All Fund, No Trust

Last fall, the Dallas Observer ran a cover story ("Money for Nothing," November 17) about the South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund's sordid history of making lousy loans to business owners who wind up making busy work for folks in the City Attorney's Office. Since the fund's inception in 1988, the city's tossed away some $350,000 doling out dough to people who can't pay back their small-business loans or just refuse to make good on their agreements. Most, if not all, of those loans occurred before Leo Barron Hicks became the fund's embattled administrator, yet he's the one who has to answer for them.

So, then, to the questions: Just when, exactly, is Derrick Mitchem going to open that motor sports museum in the old Bama Pie Co. building on Pennsylvania Avenue, just across the street from Fair Park? As of a few days ago, the place looks more abandoned than ever. Apparently, new windows went in just after our original story ran, but any suggestion that it's a construction site is more rumor than reality.

As reported last fall, Mitchem's been trying to get the museum open since 2000, when he bought the building for $50,000. Back then he said he'd need $600,000 to rehab the place and got $29,000 of that from the trust fund and another $290,000 from the city in community development block grant money and still $45,000 more from the South Dallas Development Corp.

"We are still working with Mr. Mitchem, but as far as I know it's not open," Hicks says. "We're still hopeful it will be open soon. I just can't address the question of its status." Neither can Mitchem, who has been unreachable.

It gets a little worse. Leo Batie's Subway franchise on Grand Avenue has long been held up by the trust fund as an example of how the fund's supposed to work: On May 1, 2002, Batie got a $50,000 loan from the trust fund to open his franchise, which was so successful he opened another on Gaston Avenue, and yet a third was supposed to open on Bexar Avenue in the trust fund area. He got $25,000 to open that third location.

So it was surprising to discover that Batie's Grand Avenue Subway shop is closed. Hicks didn't even know it was closed till a board member informed him on March 6. Turns out Leon Batie's in the National Guard and in Afghanistan, and his brother Christopher's been running the franchises in his absence.

"I have been contacted by the property manager for that particular development strip," Hicks says. "Subway's corporate offices have contacted the property manager, and Subway is interested in putting another franchisee in that location." Hicks says whoever assumes the franchise would also "assume the trust fund loan, so everyone will be served if and when this happens."

 
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