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The Mayor's $20 Million Plan for Southern Dallas is Just Another Drop in the Bucket.

Jen Sorensen

How much is 20 million bucks? Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings announced last week he is putting together a $20 million private investment fund to spur economic activity in the city's beleaguered southern half.

So, how much is that? What does 20 million bucks buy for you these days?

I have no idea. It's not an amount that would play an important part in my personal life, had I a personal life. In fact, to have any sort of feel for $20 million, I have to resort to that lame substitute I engage in instead of a personal life — reporting.

I looked it up. If somebody gave you $20 million, what would it buy you? As usual, I found some bad news. I always go for that first. But then I found some good news. I think. I'll let you be the judge on that.

The bad: I'm very sorry, but if $20 million is all you have, you do not have enough for:

The home of real-estate tycoon Harlan Crow on Preston Road in Highland Park. According to the county appraisal district, that would cost you $24 million. And the appraisal district, I should warn, is usually way low on its estimates of values of high-dollar residential properties.

Now, right next door there's another very nice place, the home of John R. Muse, founder and chairman of HM Capital Partners LLC. You can't have that either. According to the appraisal district, you'd need $30 million for that one.

There are a couple more houses right in that stretch of road in Highland Park that you can't afford, valued at about $22 million each. But enough. Let's be upbeat. Let's talk about what you can afford.

As it happens, that particular figure — $20 million — has been in the news quite a bit recently. To give you an idea what $20 million is worth these days, here is a list of stories I found about things valued at that amount. Twenty million dollars is the:

Cost of restoring the stucco exterior, elevators and other elements of the Albuquerque Convention Center in New Mexico.

Amount Dallas Area Rapid Transit spent on a new headquarters for transit police, opened this year.

Size of the projected shortfall in next year's budget for Dallas County.

Cost of a new "event center" and restoration of the existing convention center in Enid, Oklahoma, a city of 50,000 approximately 100 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.

Amount oil heiress Lyda Hill, a granddaughter of H.L. Hunt, pledged this year to Hockaday, a private girl's school in Dallas.

Amount Aerosmith's Steven Tyler says he has blown on drugs. Tyler told People magazine recently, "I snorted my Porsche. I snorted my plane. I snorted my house."

Amount the Association of Belltel Retirees claims Verizon secretly paid former Chief Executive Officer Ivan Seidenberg in 2009 and 2010, above his $18 million annual publicly disclosed compensation.

Amount New York millionaire Ed Bazinet spent on online tchotchkes two weeks ago during what doctors later called a "manic episode," after which Bazinet was hospitalized.

Reported cost of Kim Kardashian's second wedding.

Half to two-thirds of recent annual gross national products of the Polynesian island kingdom of Tuvalu.

Cost of fireworks display at 2008 opening of Atlantis Hotel in Dubai.

Cost of about 300 median-priced houses in Detroit.

Annual salary from 2015 to 2019 of Colorado Rockies baseball player Troy Tulowitzki.

Amount of gift Paul and Donna ("Muffy") Christen bestowed this year on the South Dakota Community Foundation.

Common net worth of large drug rings ($20 million and up per ring) operating in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area of southeastern Virginia, according to federal and state authorities. The metropolitan area has a population of 1.7 million.

Amount pledged for youth scholarships this year by largest beer distributor in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Average cost of finding, tracking, apprehending or "taking out" a single terrorist in U.S. war on terror, according to former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair.

Cost of modernizing the seats and sound system in Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Oregon, along with new glass atrium linking to Antoinette Hatfield Theater.

Cost of needed street repairs in Yakima, a city of 75,000 in central Washington.

Amount of recent property tax assessment in Islamorada, Florida, to pay for new village wastewater system. Islamorada is a community of 6,500 in the Florida Keys.

Average annual television revenue per school in the Big Ten conference.

Amount of federal grant money available for bicycle and pedestrian transportation projects in Indiana.

Amount Bulawayo City, second largest city in Zimbabwe, needs for a new "water reticulation" system. Bulawayo City is a city of 70,000 in central Zimbabwe. Water reticulation is pipes.

Amount the Michigan Film Office offered to Marvel Studios as incentive to film Iron Man 3 in Michigan. North Carolina offered the same. Marvel went to North Carolina.

 

Amount the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development loaned to Kazakhstan to "strengthen national statistical infrastructure." No idea what that means.

Bail set by Hong Kong authorities for Feng Shui master Tony Chan Chun-chuen, after he was charged with forging a will in his epic probate battle for the multibillion dollar fortune of the late businesswoman Nina Wang King Yu-sum.

Amount of Bank of Beirut's net profit in first quarter of 2011. No explanation for why it took a year to report.

Cost of new Volusia County "situation room" in Daytona Beach, Florida. The new situation room will be part of that Atlantic Coast community's system for responding to weather emergencies.

Value of Gisele Bundchen's and Patriot quarterback Tom Brady's eco-friendly mansion in Los Angeles.

Amount given recently by United States to strengthen agriculture in Ukraine.

Amount given recently by United States to strengthen democracy in Tunisia.

Amount given recently to Jennifer Lopez to get her to return to American Idol as a talent judge for one more year.

Amount auctioneers hope to bring in for antique bear sculpture at Boynton Beach, Florida, auction.

Amount Seattle says it spent on a federally funded green jobs program that in one year produced 14 jobs.

Cost of a pedestrian bridge announced recently to connect Luther Ely Smith Square with the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Amount presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann said a small banker in Texas told her he would lose this year to federal regulations. (This story is believed not to be true or even remotely possible.)

OK, that's my list. Hope it helped. But before we go further, let's pause and pay proper respect to Rawlings for even talking about poverty and neglect in our unfair city. Especially in these bizarre political times, with the Ayn Rand crowd out and about in their plaid earflap caps duck-hunting for liberals, and especially in Dallas, where swift-boating began, it takes real courage for anybody in a position like his to even bring up poverty, fairness or that other one the Tea Party really hates — hope.

Rawlings based part of his cry for help on a report just issued by the Communities Foundation of Texas showing that 20 percent of Dallas residents live at or below the poverty level, 45 percent are a paycheck away from it and 70 percent have subprime credit ratings.

As you look south, all of those numbers get way worse. According to the mayor's Southern Dallas Task Force (launched before Rawlings arrived), per capita income in southern Dallas is 54 percent of the citywide level. So you're talking about half of something that's already really bad.

Give the mayor credit. He's talking about real issues. My only question is whether $20 million even gets to the issue. Is it enough to dent the problem, to achieve any kind of significant turn-around in southern Dallas?

I suppose we could go on forever with examples and comparisons. In 2005, for example, The Dallas Morning News opened its new Southern Dallas Distribution Center, originally described as a $100 million investment in southern Dallas employment, built with substantial tax incentives from the city.

In 2007, when the Morning News shuttered the same facility, the company said the plant had actually cost them only $50 million, quite a savings from the original number. Wow. They said they would probably pay back a portion of the tax incentives, subject to negotiation.

I could go into a whole riff here about the News and their Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial series on helping southern Dallas by picking up the litter and how if they had just spent what they said they were going to spend when they got the tax incentives and if they had just kept the joint open more than 24 months, it would have represented a boost to the southern Dallas economy of 500 percent more than the entire fund Rawlings is promising now.

I could riff on that. Please stop me before I riff again.

It would be bullshit, I know. Why did they build a southern Dallas distribution center in the first place? To distribute. Their circulation went down. They had bupkis to distribute. So they closed the joint.

You don't build a southern Dallas distribution center to help southern Dallas. Unless you're nuts. I know that. So I know how wrong it would be to rag on the News for closing their plant.

So wrong. But soooo delicious.

No. I'm better than that. Well, I want to be better than that. So here's the last thing I have to say about what $20 million would buy you. It would buy you one-fifth of the announced price of a new southern Dallas distribution center that maybe actually cost a lot less and then they plywooded the place two years later so now it's another empty ugly hulk and blight on the landscape.

 

What say? Fireworks display?


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