How vicious racial politics, mismanagement, and dirty dealing turned Dallas' Redbird Airport into a Third-World airfield

White confirms the payments and the details of how they were made. "It was cash in the palm--we couldn't afford envelopes," White says, somewhat facetiously. "He'd call asking for his money. I wanted to knock him in his head."

Atkins and White say that Barbara Mallory Caraway accompanied her husband to a meeting about Jordan's interest in the company, although neither could recall anything she said. "We did have a meeting with Barbara, Dwaine, Jordan, and White. That meeting was to let her know that Vernon Jordan was involved, that he might want to go forward as an investor down the road, that we do have a guy with financial backing. Her husband called the meeting. It was at my office.

"I guess she came in support of Vernon Jordan and Dwaine, to confirm what was going on," Atkins says. "It was a show of power, I guess."

Mark Graham
Redbird Airport's city-run tower, runways, and navigational aids weren't the problem. It was the facilities around them, managed by Redbird Development Corp., that caused pilots to flee.
Mark Graham
Redbird Airport's city-run tower, runways, and navigational aids weren't the problem. It was the facilities around them, managed by Redbird Development Corp., that caused pilots to flee.

White says Jordan "would lend the money if Tennell would grant him the exclusive right to any development work we'd do out there. She let us know that that was a good idea." (Jordan could not be reached for comment. He and Atkins settled their legal claim out of court last month. The terms were not specified.)

White and Atkins say Caraway would boast of his clout, telling them during one visit to the Redbird office, "I sleep with the city."

Caraway says the accusations of a shake-down and the boasts are "absolutely false," and that his wife was never involved in his dealings with Redbird. Citing a pending lawsuit, in which she is not named, Barbara Mallory Caraway declined comment. She told a reporter when the lawsuit was filed, "All I ever tried to do was help him. I am very disappointed that in my attempts to help him, he is trying to drag me into something that is not true."

In Atkins' view, she was the reason he lost his lease.

Jordan and his company, DFW Contractors Inc., paid Redbird's city rent in July and August, but by early September there was a falling-out. Dwaine Caraway says Atkins had overstated his revenues and his collateral for the loan, which was backed by a list of tenants. "Some of these had prepaid for years," Caraway says. Atkins says Jordan and Caraway were trying to muscle in on the business and take over.

Whatever the reason, Dwaine Caraway wrote Atkins a letter on September 15, 1999, "to express my extreme disappointment in your unprofessional behavior and lack of business courtesy. I have given my time and effort to help you and Redbird Development Corporation...You lied and defrauded your position and you failed to communicate...I am tired of your lack of respect and regret that I wasted my time."

The letter notes that it was copied over to the entire city council, the aviation department, a minister, and former council member Don Hicks, although Caraway says those copies were never made or sent. That same day, Atkins says, Caraway told him, "I'm on my City Hall to have RDC's lease terminated." Atkins alleges that Caraway's letter and actions were the driving force behind the company losing its lease two weeks later. "The letter was calculated to cause, and did cause the city of Dallas to terminate the Redbird Airport lease," Atkins' lawsuit asserts.

There were other gears spinning around at the time that could make that claim difficult to prove. Just a week before the city kicked out Atkins, WFAA-Channel 8 aired a lead story about the physical decay of Redbird. It was so embarrassing--footage of people sleeping in the offices, piles of junk, tattered signs, and potholes--that city staffers wrote the council a memo explaining what was being done. There were the pending questions, too, about the multiple corporations and George Day, and another letter from Miguez in late July that accused Redbird Development of doing little to improve the airport during its five years at the controls.

There had been threatening letters before. And piles of junk. And guys sleeping in the hangars. Atkins had survived them.

But there was a difference this time--or so Atkins' lawsuit says.

This time, Barbara Mallory Caraway's husband was denouncing Atkins in the harshest words, and this counted most. Atkins had lost his juice downtown.

On a mid-September day, the peeling whine of a corporate jet invades Robert Kilgore's office, which sits beside a main Redbird ramp. "We'd like to hear a lot more of those," he says, explaining how he fits into the city's latest Redbird plan.

The city's new strategy is to divide the airport into smaller parts and lease them to companies with demonstrable capital and specific plans. "That's the Redbird story you should tell," one aviation department official says, adding that some new investment has begun to flow. One company has taken over the former cabinet shop and turned it into the base of a charter service. Another is bringing in an airplane dealership and a new fueling operation.

As part of the new wave, Kilgore and his partner, Dennis Sorber, owners of Dallas Aircraft Services Inc., signed a long-term lease with the city to run part of Redbird Development's former territory: the fueling station and more than 120 garage-sized hangars, where most hobbyists' planes are stored. On a recent visit, the area was outwardly neat and orderly. A roster shows the hangars are filled with planes. "Not a week goes by that we don't talk to people who want to come here," Kilgore says. "There's a good future here. There are a lot of people who want to build corporate hangars here and move in their $4 million jets."

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