Build It...and They Won't Come

The Dallas Morning News has a story today on the $14 million Bexar Street redevelopment project in South Dallas, which Councilman Leo Chaney would like to present to this city as his legacy.

Full disclosure: My church, The Body of Christ Assembly, falls squarely within the redevelopment area. In fact, my pastor was rather shocked one day to walk into a meeting concerning the redevelopment project and see a nice, colorful map showing a park precisely where our church now stands, and on property our church has owned for many years. But that's what happens when the plan is concocted from the top down, with the interests of only a few community members in mind. I'll get back to that in a moment.

The first phase of the Bexar Street project involves building retail and office buildings on Bexar, one of the skankiest streets in town, as well as townhomes. Phase 2 involves building new housing where many vacant lots and delapidated homes and apartments now stand. Work is supposed to begin on the project early next year.

Now, isn't that totally backward? Why would someone build businesses and offices in a poor neighborhood where there are some 200 vacant lots? Don't businesses require a customer base? And just what would that customer base be--the guys with bottles in paper bags who sit on the ratted-out sofas beneath the pecan trees? The elderly homeowners who've lived there for years and can't get out, because they can't sell their properties for a decent price? The families who rent homes for a few months--because it's one of the few places left in the city where you can rent a home very cheaply--then clear out as soon as they're able?

Chaney, who grew up in the area--which is rather sadly known as the Ideal neighborhood--wants to recreate the bustling business district he remembers from his youth. That's a noble ideal, no pun intended.

But for some time now, community members--by that I mean people who live or have a stake in the neighborhood, not just Chaney's cronies--have wondered who this project is really intended to benefit. It just doesn't add up. Build it and they will come? Who will come? No wonder people in the neighborhood suspect that elusive customer base involves everyone but them. --Julie Lyons

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