South Dallas Needs Dale Davenport

Mayor Rawlings will finally meet the man bullied by City Hall thugs.

Normally I don't do this. I don't suggest solutions. But in this case, I cannot resist.

Last week I met with Mayor Mike Rawlings and his spokesperson, Sam Merten, to discuss an issue I had been writing about a lot — a car wash on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in the heart of South Dallas that was threatened with eminent domain foreclosure recently. The letter threatening eminent domain cited some unnamed city "project" the car wash property was needed for. But when the business' owner, Dale Davenport, went to City Hall to ask what the project was, he met a stonewall.

Nobody would say what the project was. In fact, nobody would admit to having sent him the letter.

Daniel Fishel

I asked, too. Merten, the mayor's spokesperson, told me a couple weeks ago the mayor was interested or involved in it in some way. When I asked how, he said, "Ask him." So that's what our meeting was about. I asked the mayor if he knew who was behind the eminent domain letter.

"I am the culprit here," Rawlings said.

You could have knocked me off my chair with a feather.

He went on to explain: "You can't say southern Dallas without saying South Dallas."

I don't know if you know what he means. I do. What he sees, what he gets about southern Dallas is that it is diverse in important ways — diverse ethnically, diverse by social and economic class, by land type, transportation connectivity and general economic promise. He said his "Grow South" initiative has caused him to focus on places in southern Dallas where there is already a certain potential on the ground.

But then there is South Dallas, a distinct neighborhood around Fair Park, barely two miles southeast of downtown. Rawlings sees Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the western approaches to Fair Park as a stubborn problem. He says it scares people to drive down MLK on their way to Fair Park and see a lot of loiterers. In particular, he thinks there are way too many loiterers at Dale Davenport's car wash. He wants to find a way to "clean this place up and make it look safe."

Rawlings told me that he does not see eminent domain as the city's best path forward at the car wash. He told me he said in a meeting with department heads that he was interested in seeing if Davenport would sell. Somehow that expression worked its way down into the bureaucracy where it became a heavy-handed threat of eminent domain, which he did not intend.

But Rawlings still believes a necessary step toward getting the property redeveloped is getting it away from Davenport. He and Merten both told me the city attorney has advised them that the city could use the "non-conforming use" protocol, a complicated maneuver by which a property's zoning is changed retroactively, to wrest the property from Davenport.

That still sounds like a "taking" to me, a move by which a government forces the sale of a property, but, hey, am I a lawyer? In my experience when City Hall decides it wants your property, it takes your property, if for no reason other than the sheer expense of fighting City Hall.

Meanwhile, would it be a good thing or a bad thing to have some nice, safe-looking, more sort of suburban-feeling development on that corner like, say, a Wendy's or maybe one of those little mini-drive-in Starbucks knock-offs, or, I don't know, a store selling lacrosse equipment and prep school blazers or something? Sure. Maybe. Maybe it's a good idea to seek some kind of upscaling of the property.

So here is my idea. This is straight from Jim Schutze. If it works, I want a plaque of some kind put up with my name on it.

It's all about the guy. Or woman. The developer. It needs to be somebody who has the business bones to make it a success. We need somebody who has the business and credit history of his or her own to get a big serious company like Wendy's to go partners.

We do not want a front man. That's a formula for tragedy. That's where you get some rich white guy to be the money. He stands silent in the background, and somebody with no business experience is out front playing the part. For one thing, this needs to be done by somebody who really knows what he's doing, who really knows the ground, and who has his skin in the game.

It would be best if the person chosen for this part came from the community, somebody who has some history there and, even more important, has a track record of business success in the community. It needs to be someone who has demonstrated that he can go into that marketplace, attract traffic, draw revenue, pay off a loan, reinvest in his business and earn a good living while he's at it.

But, look, you get into all kinds of development loans and financing and franchising and stuff like that. It ain't just tiddlywinks. You need somebody who has a serious business education, a degree of some kind in finance or a related field. He's got to have the intellectual wherewithal to count the money, keep up with the deal, read the fine print and know what it means.

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The demographics do not support the idea.....service and food businesses yes, auto repair supplies, yes....retail, especially non WalMart, and would they bother, there are better locations with less risk.

The entire Fair Park area has resisted any kind of upscale for Years...heck, without Bob Thorton....OLD BOB, not Robert, there would have been LITTLE East Dallas OR SOUTH DALLAS anything at all.  Takes a LOT more than a wish and desire.  Frankly, Davenport and his family have taken charge of THEIR OWN BUSINESS, with a proven model of success already....DEVELOPMENT IS ANOTHER ENTIRE THING....ask the Deep Elm, the ValleyView Mall, the West End boys and get the picture....and much of that had major demographic POTENTIALS....not so much the FAIR PARK area unless you can get rid of HUD and slumlords, drugs, thugs, gangs, and crooks.


Me thinks this won't be news to Mayor Mike...if Davenport lived in The Bubble, had his name in the Dallas Social Register and a membership at the Dallas Country Club it wouldn't have come to this.


Smart thinking. My only caveat: If Davenport's the guy to get it done, why hasn't he?



The man is running a successful business, doesn't appear to be any drug issue (that I have read about). The 'loiterers'? they are likely waiting for a bay to open, so that they can wash their own vehicle.

Damn bureaucrats.

Well done Jim