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How the City Deals With Its Surplus Properties, And Why It Doesn't Raze Empty Buildings

The fire station built on W. Jefferson in 1945 is among the handful of city-owned buildngs currently up for grabs.
The fire station built on W. Jefferson in 1945 is among the handful of city-owned buildngs currently up for grabs.
Dallas Firefighters Museum, via The Portal to Texas History

This morning I got that list of the city's surplus properties I asked for yesterday -- and it's not a long one, consisting of just four "improved properties" (meaning, they have buildings on them) and 19 vacant lots, several next to each other on, respectively, W. Laureland and N. Lancaster. Bonnie Meeder, who heads up the city's real estate division, says of course there are more than these that didn't make the list -- including that fire station-turned-canvas on Walnut Hill and the nearby library rotting away on Marsh. But for various reasons they aren't on the list, and right now they aren't for sale.

Take Ol' No. 35, for instance. As Meeder explains, it sits next to a Dallas Water Utilities pump station, and for years that was a single piece of property. But recently it was replatted and split into two parcels so the city could try to offload the crumbling structure. Matter of fact, says Meeder, there are folks presently eying the building, which is zoned residential: "We have two people now who've expressed interest in using it as an artist's studio with an apartment," she tells Unfair Park, "so it would be a residential use but somewhere an artist could paint."

You mean, on the inside this time.

"We're currently in discussion with those folks," she says. "We've taken them to view the building to see if it's economically feasible to rehab it. But that's in the exploration stage."

For the longest time we've talked about selling off the city's empty buildings and vacant lots. Mary Suhm told council a couple of weeks ago that revenue from that might help shrink the potential $50-million gap facing council as the city manager puts together the next budget. Walk me through what happens when a city-owned building is shuttered.

When the city has a property -- for example, an old fire station and the fire department no longer needs it -- they turn the keys over the real estate division. We'll ask other city departments if there's a need for the facility, and sometimes another department will take advantage of it. But frequently they aren't able to. If nobody's able to use it, we'll submit a request to the council and label it surplus, and then we'll try to sell it.

Many of the buildings on the surplus list are fire stations and libraries. And more will go empty as the city slowly builds replacement facilities. Like, the one near my house, on Marsh near Love Field ...

We've actually had a number of departments express interest over the years in the old Walnut Hill Library. The most recent is the Aviation Department, and we think they will be able to reuse that facility. What they're considering doing is putting in a satellite office for their real estate staff. They have staff that deals with leases at the airport, so we're currently under discussions with them.

Why not raze the empty buildings, especially the older ones that have fallen into such disrepair? The fire station on Walnut Hill, for instance, looks worse every day.

We have discussed that as well -- not just that one but we have some former libraries, like the Casa View branch, where it's the same situation. When the city no longer needs them and we can't find someone to reuse them, what do we do? That has been a topic.

Speaking of Casa View, I'd heard at one point there was an arts group interested in moving into that facility on Ferguson.

The arts groups interested in the old Casa View, apparently that did not pan out. We don't have anyone interested in that library or the Buckner branch. We had a lease till recently on the fire station [at 3303 W. Jefferson], a nonprofit. And our building at 5221 S. Westmoreland is a shell. We'd be happy to entertain lease options if someone's interested. But as you saw with the Walnut Hill library and the fire station, it become a maintenance problem People break in, steal the copper, and it become economically unviable.

So why not just tear 'em down, especially the longer they rot?

There's a cost to tearing them down, and we've had discussions internally about maybe there should be identified a pot of money for when these building outlive their useful life to demolish them, but we don't currently have that pot in place.

And, as Suhm has said before, you can't just sell them for cheap either.

We're required to sell them at fair market value, so that's also a dilemma. We can't just sell them for a nickel.

Well, thanks, Bonnie. This has been instructive.

Call if you have more questions. Or a check. Or a lease agreement. That would work too.


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