Money, Honey

That's all the city council cares about in the big debate over downtown development

The city council debate on the Palladium and City Center-Madison development deals downtown will rise or fall on an issue that has little to do with downtown but everything to do with the votes on the council.

Money.

It is the very strong impression of certain key council members that both of these developers are willing to kick out millions of dollars from their deals to put into special programs in certain council districts. In fact, the developers seem to be offering competing amounts to the council members backing their deal, in spite of what the mayor says was an informal agreement not to play this game.

Mayor Pro Tem Donald Hill says he'll vote for new tax breaks for the Hicks/Perot arena development if the developer will agree to put millions of dollars in his district.
Peter Calvin
Mayor Pro Tem Donald Hill says he'll vote for new tax breaks for the Hicks/Perot arena development if the developer will agree to put millions of dollars in his district.

It's not clear where this idea came from: Are the developers trying to dangle it or are city council members trying to wangle it? Palladium is the company seeking a subsidy to build near the new Hicks/Perot arena, and Madison is the company asking for money to open fancy shops downtown. One council member told me he thinks there could be as much as $12 million available from the Palladium deal alone.

He said, "I want my money."

And you know what? If this money really were available, the council members seeking it would be doing exactly the right thing for their constituents. Downtown is being developed entirely for rich people. The yuppie loft thing in the old buildings, which assumes downtown will be vibrant once it has been taken over entirely by infertile cappuccino-heads, was launched on the back of a $25 million subsidy with money hijacked from poor neighborhoods. Downtown owes poor people money.

But none of that is really in the underlying issue I'm trying to excavate here, which is about governance and whether we are going to bribe ourselves with some of our own money to give away the rest of our own money. Here is why this comes up:

The kind of tax subsidy these developers want is provided for in a state law setting up a certain kind of development district. The law says money raised from taxes inside these districts must be spent on improvements inside the districts, with a few exceptions. One is affordable housing, on the theory that you can't build cheap housing inside a high-dollar real estate district. So why not take the money out to an area where the land is cheaper and get more houses for your buck?

The minority caucus on the council has every reason to hold low-income housing as its urgent priority. City Hall has a terrible track record on this issue, once allowing tens of millions of dollars in federal assistance to lapse because it went unused.

Mayor Pro Tem Donald Hill told me that this one issue is his priority Numero Uno in weighing the downtown development proposals. "From my perspective, that stream of income is a benefit that is on par with the construction jobs and the permanent jobs and the economic stimulus that the $600 million [Palladium] development provides.

"It's just that important to me."

I asked about it, because a very interesting thing had happened the week before at the end of a grueling day-long council briefing on Palladium. Mayor Laura Miller had wanted to wait to schedule a vote on the Palladium deal until studies could be completed and documents acquired. Ken Wong, the Palladium point man, badly did not want the vote delayed.

After asking the mayor several times not to delay the Palladium vote beyond May--and being turned down by her--Mayor Pro Tem Hill took the unusual step of getting four other council members to sign a petition overriding the mayor's wishes and forcing a vote in May.

One was Mary Poss. How Poss justifies waving the flag for anything that has to do with the Perot family I cannot imagine. Her husband, lawyer Mike Poss, has worked for the Perots in key roles off and on for decades. He's in, he's out, he's back in, he's back out. If she doesn't have a legal voting conflict at the moment, she might at least pipe down for decency's sake. But instead she makes these speeches about how everybody's being mean to the poor, poor pitiful Perots. It's like the faithful retainer at Windsor Castle shaking her finger at the tabloid press: "It's not roit, izzit, traytin' the monarch like she was a bloody punchin' bag."

The other three who joined Hill in making sure Wong got his way were James Fantroy, Maxine Thornton-Reese and John Loza, all of whom have minority-majority districts.

It rang my bell. Poss I could figure. She just needs to be on television doing right for the boss. But why was the rest of the Palladium constituency on the council all from the minority side of the equation?

Money.

Leo Chaney, who represents the South Dallas-Fair Park area, told me he hopes the Palladium deal may yield as much as $12 million for affordable housing. "That's how the Palladium-Victory group got me listening to them, because they agreed to put it in...

"I insisted that...I need something for South Dallas-Fair Park, and I carry a certain bloc of votes."

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