Deep Ellum, or Deep Doo-Doo

The mayor oughta play Deep Ellum more often. At 10:30 a.m. yesterday, there was quite the line snaking out of the front door of the Gypsy Tea Room, as some 200 folks waited for Mayor Laura Miller and her backup band--Dallas police Chief David Kunkle and council members Pauline Medrano and Angela Hunt--to take the stage for a two-hour set of their greatest hits, among them "Crime's Down, So Put Down the Gun," "Graffiti Abatement Means I Love You," 'What's So Special About a SUP?" and "Lovely Rita Meter Maid, You Best Step Off." The crowd reacted with moderate enthusiasm; one Deep Ellum club owner stomped out before the show was over, muttering (loud enough for everyone to hear), "Nothin's accomplished, I'm goin' home." T-shirt sales were not at all brisk.

The Town Hall meeting, attended by landlords and club owners and every spare news camera in town, was the result of several Deep Ellum club and restaurant owners storming Miller's office two weeks ago, demanding to know what she was going to do about bad business and bad folks in the neighborhood. One of the folks in on that initial meeting said Miller knew little about the neighborhood's recent woes, including the closing of several venerable clubs and restaurants; apparently, a meal at Tarantino’s and a show at the Curtain Club rekindled her interest, along with a particular story in a particular publication, much of which was repeated at the Tuesday meeting.

Frank Campagna
Her "d'oh" face: Deep Ellum gallery owner Frank Campagna sketched this portrait of the mayor during her Tuesday Town Hall meeting at the Gypsy Tea Room.

Nothing much happened at this particular gathering: There was the familiar promise of new development in the recently created tax increment financing (TIF) district, as well as talk of putting in more street lights and parking garages and widening the sidewalks and taking out the parking meters. There was also a lengthy discussion about abolishing all late-night permits, which means every single club in Dallas would have to close at 2 a.m. While it might sound like a good idea--the cops can clear a crowd much easier when folks can't claim they're heading to some early-morning establishment--it would also "throw out the baby with the bath water," as Don Nedler, owner of the Lizard Lounge, told her.

"We have allowed a band of teenagers to take control of a major entertainment district in a major city,"Nedler said, to loud applause. But abolishing the late-night permits, he insisted, would create "a thriving industry for illegal after-hours warehouse parties." The mayor doesn't understand why anyone would wanna be out after two in the morning; "you're supposed to be in bed," she says, suggesting she's not really in touch with The Youth Vote.

No matter: After the meeting, it became clear there would be only more meetings. And more meetings. And more meetings. Miller wants to put together a task force, which ain't enough for most in the neighborhood who've seen the crowds shrink, their profits dwindle and their fellow club owners shutter their establishments and move elsewhere. The reaction of Medrano was particularly telling: Toward the end of the meeting, she stood in front of the mike and said, twice, "I need a plan for Deep Ellum." Hers was the tone of voice of the politician begging for help from anyone.

"Rudy Giuliani told the police chief in New York City to get rid of crime, and he got rid of crime," said Whit Meyers, co-owner of the Gypsy, the Green Room and the recently chopped-down Trees. "Why can't we do that here in Dallas? It seems pretty simple. We can have a task force, meet regularly, all those things. But why can't they just enforce the law? All we're doing is circling the target. Deep Ellum's not the only thing at risk here. Downtown is, too, and so are billions of dollars in investments." --Robert Wilonsky