How D Magazine's Wick Allison Changed His Mind on the Trinity Parkway

How <i>D Magazine</i>'s Wick Allison Changed His Mind on the Trinity Parkway
Hal Samples
D Magazine founder Wick Allison. Not pictured: Dallas’ dark barons.

Whoa. I'm in the checkout lane at Tom Thumb reading the May issue of D Magazine so I won't have to buy a copy. Oops, smudged the cover, sorry. Tore a page, sorry. Then I see this story by Tim Rogers: "The Trinity Parkway Is Dead."

On the way to the car I call former City Council member Angela Hunt, architect of the failed 2007 referendum to kill the road between the levees. What the hell is this?

There is no way this story can be in the magazine unless D founder Wick Allison has flipped on the toll road. Hunt suggests diplomatically that maybe I haven't kept up closely. She tells me to call him.

I balk. Pre-Trinity River toll road, back in the day, Wick and I used to cross paths at parties, and we hit it off. He's always funny and smart. My wife was editor of one of his more successful magazines for several years. But since then, bad water.

I do make myself call. Damn it. He graciously agrees to meet. Below you will find snippets from a long conversation. He starts off by telling me how one night in 2009 he and Hunt engaged in an insomniac email duel until 4 in the morning.

Allison: "I hit her. She hit me back. I hit her. We were tooth and nail. Later I decided to check out one of her specific arguments against it."

He says he scrutinized the issue raised by toll road supporters who insisted that the federal money for the road was necessary to pay for the surrounding park project, an argument Hunt rejected but he had always taken as gospel.

When Allison returned to Dallas in 1995 from several years in New York and Washington, he caught up with an old buddy, Robert K. Hoffman, a founder of the National Lampoon at Harvard who had become a Dallas philanthropist. Allison tells me Hoffman was the original source for the concept of the Trinity River project.

Maybe. I have a different view. I think the old Stemmons family interests started fighting for a road along the river near their properties in the 1960s. But today I keep that to myself.

Allison: "I returned in '95, and Robert briefed me on all the work he had done. He said one of the key components, the breakthrough, was transportation dollars. With that, we can afford to do it, but it's this billion-dollar project."

But in 2009 when Allison dug into Hunt's evidence, he discovered that the road had nothing to do financially with the park and proposed lakes. Hunt was right. The parks could be paid for without the road. Today Allison still believes Hoffman was sincere.

Allison: "The road was just a means to an end. It would provide bridges, and you had this wonderful park, and that was the whole point.

"In 1998 we [D Magazine] totally supported it. We even did a special edition sent to every registered voter. We did the sailboats and the whole idea. That's where you got the sailboats, from us, maybe."

The 2009 wee-hours email battle with Hunt, however, was what he calls "the beginning of the unraveling." If the central argument in favor of the toll road, the federal dollar argument, was no longer true, what else might be wrong? And, indeed, more shoes were to fall.

He tells me something I have never heard before. Since 2010, he says, the city has been in possession of expert advice telling it not only not to build the toll road but to tear down, depress or somehow link over most of its existing freeways.

Allison: "In 2010 I received from [former City Manager] Mary Suhm a disc that contained a charette [architectural study] about I-30. The construction company that had been hired by TxDOT to widen I-30 had brought in their brightest people from around the country to look at the project. And these guys had gone rogue. They did a charette saying, 'They [Dallas officials] don't need to widen I-30. That's the exact wrong thing to do. They need to take it below grade, put an esplanade on it and reconnect the city.' It was all new urbanism.

"I go, 'Holy shit!' I had never thought about this. I had read [Robert] Caro's book on Robert Moses. [Uptown developer] Robert Shaw told me to read Jane Jacobs [The Death and Life of Great American Cities]. I started looking."

He points to a map of all the major interstate highways that cut through and around downtown Dallas. "Look at the interstates," he says. He points to I-30 and says, "Blight." To I-35E South: "Blight." I-35E North: "Blight" The rest of them: "Blight, blight, blight." Then he points to the Stemmons freeway.

Allison: "As a sophomore at the University of Texas, I stood with John Stemmons in 1968 in Stemmons Towers overlooking Stemmons Expressway, which had opened in 1963. He was so proud of it. He thought this was going to be the greatest real estate development of all time.

"That was 1968. The last office building built on Stemmons was 1971. Stemmons Towers is for lease today and it can't be leased. It has been a disaster. The market will not go where there is an interstate highway."

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6 comments
Eric
Eric

I had no idea Wick and Christine Allison were recently divorced. That explains his bachelor pad in State/Thomas.

wewoodson
wewoodson

Oh fun, so now the D-Magazine new urbanism has infected the Observer as well.  Question for you, if highways are inherently a disaster, why isn't the 75 corridor one?   While part of  75 is buried, much of it is not.  It also seems like the Tollway (particularly in North Dallas and parts north), and 635 aren't  harbingers of economic doom.  As for the concepts of turning Stemmons into a parkway, and similar fates for other highways, its interesting to contrast the I-345 debate with articles like this, that take the larger view.  With I-345, Wick's clan tends to argue that there will be minimal impact on commuters for various (questionable) reasons.  Will they even try to contend the same thing for the bigger vision?  It seems impossible to hypothesize  a highway-free region which doesn't result in far greater travel times between the CBD and outer suburbs (i.e. the engines of economic growth in the region for decades).  With the grand vision, it much more obviously a big middle finger for the 'burbs.

bbetzen
bbetzen

Ah! One step closer to my Saturday morning bicycle riding fantasy.  Leave downtown townhome with bike at 7AM to ride 20+ miles of Trinity River flood plain bike paths south, through the Great Trinity Forest, and back to home within 2 hours.  No toll road noise!


When that is possible living downtown will be much more popular, and expensive.

theslowpath
theslowpath

Wish this had been feature length. Great read! And "The Dark Baron" would make a great dive bar name. 

RobertStinson
RobertStinson

First, Wick looks happier and healthier than I have seen him in years. "Free at last, free at last, great God, almighty, he's free at last."


Second, I don't buy the idea that the "Dark Barons" would not have benefited from the Trinity Toll Road. Or so they think. There's $18B in real estate along the Stemmons corridor, most of which is older warehouses. The Barons were some of the original investors and they were betting that the tollway would increase their property values and spur redevelopment.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@wewoodson  


pUHLEEEZE. They infected us? Believe me, we did all the introducing here. The Observer is exactly 16 years ahead of D Magazine on all of this stuff. Let me put it this way. If D Magazine had a baby, it would look just like a little Dallas Observer. 

 
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