Tomorrow, the city council will likely vote to give the Stoneleigh Hotel $2.5 million so its owners can rennovate, remediate and otherwise redo the 83-year-old Maple Avenue hotel. That money will come from the Downtown Connection TIF fund, which includes downtown and Uptown. The TIF board voted only last Thursday to approve the expenditure; normally, that means the Stoneleigh wouldn't have been on the council's agenda for several weeks, likely until after its summer recess that begins this week. But the fact is, there ain't no rush on the vote: While the Stoneleigh would benefit greatly from "historic facade renovation, environmental remediation, interior and exterior demolition" and other improvements allowed by council and through the TIF fund, the hotel's owners aren't going to get a penny from it for at least 10 to 15 years.
"They're just getting in line," says Preservation Dallas' executive director Dwayne Jones. "You have to remember there is no money in the TIF because of the Mercantile project." Indeed, last year the council approved a $70 million tax incentive deal with Cleveland-based developer Forest City for the Mercantile, all but eradicating other tax incentives for developers--and redevelopers--for years to come. In order to fund the Mercantile project, the city is selling bonds, and the council was warned specifically that it could not encumber the TIF's future income with other promises without undermining the bonds--which means at best the Stoneleigh agenda item is an empty promise, and at worst it's a dicey issue for the bond market. And, keep in mind, this is the same TIF from which the owner of and investors in Urban Market want their $4.1 million in tax incentives, or else they'll close shop.
"There's $2.5 million set aside for the Uptown area, and they wanted to get all of it," Jones says. "The problem with it is they're going to get in line, and there are tens of others who can't get it because they're downtown. And even then the Stoneleigh will have to wait for a long time. Whatever happens tomorrow [at council] won't really mean anything till there's money in the TIF."
In fact, this very issue tops Preservation Dallas' list of Dallas' Most Endangered Historic Places. PD cares so much because the expansion of the downtown TIF in 2005 into Uptown and other parts of the Central Business District essentially gutted the city's 13-year-old Historic Preservation Incentive Program, which is set to expire December 31, 2007. Jones says the fund's lack of funds will halt the rehabbing of older, smaller projects in as much need as the mammoth Merc. He has ideas--such as altering the boundaries of the downtown TIF--but "they all take a long time, would be challenging and difficult and require political will." Till then, the Stoneleigh will probably get its money tomorrow, then have to wait till 2016 at the very earliest to cash the check. --Robert Wilonsky
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