Yesterday afternoon, before heading to the board meeting at Dallas Independent School District's Ross Avenue HQ, we stopped by Vickery Wholesale Greenhouse -- the lone business that DISD's seeking to condemn as it moves ahead with plans for a new O.M. Roberts Elementary School building.
While the majority of the protesters who gathered at last night's meeting were residents of Jubilee Park, a chunk of them were employees -- or long-time clients -- of the wholesale greenhouse, which has been serving Dallas and nearby cities since 1952. And the clients and employees were very vocal in saying that, sure, they like the "idea" of a new elementary school, but forcing the business out would be a mistake.
But a few of Vickery's 3,000 clients that we've spoken with warn that DISD's move to condemn the wholesale greenhouse may cause more problems for businesses outside of Jubilee Park. DISD refuses to comment on its efforts to buy property in Jubilee Park.
"Vickery's a rarity in this market -- in any market -- so, it seems crazy for DISD to take out a viable business with 3,000 clients, especially in this economy," said Andre Harvey, Corporate Green's vice president. For 25 years, the award-winning interior landscape company has been providing interior foliage for skyscrapers, business complexes, hospitals and malls around DFW -- like Fountain Place, The Crescent, Tower at City Place, Methodist Hospital, Providence Towers, Bryan Tower, Dallas Regional Chamber -- and they've been getting those award-winning plants from Vickery.
Corporate Green has more than 600 clients in the area. Harvey and the other businesses that frequent the greenhouse maintain that forcing Vickery owner Pat Berry to close shop will have unforeseen influences throughout the city. "We're just one of his 3,000 clients, but we have 600 clients this will affect. And, I hate to think of what this will mean for all the small, independent florists who rely on [Vickery]."
Oh, and what about all the big residential and commercial contracts that Vickery's 3,000 clients handle? You know, places like Cowboys Stadium and Jerry Jones' home?
Well, Clive Bulmer of Botany 2000's says he has those contracts. Last night, he told Unfair Park that the shuttering of Vickery will have "more than a trickle-down effect across the city, it will be a deluge-down effect."
Comparing the loss of Vickery to a small town losing its only supermarket, Bulmer said the closure will cost businesses all across the area as Vickery's 3,000 clients have to start paying "more for less" through other suppliers. That means those clients will have to raise their rates or cut employees to offset the higher costs of acquiring the plants.
After the meeting last night, we spoke with Noel David Pullman, a mostly residential landscape specialist who moved from Tyler to Dallas in '92. Pullman said he'd been buying from Vickery since '82, when his business was still located in Tyler.
"It was worth the drive, because when it comes to the quality and selection, nobody else in North Texas has what [Vickery] has," Pullman said, adding that because he's a small business he can't afford to buy large trucks of plants from Florida or California. "I don't know where I'll go."
In his office yesterday afternoon, Berry told us, "We've pretty much decided that all we can do is hold out." He then made a reference to environmentalists who chain themselves to trees. So, last night, it wasn't too shocking to hear him tell the school board: "I really have no plans to go anywhere."
Berry said he first heard about the plans for O. M. Roberts from a real estate broker hired by DISD.
"I got a call in April of '09, and they asked if I'd be interested in selling," he said. "I said no."
But, naturally, that didn't stop the brokers from calling repeatedly and trying to scout the property. Soon, Vickery started receiving all the mandatory we're-gonna-take-your-land paperwork, as well as a copy of the Texas Landowner's Bill of Rights. "Then," he said, "I really didn't hear from them for a while.
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He wouldn't let the district or the brokers come out to inspect his property, which no doubt probably contributed to the low-ball offer. And, naturally, Berry's now hired an attorney who specializes in eminent domain cases.
As mentioned earlier, Berry told The News a few weeks back that he'd have to file bankruptcy based on DISD's $635,000 offer.
Berry maintains that he'll need a figure closer to $4.4 million to buy property, build a new facility and relocate the business. So, if DISD doesn't pony up more cash, the 24 employees of Vickery, many of whom live in the Jubilee Park neighborhood, will soon be out of a job.
Assuming, of course, Berry doesn't actually chain himself to the greenhouse.