Mr. Mayor, Meet Your Nightmare

Frustrated, fed up, and ready to fight, Laura Miller trades muckraking for a run at City Hall

And why in the world should we believe that? The proof, the mayor says, is that $750,000 was included in the 1995 bond package for the design and right-of-way purchases necessary to begin construction on that half-mile of improvements.

Well, not quite, Mr. Mayor. Go back and look at the 1995 bond package documents and something called the 1982 Wichita Street Abandonment Ordinance. The abandonment ordinance clearly states that the city will indeed pay to extend Houston Street--but only from the book depository to Woodall Rodgers. But from Woodall Rodgers to Wichita Street, the cost of that part of the extension will be paid for by the private developers who own adjacent land and have a keen interest in seeing the road built.

Well, those developers went bust in the '80s real estate crash, but the ordinance lived on, and today the current owners of the land are still obligated to pony up that road money as soon as 50 percent of the land specified in the ordinance is developed. JPI, the Las Colinas-based residential developer, is one of those owners--the company is currently building a 540-unit apartment complex on 11 acres right there at Wichita and Field. To avoid having the abandonment ordinance kick in, JPI was careful not to develop more than 50 percent of the land described in the ordinance.

The city's been waiting ever since for another developer to trigger the 15-year-old ordinance and thereby contribute to the very costly extension of Houston Street.

"We've never had the money to do Houston Street before," says one city employee who is familiar with the history. "It's very complicated and very expensive--and there's nothing on the thoroughfare plan that indicates how we're going to take this new road across Continental Avenue, where there's that old tunnel right now. If we had built only our portion of the Houston Street extension--instead of all of it like we're going to do now--we would have done something very makeshift at Continental for now."

Well, thanks to Perot, we're not doing anything makeshift now. We are going to do all of the Houston Street improvements--there's no time to wait for a developer to share the costs with now--and we're going to demolish the tunnel and bring in enough fill material to bring that whole stretch of Continental up to grade.

In other words, we're going to be putting a ton of arena-related roadwork on the 1998 bond package.

Last week, I popped in on the city's Director of Public Works and Transportation, David Dybala. I asked him if there were going to be a whole lot of other roads in the area of the proposed arena that would be sneaked into the bond package. He just smiled at me and declined to answer. "The city manager will make all his recommendations next Wednesday at the bond program briefing. I suggest you be there," Dybala said.

Hey, you can count on me. I'll be the one staring at the Mapsco--studying all those silly little roads to nowhere.

Two weeks ago, I was sitting in my usual spot in the sixth-floor briefing room at Dallas City Hall, and I was steaming.

For two months now, the city council and the public had been anxiously awaiting a look at the actual written agreement between the city and the sports teams. It had been the hope of the council members, reasonably enough, to get their hands on the master agreement before the city staff briefed them on the contents of it.

But when Bob Stimson--the person on the council most likely to do homework on any given issue--had called City Attorney Sam Lindsay the night before, hopeful of getting his copy of the agreement, it hadn't even been finalized yet. Now, with a briefing that was supposed to start at 8 a.m., it was clear that the two sides had been hammering out various sticking points through the night. It would be 9:45 a.m. before the briefing doors opened and city staffers entered with the long-awaited copies of the master agreement.

Those of us in the media--and there were about a dozen of us there that day--stood together expectantly in the back of the room, waiting for staff to hand us our own copies of the agreement. But that didn't happen. Instead, they passed out what they had to the council and slinked away, without so much as a word to us.

Furious at yet another screw-you gesture from City Hall, I jumped out of my chair, navigated the almost impenetrable wall of TV cameras and tripods, and ran up to the rope that separated the Anointed Ones from the Unanointed.

A security guard bolted toward me, wanting to make sure I wasn't an assassin. But in a flash, I was on the Other Side--streaking by the council members, most of whom were at the doughnut table.

I walked up to some city staffer I'd never met before who was standing in the middle of the room holding three extra copies of the master agreement.

"Excuse me," I said evenly, trying not to betray the intense exasperation I felt. "Do you think I could have one of those master agreements?"

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