Bond Girl

So, about that Mary Suhm speech to the members of DowntownDallas this afternoon at the DP&L Flats...

In short, the city manager explained, over a lunch of miso soup and dry chicken and cookies, that it's going to cost some $477,185,913 to complete the downtown initiatives that are now part of the 2006 Capital Improvement Program. That is, it'll cost that much to fix downtown if you consider Fair Park and the Cotton Bowl, Uptown, East Dallas and the Cedars part of downtown, which is how the city core's being redefined these days. But if you consider only the actual Central Business District's needs in the upcoming $1.28 billion bond election, that'll run about $100 million as far as Suhm's concerned--which is $26 mil less than the DowntownDallas folks wanted, but still a hefty amount of change. In fact, as Suhm broke it down, the $1.28 billion pie will be distributed thusly: 22 percent of the dough will go to flood control, 29 percent will flow to the northern sector, 39 percent will go to the southern sector, and 13 percent will wind up in the CBD. "But one-third will directly or indirectly affect downtown," Suhm insisted, once you factor in everything from flood control to street and sidewalk improvement around the city core. Got it. Lotta money. Hard to fathom over lunch. Slideshow ain't helping. Not good with math.

The mood at lunch was chummy and upbeat: There was Woodbine Development's chairman and CEO John Scovell with his arm around Suhm, introducing her like the dear, old friend she is; and there was Scovell at the end ushering her off the stage by insisting of Suhm and her staff, "All they get is blame, and they deserve credit." Scovell and DowntownDallas chairman of the board John Crawford were all smiles and backpats, celebrating "the new downtown Dallas" (Crawford) with its "19 cranes" (Crawford) and its revival as "the core, heart and crossroads of art and commerce" in the city (Scovell). Crawford spoke of the Fireman's Fund Insurance Co.'s recently announced relocation to downtown as "one of the biggest relocations in the last 10 years,'" while also hailing the new developments (Third Rail Lofts, the Metropolitan, the beginning of the Main Street retail program) that would bring at least 1,500 more people to live in downtown by the end of 2007. And he insisted that Dallas "is at a crucial moment in its evolution," and that to waste the momentum would be nothing short of a tragedy. "We are no longer on the cusp of development, but in the throes of it," he said, and it's hard to argue: After working downtown for a decade, only now does it seem full of vigor, where not so long ago it just smelled of piss. Suhm also spoke of "capitalizing on momentum" as she described the process that led to the $1.28 billion propsal. She said Dallas is in need of $9 billion worth of work, and that the city council created a needs inventory to determine what ought to be fixed first. Fact is, she says, asking for $500 million at a time wasn't going to do it anymore; hence, the largest bond proposal in city history (even thought there's still $100 million worth of bonds still unused from the 2003 election, according to a chart she flashed very quickly on the screen). She also admitted that the city "hasn't been good at protecting our investments," which include everything from the Cotton Bowl to libraries to the 50-60 city buildings that leak every time it rains. She's great at selling what the city needs, which is everything; Suhm's all about matters both of pragmatism and pride. And she's fairly forthright about how much this election will cost the individual taxpayers of Dallas: about $150-200 on your annual property tax bill over the next six years, on average (that is, if your house costs the local average of $145,000--so figure plenty more if it's worth plenty more). And that doesn't include a possible hike should the council vote to raise more money for police officers, which would up your taxes another $50.

So where will that money go? Well, you can go to the city's Web site to see a breakdown your own self (click here to see the slideshow Suhm gave us this afternoon, which includes the tax hike). Or we can pick some highlights, such as: for "pedestrial enhancements" (new sidewalks and lights and landscaping) along such throughfares as Commerce, Ervay, Main, Griffin and Elm, it'll run $15,657,858. The Woodall Rodgers Deck Park will cost $20 million. To convert Pearl Street from a one-way street to a two-way street from Live Oak to Pacific, it'll cost $4.3 million (that's Suhm's estimate; the DowntownDallas folks say it'll cost $6.1 mil). And so forth. It adds up real quick to $100 million. But Suhm insists this is the "fun part" of her job, trying to decide how to spend your money making your city a great place to live.

"Over the last five years we've been doing the hard part: trying to light up dark buildings," she said. "This is the fun part." I am not saying the bond money isn't necessary--not for nothing do some of us natives occasionally feel Dallas is becoming a city of diminshing expectation--but it always is fun spending other people's money. --Robert Wilonsky