Here's Hoping

Here's hoping: On September 11, ("Deep Ellum Lives") we sneaked a peek at Scott Beck's plans to revitalize Deep Ellum, which involves his buying at least 14 acres smack in the heart of the entertainment district. For the first time since rumors of Beck's venture surfaced over the summer, he laid out the shape of things to come: retail, residential, office space, the usual live-work-play plan. Only, Beck has at his beck and call an army of architects tag-teaming a plan to keep Deep Ellum as historic as possible. So far, so good: All the associations and foundations appear onboard with Beck's plan, and even preservationists are cautiously optimistic that the city's largest collection of early 20th-century storefronts will survive.

But in recent weeks, word on Elm Street has it that Beck's plan to buy Deep Ellum is falling apart. The doom-saying comes just as the credit market's crumbling and banks are looking for bailout dough.

That's nonsense, Beck insists.

When reached Tuesday, Beck said that, yes, of course, times are tight, and lenders ain't lending—no surprise there. And, sure, this isn't the easiest time in which to buy 14 acres of dilapidated history. "The financial markets are putting a cramp on everyone," says Beck, a former associate vice president at JP Morgan Chase in 2000 and '01. "And Deep Ellum, like every other area in the country, isn't insulated from that."

Beck's been assembling these properties for years, and some sellers are indeed getting itchy to move 'em. Deep Ellum real estate maven Barry Annino, who's helped Beck connect with sellers, confirms that Beck has kept most of the properties under contract, with extensions. But, he says, "a few guys"—smaller property owners—have pulled out with the expectation of jumping back in once Beck closes with Don Cass, Al Jernigan and Don Blanton, majority landowners who, Annino says, have not jumped ship.

"Am I optimistic?" Annino says. "Yes, and I'm gonna stay that way. It's better than my options, which would be back to the old days, which I don't really want."

Beck still expects to close the deals by year's end. And he says he'll do so with the city's help, following extensive discussions with the Office of Economic Development that could involve moving the heart of Deep Ellum into a tax increment financing district and shuffling around $6 million in 2006 bond money intended to go toward paying for streetscape repair in Deep Ellum. Beck says he and the city hope to have a plan ready for the city council's December 10 meeting.

"The positive news I can relay is the city of Dallas wants to see something happen in Deep Ellum," Beck says. "And they're trying to pull out all the stops to make that happen."