The easy response to news that the city of Dallas is giving a $275,000 "forgiveable loan" to the owners of South Dallas' Two Podners Bar-B-Que and Seafood is to dismiss it as crony capitalism. One of them must have a friend on the City Council who decided they needed a little government cash to help them expand.
You'd be right, of course, just like you'd be right to say that Rudy's Chicken got a sweetheart deal from the city last year, as did the Thrash Memorial Funeral Home on Lancaster Boulevard.
But once you get past the heartburn that the local government's picking winners and losers, and if you accept that the city has a legitimate interest in spurring economic development south of Interstate 30, these types of handouts actually, kind of, in a way, make sense.
Consider the city's traditional approaches to growing southern Dallas. One is to build big, shiny, multimillion-dollar baubles for rich people (e.g. the Trinity Forest Golf Course) in the vaguely conceived hope that the wealth will seep through the surrounding area. Another is to award give sweetheart housing deals to developers (e.g. Bexar Street Village, Patriot's Crossing). Then there's the time-honored technique of zoning out or strong-arming existing businesses that a mayor or council member deems undesirable, a la Jim's Car Wash.
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Contrast those examples with what's happening at Two Podners, where you have two well-established businessmen who have operated in the community for several decades. They want to expand, so they draw up plans for a $1.8 million retail development around their restaurant, line up potential tenants (they say they are close to deals with Subway, Del Taco and Krispy Kreme), and line up enough private financing to cover about 80 percent of the project.
It's not a huge or glamorous project -- a drop in the bucket, if you will -- but it'll create a few dozen jobs and spruce up that corner of Robert Cullum and MLK boulevards. Every year, the city gives out millions of dollars in incentives to private businesses, most of which are disguised as TIF reimbursements or tax breaks that few mortals can comprehend. If the city's going to be in that business anyway, what's the harm in giving a bit of cash to Two Podners?
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.