our meetings that’s what you’ll see.

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New Downtown Sports Bar Opens

August 25, 2009

Thanks to my friends at Pegasus News, I found out that the Sheraton Dallas’ new high-end sports bar was open for business.

The Draft Media Sports Bar is a great looking space to catch a game. The verdict: the food is good…service is terrible.

I had the flat bread quesadilla which was surprisingly well seasoned and tasty. The bar is a great place to watch the game, as they have a 104-inch HDTV that makes for great viewing. There are pool tables and various seating set-ups which can accommodate different sized groups.

However, the service was really bad. I’ve tried to learn from my restaurant-critic friends that you have to give a place a little slack when they first open. However, the service issues were mainly due to inattentiveness. If you have three tables, why exactly do I have to wait 20 minutes for a coke refill? No bueno. And I shouldn’t have to tell you three times about my need for a refill or the check when you keep serving the table next to me. I tipped only to not be viewed as a cheapskate and for no other reason.

The service experience ended with the check folder being left on the table as she walked to a bigger (drunker) table. Newsflash: people that aren’t sloshed tip as well as drunks. No ‘thank you’ for service, no nothing…she just dropped off the check and left. That’s why I paid with cash because I knew she’d never come back…and I was right. Conversely, I’ve been to Ten Sports Grill on Main and my server never missed a beat and had way more tables and people to serve.

(side note: when I was at Ten, I thought about this post from D Magazine’s Zac Crain. Why? Because in a sports bar with 100+ people, only me and 1 other guy were watching the Rangers game. Byrd tied the game with an HR with 2 outs in the 9th! And a grand total 2 people clapped. The guy behind me with a Rangers cap to the back in stereotypical cornball fashion never peeked at the game. Probably liked the hat for the colors.)

Final verdict: at Draft Media Sports Bar the food is on point and the layout is fantastic. But to truly become a destination for people other than lay-up business from hotel guests, some major service training should be required. I suggest the servers work here for a week.

Deck Park is Moving Forward

August 19, 2009

As you all know, the Woodall Rogers Deck Park is continuing to move forward. Here are some highlights of the press release from Joanna Singleton at Jackson Spalding:

Thomas Phifer and Partners Announced as The Park’s Restaurant and Performance Pavilion Architect

DALLAS (Aug. 19, 2009) — The Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation has named Thomas Phifer and Partners as the architect for the 6,000 square-foot restaurant and the performance pavilion, two central amenities planned for the 5.2 acre deck park that will span over the freeway between Uptown and Downtown Dallas. Phifer was released to begin developing the construction documents this week.

Plans call for a full restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating as well as a quick, casual café for people who wish to pick up a meal to enjoy in the park. The restaurant will also include space available to rent for private events. The adjacent performance pavilion will be a central gathering space in the middle of The Park and serve as a place for free concerts and events. When not in use, the performance pavilion will have movable tables and chairs for additional outdoor dining.

Restaurant Concept Aims to Reinforce Connectivity

Phifer’s restaurant design is conceived as a simple park pavilion which will encourage a connection with the surrounding landscape through glass walls, skylights and a sculpted ceiling that transitions from the indoor to the outdoor space. All four walls of the restaurant will be constructed with glass from floor-to-ceiling.

On the south side, the glass wall will have retractable glass doors that can open for patrons to enjoy the outdoors. A covered terrace will complement the retractable doors and allow patrons to sit outside and enjoy parkside dining. The terrace will have a direct view onto the Performance pavilion stage so that restaurant guests can enjoy the park’s entertainment programs.

The event space will feature a private dining room which will accommodate up to 80 seated guests with access to an outdoor grill and bar area.

The ceiling of the restaurant will appear to sit lightly on the glass walls and will be constructed of a series of coffers, each with a small skylight to animate the ceiling and to allow restaurant guests to enjoy the day’s changing light.

Environmentally responsible design features such as geothermal radiant heating and cooling and a green ‘planted’ roof will be considered during the design phase.

The Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation will celebrate The Park’s groundbreaking in September 2009. The base park is expected to be complete in late 2011 with amenities, like the restaurant, expected to be complete in 2012.

Convention Center Hotel Debt is Cheaper than Projected

August 18, 2009

Today, the agreement was signed to set the average interest rate at 4.69% for bonds to build the Dallas Convention Center Hotel. This is significantly lower than the 5.5% rate cap that was set by the Dallas City Council, and will save the city millions of dollars. There are investment commitments for the entire $480 million in bonds.

According to this article, the lower interest rate translates to a savings of $149 million of the life of the bin

This runs contrary to those that doubted that the Convention Center Hotel bonds would be sold. Construction should begin in about three weeks.

Venue Change for Dallas Dialogue On Proposed Health Care Reform

August 15, 2009

The venue for the previously mentioned health care dialogue has changed. The event will now occur at the following location:

Cityplace Conference Center
2711 N. Haskell Ave. #100
Dallas, TX 75204

It’s still on the same date and time:
Monday, August 17th; 7:30 – 11:00am

Street Entertainment needed in Downtown Dallas

August 13, 2009

This is picture is that of a friendly gent I met when I went back home.

Mom and I were in her office building when we heard oldies music coming from outside. I figured it was coming from the jean store next door, since a lot of clothing stores have music that bleeds onto the sidewalk areas to attract customers.

I was very surprised to see this fine gent in his motorized wheelchair singing at the top of this lungs. He has speakers mounted on the bottom, and he moves from block to block during the day belting out classics from Stevie Wonder, the Stylistics, and others. He’s very good, and has no problem hitting you up for a donation (which I gladly paid $2). The police do not bother him, and he is a welcome sight on center city streets.

This got me thinking: Downtown Dallas is far too quiet during the day. While I’m sure commerce is being transacted, downtown areas are supposed to be full of audible activity. Maybe there are some in our tunnels (need confirmation), but Downtown Dallas would benefit from having some street musicians in addition to allowing people to perform at train stops as DART has done in the past. As mentioned above, many stores in other cities also play music directed toward street traffic.

Maybe it could be a requirement that only x number of musicians/singers/etc could be in one block. But it’s something we need to encourage in our city. Have a guy doing magic tricks, some mimes, anything (except this sort of thing). The goal is to attract people to downtown, get people out of the buildings and onto the street during lunch hour and to hang around after work. This could be just the thing.

Let Oak Cliff Development Move Forward

August 9, 2009

After years of dealing with an overabundance of car lots, motels, and boarded up buildings, the Fort Worth Corridor is in a stage of redevelopment and revitalization. The Belmont Hotel, as well as the Cliff Cafe (currently under renovation and rebranding) and the Salón Las Américas center have sparked the rebirth of this once-forgotten area.

Project Luke is the name for a highly-anticipated mixed-use development which will stretch from I-30 to Fort Worth Avenue along Sylvan. It has the makings of the type of development the city had in mind when we got our Form-Based Zoning framework approved; moving buildings farther out towards the street and parking behind the buildings vs. having a sea of parking along the street. The most important piece of this development is the plan for a 30,000 SF +/- site at the I-30 frontage road & Sylvan. Such a footprint would accommodate a mid-size grocery store or an organic grocery like Newflower or Whole Foods. Plans also include loft/studio spaces.

Unfortunately, the entire development is now at risk. There is a major roadblock which is impeding the continued revitalization of this corridor. The issue at hand is the county-owned land that is needed for this development, located at the corner of Sylvan & Fort Worth Avenues (map). Here is a recent picture of county auto shop from DCAD:

According to the news article, a land swap was proposed because State law doesn’t allow the county to sell directly to a private party. For now, the county commissioners are balking at the proposed swap and instead vote to have an appraisal completed at a maximum cost of $12,300 to determine the land value.

All of the commissioners quoted seem to be focusing on the value of the land. The underground fuel tanks were also mentioned; I’m sure the developer realizes that tanks will have to be addressed.

Curiously, there is no quote from County Commissioner Ken Mayfield, who represents the area in which the auto shop is located.

While the county does have a responsibility to make a good deal for the taxpayer, it is not a good idea to risk major developments whose benefits far outweigh the amount of additional upfront value that the county can receive form the developer. The increased tax dollars generated (from its current level of zero) base would also be a benefit.

There are plenty of other places to locate this shop. As noted by Shannon Brown, the assistant Commissioners Court administrator, many auto dealerships are closing. There is also no shortage of service station/repair shops that are closed on which such a county facility could be located.
I’m also not sure if the shop must be located in Oak Cliff.

To me, this land arrangement should not be viewed as a cash cow for the county. It should be treated as an opportunity to bring needed retail and services to this part of Dallas, and one that should be welcomed with opened arms.

Dallas Dialogue On Proposed Health Care Reform

August 7, 2009

This just in from Congresswoman Johnson’s office:

Join us for an important dialogue on proposed health care reform with Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) & Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX).

Monday, August 17th
7:30 – 11:00 a.m.
Southern Methodist University
Umphrey Lee Ballroom
Umphrey Lee Center
3300 Dyer St., Dallas, TX 75205 (map)

To register, click this link and complete the form.

Here is the planned schedule for the event:
7:30 – 8:30 a.m. Registration, Networking and Continental Breakfast
8:30 – 9:30 a.m. Congressional Dialogue and Discussion
9:30 – 10:30 a.m. Community Perspectives Panel
10:30 – 11:00 a.m. Closing and Networking

Notice the word dialogue. Dialogues usually consist of respectful question and answer and not the kind of idiocy seen in Florida yesterday where anti-health care reform people were threatening and assaulting people on the other side of the issue.

My friend and fellow blogger Shawn Williams of Dallas South Blog/News said it best:

Advance registration is required and space and parking are limited. If you want to get in on the debate, you must register early to reserve your seat or risk letting other voices lead the discussion. It’s imperative that residents of Southern Dallas are present at this discussion, so register as soon as possible.

It’s good that in Dallas, the Congresspeople are willing to join forces in a bipartisan fashion and bring forth information.

Statler Hotel Contest Winner Announced

August 6, 2009

This just in from the AIA Statler Design Committee. The winner of the Statler Hotel temporary facade contest has been announced, along with three honorable mentions.

Winner: Entry 102 – Good, Fulton & Farrell
Team Members: Brian Kuper, AIA; Lance Braht, AIA; Nicholas McWhirter; and Andrew Adkison. Photography: Steve Clicque.

Honorable Mentions:
Entry 129 – John Mullen, FAIA; Kris Warrenburg; Photography: Steve Clicque.
Entry 124 – JMS & Associates; Jim Simon, AIA, LEED AP, Robert Coker. Sheryl Burek.
Entry 122 – Britin Bostick and Jeffrey Floyd, AIA LEED AP of Harrison Walker & Harper, LP

According to the committee, the designs will be released in the next 30 days.

City Officials Work Hard and Editor doesn’t Notice

August 3, 2009

Over the weekend, a writer at the Dallas Morning News wrote an editorial titled Life at Pleasant Grove complex is only barely so. It talked about the Barclay Square apartments in Pleasant Grove and suggests that no one has lifted a finger to help the residents that have suffered from air conditioning issues over the summer.

The real title of this blog post should be entitled No one cares, or No One cares to do Research.

This phrase, written by the editor, was quite interesting:

Even worse, your kids are so miserable they can’t sleep, the refrigerator keeps nothing cool, and all you get are wish-we-could-helps from the state, the city and your friends living somewhere the power actually works.

I don’t know if the writer of this of this editorial has read his own paper, or maybe has access to this interesting search engine called Google (all the cool people are using it). A cursory search on would find that city officials have been intensively involved in addressing the needs of the tenants in that complex.

This issue was on everyone’s mind before it made the news, though most of the coverage was appreciated. Assistant City Manager Forest Turner, Code Compliance Director Joey Zapata, Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, and many others have put countless days into this issue. In fact, after personally inspecting the complex Forest and Joey ordered every unit be inspected for the appropriate temperature. Think about the number of inspectors that have to be involved to check the air and safety in 141 units in one morning. Joey, Forest, and other city employees were at the complex every single day over the course of weeks. This information could have been uncovered with one phone call. In fact, the writer of the editorial wouldn’t even have to dial 9, since it had been covered extensively by the Morning News’ own writers.

While it wasn’t highly publicized and only one news outlet covered the story, Caraway called a town hall meeting with translators to provide an outlet for residents to air grievances. When have you ever heard an elected official getting involved in such as issue, to the point where he or she made the management face the residents?

The tough part is that it can be days or weeks before anyone contacts the city about such issues. Many tenants don’t know that such complaints can be anonymously filed, or are scared to report such issues. I have suggested that apartment complex owners be required to post the city contact numbers so these issues can be addressed as soon as they arise.

For air conditioning issues, Dallas citizens should call 311 which will create the request and route it to city code inspectors. The city responds within 24 hours to air conditioning issues.

That being said, I have no love for the landlord of Barclay Square. Readers of Dallas Progress know that I have been writing about slumlord apartment owners since this blog began publishing. I think the owners realized that the issues must be fixed or the heat was going to be turned up in the form of more fines and a city lawsuit.

Per city ordinance, units that are eighty-five degrees or hotter must have a temporary air conditioning unit installed. Such action was required at Barclay Square, and from what I heard this was not welcomed by the owners of the complex.

While the Barclay Square tenants did not win in court, their lawyer was pleased that the issues were being addressed by city officials.

The DMN has been the source of some fine writing the past couple of years, especially some of the coverage within the North/South Project. Everyone’s bound to miss the mark every now and then, even yours truly as we write and search for the truth. But this story was everywhere. You would have to be under a rock or totally detached from the news cycle to not know that many people were working on this issue.

We don’t expect every news article to have a city-approved number of attaboys, but I would ask that some level of research be undertaken before the assigned editor throws everyone under the bus.