Anyone who ventured down to Deep Ellum Friday night saw an unlikely sight: Mayor Laura Miller, club- and restaurant-hopping like a sorority girl the night after final exams. In tow were her 15-year-old daughter Alex and Alex's boyfriend, along with revered Deep Ellum icon John "Beard" Brewer and restaurateur Peter Tarantino, who had invited the mayor downtown for a tour of the beleaguered entertainment district that's received so much attention in these very pages of late.
Just hours earlier, Tarantino and four other concerned Deep Ellum business owners--including Whit Meyers, who co-owns the Green Room and Gypsy Tea Room, and Bob Cummins, one of the members of Hard Night's Day, the Beatles tribute act that just took control of Club Dada (set to reopen for business on Friday, March 31)--had visited with Miller to "tell me how messed up it is" in Deep Ellum, the mayor recounts. So she figured she might as well see for herself that very night.
"These guys told me on Friday, 'We're on the edge of disaster,'" Miller says. "I had a meeting just like this two years ago with people from Deep Ellum. It's an interesting cycle: Two years ago I got cops down there and thought we'd put a stop to the wilding down there. Now we're in this new cycle, or maybe it's just a continuation of a cycle of these problems."
Her itinerary for the evening included a meal at Tarantino's, a band at Curtain Club (Joint Method, which Alex liked) and a tour of Club Clearview, Daddy Jack's and the Green Room; she stayed downtown till 11:30 p.m., well past Alex's boyfriend's curfew but well before the trouble in Deep Ellum usually occurs. (Just a week before the mayor's visit, police arrested a 23-year-old man for shooting at another guy in the 2600 block of Elm Street at around 3 a.m.) The weather was lousy, cold and damp, and most of the places were sparsely filled.
"I was struck by how empty it is," Miller says. "It's depressing, because we had so much fun listening to the band. I wish 25-year-olds would vote, because they were sweet to me, buying me beers and being cute. And the food was great, too, at Tarantino's. But at Daddy Jack's, there was nobody there...What's great about Deep Ellum is that it's not a phony tourist district. It's the real deal, and it deserves to survive. What frustrates me is I spent all day Saturday thinking, 'How do I tell people my experience was the best, that you couldn't have a better time?'"
Tarantino was pleased by the mayor's stop in Deep Ellum and the conversations they had about its future, though he was quick to point out how many steps were necessary to turn Miller's fun night into real changes that would benefit the district. Meanwhile, Brewer was much more to the point--"She was so fucking cool," he says. "It was nice that she didn't bring a camera crew or cops; just her and her daughter having a good time."
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Miller offers several short-term solutions to what ails Deep Ellum: yanking the parking meters, which may prove untenable because of the small fortune they make for the city; fixing the sidewalks and installing "old-timey street lights" for safety's sake; and revoking the late-night permits that allow dance clubs to stay open till after 2 a.m. The latter proposal makes the most sense, she says, because "most of the insanity is at two, three in the morning, and then the cops could say, 'Everything is closed. Go home, kids.'"
The mayor says that on Wednesday, she is going to schedule a meeting with council members Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano, Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle and Deep Ellum business owners, to discuss ways to improve the area in coming months. Miller hopes an influx of residential spaces, which are expected in the next three years with the coming DART stations and the creation of a tax-increment financing district, will bring in folks more concerned with cleaning up Deep Ellum rather than tearing it down brick by stinkin' brick.
"We need to find some ways to put Deep Ellum on people's radar screen again, to give them an incentive to come down, and getting rid of every parking meter would get them to come down to try it," the mayor says. "And then I thought we could turn the place on its head and have a kids' event, like an Eddie Coker concert and heavily promote it--have the Observer sponsor it," she says, laughing. "And then we could have another band, for older folks. Just have everything open with free lemonade. It would be a bizarre thing to do some kind of a child's free community event in a place people think is dangerous."
Sam Machkovech contributed to this report.