Saw in a local daily the other day there's a plan to develop a bunch of raw dirt at the base of the city's new fake suspension bridge downtown. Thought, "Hang on. Don't I know that dirt?"
Looked it up. Had to go way back. Yeah! I do know that dirt. Or I did. The land at the base of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge was at the center of a very fun brouhaha I had with City Hall 14 years ago. That's right. Fourteen. Count 'em. This goes way back.
Why bring it up now? Only for this. The mayor reportedly gave a speech the other day in which he said the reason we have to build the Trinity River Toll Road is so people in Pleasant Grove can get to Parkland Hospital. According to what I read in a local daily, the mayor said, "We need to make sure that we can get people from Pleasant Grove to one of the busiest hospital districts, that is happening right here in Dallas."
That's so great. It's a totally new one on me, a brand-new reason for the toll road, which we have been debating but not building since 1998, 16 years ago. As far as I know, the mayor did not answer what would have been my question: If they need to get to Parkland, why don't they just get on I-30? At least it has exits relatively near Parkland. But let's not even go there.
The reason to bring up my raw dirt at the foot of the bridge again after so many years is so I can make a point about the stuff they tell us. Now, 14 years after the fact, we can look at the raw dirt story and see it for what it truly was -- one big gigantic fib-arooski. Let's not use the other word, OK?
In 2000, City Hall was still selling us on the idea of building a special fake suspension bridge at the foot of the Woodall Rodgers Expressway, where we didn't really need a bridge at all because there was nothing on the other side to go to. It was a tough sell.
If we really had to build a freeway bridge to nowhere there, we could have done it for between $30 and $35 million with a plain vanilla bridge. Having a Spanish architect design us a fake suspension bridge instead would add $22 million to the cost, the city said, raising the total tab to a maximum $57 million. The city said most of that extra would be raised from private funds.
Time out. Fourteen years later, here's what really happened. The total cost was about $182 million, not $57 million. Private donors kicked in $12 million. So the public got nicked for the extra cost of the fake suspension bridge minus the private donations, a tab of about $135 million. That was our real cost for making it a fake suspension bridge instead of a plain vanilla freeway bridge. And that cost may yet soar higher if a toll road ever is built, because of the greater difficulty of building ramps and stuff for the fake suspension bridge. So that's one thing.
The other thing, the fun brouhaha at the time, was this: The city commissioned an "economic impact statement" for the fake suspension bridge, which I now know means "bubble-gum wrapper joke," from some outfit working out of an office somewhere up Central Expressway. Not to reopen old wounds, let's just call them "Louie's Economic Impact Studies," not their real name.
Louie's economic impact study, for which Louie was paid $14,375, said the amount of real estate development that the fake suspension bridge would generate -- the minute it opened if not sooner -- would produce $100 million in new tax revenue for local government.
Really? Oh, yeah! Oh yeah! In fact Louie even knew the name of an outfit that intended to develop that raw dirt right at the foot of the bridge. Apparently the outfit had told Louie it was all about whether or not it was a fake suspension bridge.
If it was a fake suspension bridge, they would build a 1.2 million-square-foot building. If it was a plain vanilla bridge, they were only going to do 400,000 square feet. On a side note, please notice that this is 14 years later, and it's raw dirt.
I asked to see the economic impact study. The city gave it to me, but they had crossed out the name of the outfit that was going to build at the base of the bridge. Sorta crossed it out. Whoever was the official crosser-outer working that day at City Hall must have been doing too much crossing out, because he or she only crossed out the first reference on the first page. The name appeared again on the second page, where the crosser-outer had missed it. So I knew who it was. Well, and I also had a copy somebody had slipped me with the references not crossed out at all.
Just for grins, I demanded a copy anyway with the names un-crossed-out under the Texas Public Information Act. The city refused to give it to me, and they appealed my demand to the Texas attorney general, saying it would screw up their deal with the developer if I published the developer's name.
I wrote letters to the attorney general saying tough, they had to give it to me anyway. Like I say, I already had the name. I was just messing with them. Hey, give me a break. I've been doing this stuff for about 150 years. I get to have a little fun once in a while, don't I?
The attorney general said I couldn't have the name, because just couldn't. Too highly secret. Might jinx the deal. So finally I wrote about all of it and revealed the name of the high-flying developer who was going to build either a 400,000-square-foot or 1.2-million-square-foot development based on whether or not the bridge was fake suspension or not. And the name inside the envelope was ...
"Government!" That would be you and me. You and I were going to develop something at the foot of the fake suspension bridge, and then you and I were going to make all kinds of tax money off it, even though it was owned by the government and would be tax exempt. Louie never said how that would work or which government. Just "Government!"
Somebody tried to float a rumor to me that it was the post office. So what? The post office doesn't pay local property taxes. And it wasn't the post office anyway. It wasn't anybody. It was NOBODY! The whole thing, the story about a developer, the economic impact study, the numbers they handed out for the cost of the bridge, it was all one big ... what did we say we were going to call it? A fib. A big fat bold-faced fib palmed off on the public because the people telling the fib assumed nobody would be around 14 years later to notice that the dirt was still raw and nothing had been built at the base of the fake suspension bridge.
You could say, "Well, Schutze, now some guy is going to develop it, so all good, right?" I would say not exactly. It's been 14 years. And from what I read, the guy says he can't do anything until they figure out if they're going to do the toll road or not, which could easily be another 14 years. So, you know, people who weren't born when Louis did his economic study will be having babies by then. My question for Louie would be, "Will your prediction come true in our lifetimes? On this particular planet? Because otherwise I may have to file it again under Not True Yet."
Generally speaking, that has been the case with every single aspect of the entire Trinity River project, especially the bridge and the toll road. Wait long enough. None of it is ever true. Take that story about the people from Pleasant Grove needing the toll road to get to Parkland. I figure that one had a half-life of about 24 hours max the second it left the mayor's lips, sort of a sad little still-born fib, probably already past its expiration date as we speak.
We need to take all those stories and tell the people who tell them to us to put them where that story about the raw dirt at the base of the fake suspension bridge went. You got that right. The sun don't shine there!