Double Decherd

The Dallas Morning News owner sounded smart, so it had to be an impersonator

Decherd told the crowd that, "In 25 years we have never had a road map like this, and it is to her credit and the council's credit that we have stayed focused on the center city."

I was so troubled by all of this sticky stuff about the mayor, I even dipped out of the all-day event toward late afternoon and called her to ask if she knew why these people like her. So let me explain here: Whatever else we may have between us, I can say safely that the mayor and I share a spirit of mutual candor. She knows I hate the toll road and the cowabungas. I'm sure she understands why I am puzzled when Robert Decherd says nice things about her in public. She used to do my job. I can see her stomping around heaven calling everybody up there "clueless!"

I wasn't taking notes, and I know better than to quote our mayor directly without bulletproof documentation in my pocket. But basically she told me the same thing she's said in past conversations. Paraphrasing (remember this word), she said:

Mary Margaret Jones, president of Hargreaves Associates, spoke well of Dallas Mayor Laura Miller at a recent seminar. But then, she also said nice things about the Trinity River.
Mary Margaret Jones, president of Hargreaves Associates, spoke well of Dallas Mayor Laura Miller at a recent seminar. But then, she also said nice things about the Trinity River.

1) They're right about the Trinity and downtown. Dallas is on the verge of huge changes that will make it a very cool place to be.

2) I, Jim Schutze, was right once, when I said the original Trinity River Plan was all highway, no ranch. What I didn't get then and still don't get now, she said, is that there is no way to take the highway out. It's greased; it's set in concrete; it's politically wired; a done deal.

3) She's right now, she said, because she's the one who took the big fat eight-lane honker of a highway, got it off the downtown bank of the river and squeezed it down to six lanes north of the Woodall Rodgers Freeway and four lanes south of it.

4) She gets praised by people at seminars, she said, because some people are smart enough to know that if she's not around the whole thing goes straight back to eight lanes all the way and forget about white water and meanders and wetlands and all that mossy hugger-mugger.

I went back inside a bit dazed and found myself listening to, of all people, H. Ross Perot Jr. I told myself, "OK, if H. Ross Perot Jr. is charming and intelligent, I'll just grab this dessert fork and put my eyes out right here at the table."

You know why I can see today? Saved by cowardice. My guardian angel.

First he was charming. The moderator had announced confidently that we were about to hear from H. Ross Perot Sr. The person sitting next to me groaned and said, "Oh, no! Charts!"

When Junior took the podium, he said, "I have gone to many speeches where people thought my dad was showing up instead. At many of those speeches about half the people got up to leave."

So first he's funny. Then he's smart. The dessert fork was quivering in my right hand. He went to that same theme the Hargreaves lady had been banging earlier in the day, before he even showed up--that the open space, wasted space and neglected space in and around downtown can create opportunities in Dallas that couldn't occur in most cities. He talked about how the property on which the American Airlines Center arena now stands, a shuttered and heavily polluted TXU power plant, was a no-man's land for almost half a century. But it was the black hole that gave birth to a stunning new universe of glitz and action on the edge of downtown.

Reciting a forgivably apocryphal-sounding anecdote, he said some real estate consultants are telling mayors of other cities who want new arenas, "Don't even come to Dallas. Don't even look at their building, because if you see the American Airlines Center, you'll be very disappointed, because you'll never be able to build a building like that in your community."

The seminar was called "Envisioning Dallas." I was impressed that someone had the merciful good sense not to call it "Visioning Dallas." I believe that if you start visioning things, it's time for the Wellbutrin.

All this envisioning was part of the "Future of Texas City-Regions Symposium," produced by the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture. UT is launching a thing called the Dallas Urban Laboratory, which will bring faculty and students here from Austin on a regular basis to help us figure out what to do. Of course, I used to know. Move to Austin.

Maybe that's why they're coming. A plot to keep us here.

So what's good about Dallas? The future, I guess. I'm sure glad they didn't say the past.

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