The Allure of Azure

Harwood builds a fancy condo tower without a nickel in handouts from City Hall

Here's the thing. People call me up. They abuse me. They ask if I'm an idiot. No. Frankly. I am not an idiot. They ask, "Don't you think it's worthwhile for the city to offer developers tax breaks if doing it encourages development?"

Here's the thing. I don't know. It depends. What developers? Where? You mean always? Give them all tax breaks? Hell no. The city's already $10 billion in the hole on deferred maintenance. What, do you want us to give away the city's whole income so we can go $26 kabillion in the hole?

Figure this. If a developer is building something on prime ground--an area everybody wants to get into already--then why does he need an incentive? This is America. People actually do business here without government subsidies.

Former city council member Larry Duncan helped turn a nightmarish slum into a new single-family neighborhood. The city tax subsidy for this? Zip.
Steve Satterwhite
Former city council member Larry Duncan helped turn a nightmarish slum into a new single-family neighborhood. The city tax subsidy for this? Zip.

A few weeks ago I toured a 31-story luxury condominium tower slated to open next spring in Uptown at Wolf and McKinnon streets, near the Tollway and just south of Reverchon Park. It's called "Azure." Just "Azure."

Condos in Azure will start at $426,000 for a 900-square-foot one-bedroom, up into the multiple millions for something more in the 10,000-square-foot range. Upon completion this building will meet the very highest national construction and architectural standards. Its blue glass skin will gleam on the skyline like the Caribbean Sea. And you know what I really love about it? We're not paying for it.

Not a nickel. They didn't ask the city for one dime to be paid to them from my tax money. I am filled with the pride of non-ownership.

The obvious contrast--and subject of much publicity since its recent opening--is the W, a luxury hotel with condominium units half a mile southwest of Azure in Victory, another coveted locale. Victory is the development of Ross Perot Jr. around the new sports arena north of downtown.

I wrote about how much money you and I are contributing to Victory a couple weeks ago ("Sticker Shock," June 29). I won't bludgeon you with the facts again today.

Here's my point. If Harwood International was willing to pay for some very hot dirt near downtown Dallas and then shoulder the full cost of putting this top-quality building on it--all on its own nickel with no local tax subsidy--why do we assume we have to pay other people to date us?

Julie Morris, director of acquisitions for Harwood, walked me through the Azure sales model. I'm not going to try to write about the kitchen appliances. That's like me trying to write about soccer--at least one guaranteed faux pas per paragraph. But when you slam the doors in the cabinets or the refrigerator or the stove, the doors whoosh right up to the closing point, pause on their own and then close themselves with a kind of quiet dignity, as if in reproach.

The balconies. Wow. High-flying party spaces. Most have fireplaces. And the view. Inside the sales model, one whole wall is glass. They flick a switch, and a full-sized photographic recreation of the nighttime view of downtown lights up. I think if I lived there, I'd become Batman. That's a personal issue.

Harwood put a foot on that edge of Uptown in 1982 with the Rolex Building and then spread its way out McKinnon Street with the Centex Building, then the Jones-Day Building, then the International Center Building completed in 2000. All of their properties are contiguous and joined by paths and skywalks. They call the whole development "International Center."

In the center of International Center is a vast parking structure you can't see from the street, because Harwood dug it down into the ground and then roofed it with a street-level park that looks like a corner of the Tuileries in Paris. Cropped hedges and dense trees form garden "rooms" where you can sit on benches or at tables and feel as if you're in another century.

The park is open to the public. It didn't cost the public a dime. Harwood maintains the park at its own expense.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington confirmed for me that Azure is on track to receive the council's second-highest rating for energy efficiency and environmental design. Only one other structure in Dallas, the city's Hensley Field Operations Center, holds the same rating.

Bill Hillburn, who is in charge of construction for Azure, told me he hopes the building ultimately will earn the Green Building Council's platinum, or highest, rating. The W, I learned, will not be getting any kind of rating at all from the USGBC.

So I guess some people still make their money the old-fashioned way. From business, not politics.

The Harwood people wouldn't talk to me about their competitors or city tax policy. But you and I can figure this out for ourselves. Every time the city grants a major subsidy to one developer, it screws all the other developers who are going into roughly that same niche in the market but don't get a subsidy.

The basic engine for city subsidies is the Tax Increment Finance District, or TIF, which I would explain except that I have been warned by Dallas Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans that I'm not smart enough. You know, I'm University of Michigan. I think before you're allowed to try to explain TIFs, you have to be at least Stanford, possibly even University of Texas Plan Two. So I modestly demur.

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