Port Whine: Delays on Inland Port Part of Familiar Pattern

On a clear day, you can see why development in southern Dallas has been screwed forever

Hey. Remember my story about West Point, Georgia, and the Kia factory? They bought the land at inflated prices and gave it to Kia. And then they asked what else they could do. That's standard practice in places trying to lure enterprises a fraction of the size of Allen's.

OK, we're up here. We're high enough to see what I wanted to show you. Look down. What do you see? Look way up there to the northwest. See all that railroad and airport and freeway stuff up there in Tarrant County, just west of Grapevine Lake? That is the Alliance Airport and multi-modal shipping hub developed in the 1980s and '90s by the family of H. Ross Perot, the guy with the charts who ran for president against Bush 41.

His son, Ross Perot Jr., now runs Hillwood, the real estate company that controls Alliance. In public statements, Perot Jr. has called the southern Dallas inland port a "direct threat" to Alliance.

Get up in the air and look down. Places like this, in southern Dallas, get the back of the hand, even from southern Dallas officials. Go figure.
Get up in the air and look down. Places like this, in southern Dallas, get the back of the hand, even from southern Dallas officials. Go figure.

Why? Because they're in the same business. Perot would never say this, but the Allen development has some natural advantages over Alliance—more railroads, more interstate highways and more people hungry for good hourly-wage jobs living nearby.

From up here, you can see it: Interstate 35E, I-30, I-20, I-45 all snaking right into southern Dallas County. The inland port will soon be the only shipping hub of its kind in the nation to have two major railroad companies bringing in freight and off-loading at super high-tech "multi-modal" centers. Lancaster Airport is sitting right there, ripe for expansion.

Alliance, on the other hand, has only one highway—I-35W—and one railroad. So Ross Perot Jr.'s words, echoed by a company spokesman who talked to me about it, make sense: Richard Allen is a threat.

Now look down over here, out the other side, right beneath us. That's downtown Dallas. See all that stuff around the American Airlines Center and the W Hotel—all that shiny new development? All that new stuff is Hillwood-driven. They don't own all of it by any means, but since opening the American Airlines Center in 2001, Hillwood has developed most of its 75-acre "Victory" project right there, in the big middle of that area.

The W, by the way, is where Ross Jr. threw a closed-door Christmas party a year ago for Mayor Leppert and several city council members.

OK, now look way down behind us. All of that green you see down there? That's southern Dallas and Dallas County. The unbroken canopy of green that you see is not the good kind of green. It is the green of neglect, of a place where nothing has ever happened, a place that never had a chance. That's where The Allen Group has all its money.

I reported last week that The Allen Group was approached three years ago by a group of black businessmen who wanted to become its political escorts in southern Dallas in exchange for half a million dollars a year and 15 percent "equity" in its venture. Shortly after The Allen Group turned them down, Commissioner Price started doing everything he could to undermine The Allen Group, showing up at public meetings shouting "Equity! Equity!"

The commissioner has expressed contempt for the promise of more than 60,000 jobs. "During slavery," he told me, "everybody had a job."

The mayor of Dallas has taken four different positions in the last two months on Price's proposed master plan. He was for it. Then, when he was confronted on it at the annual meeting of the Real Estate Council of Dallas, he said it was "off the table," according to people who were present. A month later his chief of staff told me he was back in favor of it. Then two weeks ago the chief of staff told me Leppert was in favor of delaying the study because of the softening economy, whatever that has to do with it.

So why are we up here in the helicopter? Because, frankly, you may be a lawyer, but I am not. I'm not a federal prosecutor, either. I'm not a mind-reader.

But you and I are American citizens, and we have a right to come up here, look down and judge what's going on according to the largest patterns we can see down there on the ground. Even if we can't dice this out in precise legal terms, we have a right and a duty to make judgments about the biggest political shapes we can see moving on the land beneath us.

We see Alliance and Hillwood up there in the northwest quadrant, with reason to sweat bullets over the southern Dallas inland port. Right beneath us, it's downtown party-time at the W—all the hoopla and action and glitz of the Hillwood Victory development, mayor and council members sipping at the bowl. And then down there to the south, where our political leaders ought to be on bended knee thanking Richard Allen for being born, they're throwing sticks in his spokes.

For one reason or another, everything is working out splendidly for the Perots in terms of those big political shapes, and nothing is working out for southern Dallas.

I think you get the picture. It's an old picture. Very old. Very sick. On second thought, hand me back that damn barf bag.

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