That giant sucking sound

No, not The Dallas Morning News' arena coverage--but tax dollars being siphoned away for millionaires' pet projects

Thank God Ross Perot Jr. thinks we're all idiots.
And don't think he doesn't. How else to explain last week's lunatic Times Square proposal--his most recent, most flatulent offer to privately develop the area around the publicly financed sports arena.

In case you missed this gust of hot air--disguised as a serious news story on the front of the December 3 Dallas Morning News Metropolitan section--it went like this:

"Ross Perot Jr. said Tuesday that he would like to create a 4-acre public plaza and other amenities that would turn a proposed $230 million arena into a 'Times Square' for Dallas," according to the short piece that somehow required two reporters to craft.

Accompanying the story were two artists' renderings of Perot's proposal--the first looked strikingly similar to a scene from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in which the lowly peasants gather in the crowded cathedral plaza, pushing rickety food carts and peddling cheap wares. The second drawing was a bit more up to date: Fast-forward to Boston's airy, canopied Faneuil Hall, filled with food stalls, shops, and restaurants. Alas, this rendition was a bit misleading--because instead of a charming old city on a historical harbor serving as a backdrop, our quaint public plaza will be surrounded by 43 heat-seared acres of black-top parking.

"I've asked a lot of people, 'Where is the place in downtown Dallas--Where is the place that if something great happens, we all go?'" Perot Jr. mused to a group of reporters he'd summoned to his North Dallas offices for this presentation. (I, unfortunately, was not invited--even though it would have been the highlight of my week.) "I don't think Dallas has a visible place like a Times Square...Times Square will be this plaza out in front of this arena."

Located, no doubt, between the massively impersonal, concrete fortress that will be the sports arena and the supremely creepy brick monstrosity that will be the abandoned TU Electric power plant. I'm sure Mr. Perot will spend a lot of time strolling through the plaza with his children--on those mysterious days when "something great happens." (Don't you just want to rush down to the local sports arena when something great happens in your life?) If I were Perot, I'd certainly choose concrete over the lushly landscaped, tree-shaded Turtle Creek, where his Highland Park home is located.

Now rewind this arena tape to a mere nine months ago--before city officials happily sold our souls to the devil. Same newspaper. Same reporter, Todd Gillman. (Only one this time.) Same drooling prose. Same generous play on the news pages--this time page 1. "The Dallas Mavericks asked the city Monday to pay half the cost of a new $220 million downtown arena, vowing to create an ambitious urban renewal project in exchange," the March 11 article began.

"...Under the proposal, Hillwood Development Corp., owned by Mr. Perot, would buy 50 acres downtown and set aside 10 for a new arena. The remainder would be used for a planned development that would include a hotel, office space, shopping areas, other entertainment, and housing."

What's really insulting about all this is not so much that Perot utterly reneged on the $1 billion promise that got him a signed, sealed, delivered deal--it's that he is now trying to sweeten that supremely bad agreement, just six weeks before the voters determine its destiny, with his penny-ante Times Square proposal.

Which he's not promising to carry out, of course. "When you say the word 'commitment,' that is a hard word," Perot lamented when he unveiled the plans for "Times Square" last week.

Which is precisely why I believe that on January 17, the village idiots--that is, the voters of Dallas, empowered as we are to shut down Park Cities pipe dreams--will tell Perot to take his commitment problems somewhere else.

We've been here, done that, been snookered before. The parallels are astonishing. (I laid this out in great detail in October 1994 when the arena proposal was in its infancy--even back then, pre-Perot, the similarities to Ray Hunt's rape of the taxpayers on Reunion Arena were striking; clearly, the two billionaires use the same playbook. Is it available at Borders?)

Twenty-four years ago, 30-year-old Hunt--son of rich oil baron H.L. Hunt--made Dallas City Hall a truly dazzling offer. He stood before the city council on October 15, 1973, and proposed a $210 million mega-development--a veritable Epcot Center of glitz and glamour--on a 50-acre, largely barren tract behind Union Station in downtown Dallas. If the city would build a symphony hall or sports arena in the middle of the tract, Hunt said, he would surround it with all the private development you could ever dream of: a hotel, office space, shopping areas, residential living, other entertainment, even a five-acre public park.

Hunt's visionary on the project, Canadian urban planner Vincent Ponte--who had advised city leaders a decade earlier not to build the Dallas Cowboys a downtown stadium--promised the city council that Hunt's vision would save downtown Dallas. (Sound familiar?) This was "the only way for the city to compete with the massive flow" of people, retail stores, and office buildings to the suburbs, he told them. And it would generate competing projects in other parts of downtown--he guaranteed it. "It has to spill over," Ponte told the council that day.

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