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"A Catch-22": Medrano Sheds More Light on Uplift's Intention to Open Charter in Deep Ellum

I warned you: Yesterday's item about Uplift Education's intention of opening a charter school in the old Baylor building in Deep Ellum was just the first of many to come. Here's the second, because yesterday I'd left a message for Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Pauline Medrano, in whose district Deep Ellum sits. I wanted to know if she intended to intervene -- and if so, on whose behalf. After all, as she reminds today, she has several Uplift schools in her district, and as she says, "I have a very good relationship with them."

So much so Uplift's CEO, Yasmin Bhatia, sent Medrano a missive today explaining their intentions, which Medrano has forwarded to Unfair Park. In her letter, Bhatia writes that the proposed Deep Ellum campus would be the secondary school for those kids currently attending the K-3 Laureate Preparatory in the West End. She writes:

We believe the additional 75+ jobs that this campus alone will bring to Deep Ellum is very positive as is the fact that our teaching force tends to be young, single professionals who will want to dine and likely live in/near Deep Ellum helping contribute to the growth of the community surrounding the school. ... We are not trying to be a "thorn in the side" of the property owners of Deep Ellum but would like to work collaboratively with [property and business owners] and believe that the school will be a positive asset to the Deep Ellum community.

That is just an excerpt from her letter, which you can read in full below. And Medrano is torn, because as much as she likes what Uplift does, she's also quite pleased with the progress Deep Ellum has made in recent years: "It's coming back, and people are bringing neat restaurants and live-music venues to Deep Ellum. And the DART line is bringing more and more folks who want to discover Deep Ellum -- and the [UNT] law school's coming with people in their mid-20s who will live downtown and who will discover places to eat and drink and have a good time. This is going to ..." She pauses. "I know the property owners are not happy."


Medrano says she drives through Deep Ellum, what, three, four times a week. She had lunch at Angry Dog just yesterday; sometimes, she says, she'll go to Twisted Root, St. Pete's, even Adair's. Depends. But after all the lean years, she says, the "new" Deep Ellum is something to behold.


And yet ...



"This really is a Catch-22," she says. "You want an education facility near downtown, but at the same time the Deep Ellum folks have made major investments, and I think the city and property owners have worked together and had a great partnership turning that area around. I have seen the change. They're more robust, they're making money, there are great venues, and we're not spending the type of money we were spending in terms of police by shutting down streets. The cruising isn't happening anymore. I feel for them."

She means the property owners, who could see their bars and alcohol-selling eateries profoundly affected by the city ordinance disallowing the sale of booze within 300 feet of a school -- property line to property line, as defined by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.. And though she can't attend, as she's got something else planned with Angela Hunt that night, Medrano reiterates: There will be a Monday-evening meeting at which Theresa O'Donnell, head of Sustainable Development, and other city officials will attempt to explain to business and property owners what Uplift's move into the neighborhood could mean. (It is, after all, allowed by right.)

The letter from Bhatia is below. You will note: It was sent to Medrano by Rosemary Perlmeter, Uplift's founder.

Pauline,

I am forwarding this for Yasmin Bhatia, the current CEO of Uplift Education . Please feel free to email us or to call me if you think we should talk. We appreciate any support or advice you can provide me.

Rosemary

Dear Councilwoman Medrano-

We have not had an opportunity yet to meet in-person since I have joined Uplift but I have heard from Rosemary and Teresa (who leads Peak Prep) what a wonderful advocate you have been for our Uplift schools. We are deeply appreciative of your support.

I understand that you have met with a few individuals from Deep Ellum regarding Uplift's new school in Dallas for next school year. We are very excited to open Laureate Prep's Secondary School which will continue our successful formal partnership with the Museum of Nature and Science. This partnership currently exists with Laureate Prep's Primary school located in the 30,000 square feet retail space on the first floor of the West End Parking Garage on Laws and Lamar. We are in the middle of final contract negotiations to purchase 2625 Elm Street to house Laureate Prep's Secondary School which will have grades 6-12 and at scale serve over 900 students.

We believe the additional 75+ jobs that this campus alone will bring to Deep Ellum is very positive as is the fact that our teaching force tends to be young, single professionals who will want to dine and likely live in/near Deep Ellum helping contribute to the growth of the community surrounding the school. We are also very supportive of the broader economic development plans for Deep Ellum and want to be a partner to the Community.

I shared this with Barry Annimo [sp], President of the Deep Ellum Foundation, when he and I met earlier this week.

I specifically shared with him that Uplift will be happy to issue a "no contest" letter to the City when there are specific establishments that the broader Deep Ellum community wants to open near the school that serve alcohol. What Mr. Annimo [sp] requested that I was not comfortable agreeing to was a broad sweeping "no contest" letter for any establishment within 300 feet of the school. As I hope you can appreciate that might cause undue risk to our organization. Again, I shared with Mr. Annimo [sp] multiple times that we are not trying to be a "thorn in the side" of the property owners of Deep Ellum but would like to work collaboratively with them and believe that the school will be a positive asset to the Deep Ellum community.

I hope it is useful to hear our direct position on this situation. Please feel free to reach out directly if you have any questions. Again many thanks for your continued support of our efforts to ensure 100% of our students are accepted into college!

-Yasmin Bhatia

CEO, Uplift Education


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