Deep Sixed

Reports of Deep Ellum's death are exaggerated, but not by much

"Yup. We owe taxes and rent, and various other bills. Yup, Comptroller's Office seized us at Christmas time. That made for a very merry day let us tell you. For the record We do understand that's their job and we hope they understand why they didn't receive a fruitcake from us this year. Club Dada has been a passion for us, one that has drained the Family coffers and been a constant source of worry and wonder. Dada is a Mom and Pop biz. There are no outside shareholders Lawyers and accountants, just one family and our small staff At Dada. Deep Ellum is a challenging place for any business These days and ours has been exceedingly challenged. On not responding to inquiries from the Observer...Shucks, didn't know what to say folks. Trying to regroup here people, trying to find a turnip to squeeze. The Grinch stole our Christmas tree, our roast beast, and then the dog died. We loved that dog. Bear with us if you will--We are trying to find a way to get those doors back open."

And just like that, two of Deep Ellum's oldest and best clubs were gone.

Perhaps there's nothing more to it than bad business decisions: Trees failed because something had to give in the Entertainment Collaborative empire, and Dada shuttered because its owner, from some accounts, didn't know how to run a bar and treated bands poorly. But when a neighborhood loses its heart (Trees) and its soul (Club Dada) in a matter of days, perhaps there's something else at work. Perhaps, after all these years of people prophesying the end of Deep Ellum, it really is dying--or, at the very least, in a coma from which it may not awake.

Barry Annino, president of the Deep Ellum Association, is like everyone else in Deep Ellum--optimistic and pessimistic about its future.
Barry Annino, president of the Deep Ellum Association, is like everyone else in Deep Ellum--optimistic and pessimistic about its future.
Whit Meyers CEO of the Entertainment Collaborative
Whit Meyers CEO of the Entertainment Collaborative

"You just don't have quality anymore," says Barry Annino, a longtime property owner in Deep Ellum who once more is serving as the president of the Deep Ellum Association. "When the money went away, the quality went down, so you have landlords that are old and care about getting that money and will put anybody in their buildings. The meters, the ticket maids, the awning fees, there are no sidewalk cafés, the infrastructure's beat up. Over time it's become a tired neighborhood. I love Dada, too, but it was tired. It's 20 years old. How many of those guys are around? There's nobody coming in."

Instead, everybody's getting out.

"Frankly," says longtime property owner Lou Reese, "I think it is as bad as everyone says, and I think it's probably going to get worse before it gets better."


Barry Annino isn't as pessimistic about the fate of the neighborhood as that quote sounds. One second he comes off like a defeatist about to throw in the towel after he sticks it in a jar full of gasoline and sets it on fire, and the next he's offering solutions to what ails Deep Ellum and promising remedies are on the way. He points to the DART rail stations scheduled to open in Deep Ellum in 2007, which will allow folks to come downtown without worrying about finding a parking space for their cars, which probably would get broken into anyway. He speaks of a city-created tax increment financing district that was approved by the council in July and that is supposed to take effect in a few weeks, after the council assembles an advisory board. Perhaps then investors might want to build more housing or open sidewalk cafés and shops; nothing is more alluring than the promise of a tax rebate. He mentions a plan to make Elm and Commerce streets two-way and a proposed zoning change that could run out the troublesome dance clubs in a few months. He isn't giving up on Deep Ellum, even if everyone else has.

If you spend a few minutes talking to others who have a vested interest in the neighborhood--be it a landlord or restaurant owner or club booking agent--they will offer a dozen reasons why Deep Ellum isn't the thriving entertainment district it was a decade ago. They'll claim everyone's moved back to Greenville Avenue--where such venues as the Barley House, the Granada Theater and the Cavern are doing bang-up biz with the old Deep Ellum crowd--or Knox-Henderson and the South Side, the latter being the home of Gilley's and Poor David's Pub and the recently transplanted jazz club Brooklyn, and even the West End, where House of Blues wants to open one of its glitzy roadhouses within the next 12 to 16 months. They'll damn the landlords for their "lack of vision," for bringing in dance clubs and bars that cater to "criminals and thugs," in the words of one former club owner, as opposed to the musicians and artists who populated Deep Ellum during the 1980s and early '90s. They'll blame everything on September 11, 2001, when terrorists took down the U.S. economy with the World Trade Center. Or they'll just insist that the good ol' days are gone and beg you to get over it.

But almost all will point to the oft-reported violence bred by Deep Ellum dance clubs that cater to an under-21 crowd more interested in hanging out than eating out. At the end of November, 18-year-old Sujha Seng allegedly gunned down 20-year-old Jeffrey Nelson at 2:30 a.m. on a Saturday, after what police say was an argument between the two men at Club Hush on Main Street. Something like that kills business too: Whit Meyers says the Green Room lost two Christmas parties because of the shooting.

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