Pie in the Face

This is the Bama Pie Co. building. Doesn't look like a museum. Money pit's more like it.

At the risk of falling into the echo chamber, let me bring up, one more time, the case of the Bama Pie Co. building on Pennsylvania Avenue across the street from Fair Park. I bring it up because Friend of Unfair Park Michael Davis wrote about the Bama Pie building yesterday on his blog Dallas Progress, following up not only my cover story about the South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund last November, but an Unfair Park item about it in March. In short, both said the same thing: The Bama Pie Co. building, which was suppposed to have been a motorsports museum by now but remains little more than a work in progress upon which no work is being done, is a money pit into which the city has poured thousands. Pardon, hundreds of thousands. And nobody seems to care. At all.

Derrick Mitchem got a $29,000 grant from the recently revamped South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund in 2001. He bought the building in 2000 for $50,000. Said he needed $600,000 to rehab the place. Got $29,000 from the fund--then another $290,000 from the city in community development block grant money, then another $45,000 from the South Dallas Development Corp. That's $364,000.

If you want to know what the place looks like today, what a venue of hustle and bustle it's become, go to Michael's Web site. There are plenty of pictures that reveal it's still what we said and showed it to be in November: "an abandoned construction site and nothing more." A year ago people I spoke to for the trust fund story said Mitchem is making people downtown and in Fair Park "nervous." That CDBG money was supposed to have been put to use a year after Mitchem got it. What's it been now? Almost five years? The Dallas Morning News wasn't kidding in April 2004 when it said Mitchem has "benefited from low-interest loans, grants and guidance from the city's South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund." The question is, how has the neighorhood benefited from Mitchem's getting that money? Not so much, at least not so far.

So now that history's been dispensed with, back to the echo chamber.

Yesterday, Michael's item also went up on DallasBlog, to which he is a contributor. There, he attracted the attention of one Mary Hasan, who is the administrative assistant to city council member James Fantroy. The Bama Pie building sits in Leo Chaney's district. Chaney apparently is good pals with Mitchem. That's what people have said repeatedly since the story first appeared in November. Whenever I have asked Chaney about the museum, he swears it's about to open. Next month, he would say. Or next year. There's always a "next" somewhere in there. He never says he's disappointed with the progress, or lack thereof. He never says he's looking into it. He always says it's getting done.

But for whatever reason, Fantroy's assistant--the woman who, in 2003, got Lovie Lipscomb, wife of Al, to file an ethics complaint against Mayor Laura Miller that was thrown out--has taken it upon herself to defend Mitchem. She says Michael didn't write about the burglaries at the building, though there's nothing to steal save bricks and glass. She says air conditioners have been swiped. She says copper wiring's been stripped. She says "Derrick [caught] two drug addicts tearing up the work that had been done." She says they cut him, and that he let them go. She says Chaney "did not approve this funding by himself." She says a majority of the council approved it.

So what is she saying? Don't be mad that Mitchem's been victimized by the bad neighborhood his money was supposed to improve? Or, stop picking on Leo because the deal went south? Why is a city employee even bothering with defending Mitchem in the first place? All Hasan seems interested in doing is picking on Michael Davis. I believe the phrase is "shooting the messenger." Shouldn't she be at least a little mad that almost half a million dollars has been wasted? Just a little upset? A teensy-weensy bit?

Probably not. Nobody else at the city is. Called Charles Black in the City Attorney's Office this morning. He said nobody has talked to him about Mitchem. Black's the guy who winds up with all the other South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund loans that go bad. He said I oughta call Leo Barron Hicks, the fund's administrator. Hicks wasn't in, but we've talked about Mitchem before. Hicks says the museum will get done. Doesn't say when. And the Bama Pie building never comes up at trust fund board meetings anymore. It's a subject they try to ignore. Word is WFAA-Channel 8's been snooping around the building. So maybe the Bama Pie building's good for something after all. It gives us something to write about. --Robert Wilonsky