The Inland Port, the sprawling warehousing and transportation center meant to be an economic boon for southern Dallas County, has never really taken off. It opened in 2005 and has seen some development, but the project was stalled by a rocky economy and the bankruptcy of its largest property owner, the Allen Group, with a big assist from County Commission John Wiley Price and associates, who arguably torpedoed its chance to thrive.
Still, the city and its partners expect big things from the Inland Port, and things have been looking up of late. The volume of imported goods passing through the development remains low, but "what we are seeing in spades right now is growing demand for retail distribution space, and we anticipate a significant amount of new construction activity in 2013," said economic development chief Karl Zavitkovsky at this morning's meeting of the City Council's Economic Development Committee. And traffic through the Inland Port is expected only to increase after an expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2015.
There are, however, several obstacles to continued growth. For one, Union Pacific prefers to ship freight from Houston to Chicago, since shipping to Dallas is uneconomical. Also, the large tracts of the Inland Port that remain undeveloped are truly undeveloped, with no water, sewerage or other infrastructure needed for someone to do business there.
That worries council member Tennell Atkins, who chairs the Economic Development Committee.
"We're probably, maybe two years behind schedule," Atkins said. That will quickly become four if the city of Dallas doesn't get on the ball. "We need to get our part of the Inland Port shovel-ready for projects." Like now.
And there are plans to do just that, spending $23 million in 2006 bond funds to open up about 2,000 acres, but Atkins wants to see the city be more proactive on its portion of the Inland Port -- take better advantage of truck traffic coming along Interstate 20, for one, and just generally stop idling.
"We need to put an urgent on Inland Port," he said. "We have taxpayer dollars. Money is already there in the bank. We've sold the bonds, and the money needs to be spent. We're not doing a great job."