Oswald's folly

The city wants us to spend millions for a buddy-buddy deal at the Texas Theater

Help me with my radar. Maybe I look at City Hall and see problems where none exist.

Now see how you'd feel.

Imagine you are trying to sell a piece of business real estate. You've got a real estate broker representing you, and there is an interested buyer at your asking price--some kind of nonprofit agency you know nothing about.

A city scheme to revitalize the Texas Theater looks instead like a very smelly deal.
Mark Graham
A city scheme to revitalize the Texas Theater looks instead like a very smelly deal.

Weeks pass, and then the broker tells you, well, they don't have the money, so you need to come way down on your price, and you need to tote the note for them; that is, you need to partially finance them yourself.

OK. Would you be at all upset to learn later from some guy who's a reporter for the Dallas Observer that your broker also happens to be the chairman of the nonprofit foundation that's been trying to buy your property?

And--just to cut to the chase here--understand that this deal involves $1.7 million in tax money. The nonprofit agency headed by the broker in question may end up controlling that money plus getting title to property valued by the city at $560,000 in exchange for what seems to be zero equity from this "foundation."

Do you get a good vibration from this? Or am I being persnickety?

Please be assured that the real estate broker in this situation says this isn't the real story, that I'm a liar, that he told everybody everything, and that it's all copacetic. We'll go there.

But first: The basic story is about an attempt by the city to use $1.7 million in federal funds to fix up the Texas Theater on West Jefferson Avenue, where generations of Oak Cliffites went to the picture show before it closed for the last time in 1998, and where Lee Harvey Oswald got caught in 1963. (Oswald would never have been apprehended there had he just bought a ticket before running in and taking a seat, perhaps establishing the Texas Theater "Curse of the Unclever.")

For the last two years, the city's department of economic development has been trying to craft a deal in which some entity would get $1.7 million in federal "Neighborhood Renaissance" money and use it to rebuild the theater. The goal is to turn it into an entertainment and tourism mecca on West Jefferson, hopefully giving the area some snap and sparkle. It's a great idea, and several organizations, including the Dallas Summer Musicals, have expressed interest.

But the Oak Cliff Foundation, which is sort of a lame adjunct to the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, was never anywhere in the picture until the very last minute.

The owner of the Texas Theater is Don DuBois, an advertising art director who lives in Santa Monica, California. DuBois told me he first got the impression from his real estate agent, Monte Anderson of Options Real Estate, that this whole ball of wax meant DuBois was going to get his asking price of $800,000 for the theater and for an adjacent business that pays about $45,000 a year in rent.

Anderson, he says, informed him that something called the Oak Cliff Foundation was suddenly in the picture and that things looked good.

He says he never received anything on paper showing an $800,000 offer, but that he came away from a phone conversation with that impression. "Again, this was verbally," DuBois said. "We assumed the price was going to be $800,000."

Then Anderson calls him back. The Oak Cliff Foundation is having a cash-flow problem, he says. "Monte informs us that the price is actually $530,000."

But it's not $530,000 in money, Anderson tells him. The foundation doesn't really have any money.

"They offered very little, in fact, a very small amount or almost nothing down," DuBois told me. "Then I think it was interest for two years."

I asked DuBois whether Anderson had ever informed him that he, Monte Anderson, was chairman of the board of the Oak Cliff Foundation.

DuBois sounded shaken on the telephone.

"I would say I have no knowledge of that. He hasn't mentioned that to me. I'll be positive about that. We hadn't discussed that whatsoever."

The Oak Cliff Foundation was formed in 1973 under the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce to work with the police department in fighting crime. The most recent Internal Revenue Service declaration I was able to find on it showed that in 1997 it had assets of $10,672.

A recent story in The Dallas Morning News said that the foundation was going to "contribute $600,000 to the project." But I'm not sure "contribute" is the right term here.

I visited with Harry Swanson, the city official who has shotgunned the Texas Theater project, and Swanson told me candidly that most, if not all, of the money the Oak Cliff Foundation is bringing to the table is money the foundation intends to get Don DuBois to lend it.

Follow this? In order to paint this dried-up dormant old foundation as an equity partner in a big $1.7 million deal financed with your money, the folks at City Hall have to tell you the foundation will bring a wad of cash to the table. The city can't appear to be just giving away millions in public money and assets to some bunch of guys who have no skin in the game.

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