Parkland Hospital's Land Grab

Dallas County's public hospital is using eminent domain to buy up real estate in hopes of flipping it for a profit. But one homeowner is holding out.

That's simple. Take the land. Drive up the value by building your hospital nearby. Find a way to make money off the enhanced value.

"It's clear that they just can't do that," Adler says. "So, ultimately there will have to be a trial."

Sure. If somebody wants to sue. I suspect that by the time this story appears, Jimmy Swift will have accepted an offer for his land. For the taxpayers' sake, I hope the price for his lot won't have been inflated too much by the calls I have been making to Parkland in recent weeks.

Jimmy Swift is the last holdout in Parkland's land grab.
Dylan Hollingsworth
Jimmy Swift is the last holdout in Parkland's land grab.

LAZ Parking, a national company, is in court against Parkland over an eminent domain taking, but I wasn't able to get them on the horn in spite of multiple tries. They must see my role as possibly driving down their price instead of inflating it. Hey, I just do my job.

The 2008 study was carried out by HDR, the firm that later became the principal architect for the new Parkland campus. Called "Reality Test Findings," the 46-page document analyzed an area between the existing hospital and Maple Avenue, most of it later acquired by Parkland, and divided it into three broad categories. Some of it, where buildings are now under construction, is labeled "Clearly Hospital" in the report.

A plot along Maple next to the new DART station is labeled "Clearly TOD," or transit-oriented development. The report suggests the "Clearly TOD" area, most of which also is now in Parkland's hands, will bring in high dollars as residential and retail property benefiting from the proximity of the new rail station. The report advises Parkland to buy that area and hold it until the effect of the rail station kicks in, then sell or partner in the development of it.

A middle zone of property, which includes Swift's house, is labeled "Overlap Zone." It could go either way. Maybe Parkland does decide to keep it and use it for even more hospital construction. Or maybe instead the TOD zone grows larger than expected, and Parkland peddles or partners on some of the land in the overlap zone for TOD projects.

Most of the land Parkland has acquired since 2008 in the TOD Zone is now in use as a nicely finished, 1,800-space surface parking lot for employees, which Jones says the hospital needs and puts to good use.

"It's the nicest parking lot I've ever built," he says.

Jimmy Swift is a single man who inherited his modest little house some years ago from his father and was in the process of remodeling it as a home and machine shop. He says he didn't need to sell and didn't want to sell.

"I've got teacher's retirement pay and Social Security," he says. "I don't need their damn money."

I can also read that as saying he has the means to hold out for a better price. In any event, Swift strikes me as someone who will be able to take care of himself.

Here is what's interesting to me. Dallas is a pretty conservative place. What do you think would have happened if this idea ever had been put to the public? How would we even have proposed it?

Let's give the hospital district $1.3 billion in public money to spend, arm it with eminent domain and then turn it into a going and blowing player in the local real estate market. Hmm?

Parkland can't be separated from its own history or context. Thanks to a ghastly panoply of medical horror stories unearthed by The Dallas Morning News over the last two years, the public hospital portion of Parkland is in danger of being closed by the federal government.

Meanwhile, some of Parkland's tonier sister institutions have an unseemly history of lavish excess — red carpet treatment for big shots and a scandal, also unearthed by the News, over the baronial lifestyle of former U.T. Southwestern president Kern Wildenthal.

The chairman of the Parkland board committee overseeing the new campus project is Louis A. Beecherl III, scion of a family long involved in land-use issues along the Trinity River.

For a place that can't keep its patients alive on the psych ward, Parkland sure draws an awful lot of interest from the silk-stocking set in this city. Not saying that has to be a bad thing. Maybe it's just a splendid example of voluntarism.

But are we sure we know what's going on over there? Do we even have the slightest idea? Aren't we supposed to have the slightest idea? That's an awful lot of power and glory in some very quiet hands.

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