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An Office Tower Grows in the Arts District? Perhaps, Some Day. It's Only Been in the Planning Stages For, What, Two Decades?

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[Update: At 2:14, Angela Hunt sent word that the council will likely postpone voting on this one more time. She's about to meet with developer Craig Hall to discuss "how we'll ensure the building is integrated into the Arts District.]

At the end of January, the Dallas City Council was scheduled to vote -- finally -- on whether or not to give Craig Hall and his Hall Lone Star Associates $7 million in tax increment financing monies and another $2 million in accrued interest to develop the Arts District parking garage on Ross Avenue. The deal's been a long time coming: In 1986, the original owner of the land, Metropolitan/Harbord Joint Venture, told the city it not only wanted to build a second garage on the spot, but that it wanted to build two 50-story office towers there as well. But the Great Real Estate Crash of the 1980s swallowed those plans whole.

Craig Hall acquired the 1,787-spot garage, which the city helped build, in 1995 -- and, 12 years later, he found himself opposite the city in a lawsuit. Dallas officials claimed in April 2007 that Hall owed $618,592.86 in unpaid rent on a few hundreds of the spaces Hall Lone Star Associates leased back from the city. But all that's been squared away: Hall's ready to pay back the money, and the city's ready to give him $9 million out of the Downtown Connection TIF if he goes ahead and builds his $120 million office tower -- which would contain "approximately 430,000 square feet of gross office space and 30,000 square feet of gross ground floor retail space," according to the council's agenda tomorrow -- at what's more or less the gateway to the Arts District.

Angela Hunt has twice asked for the vote to be deferred, but only so she could get more details hammered out before it hits the horseshoe. She says she's more or less ready to go tomorrow, pending any further concerns other "Arts District stakeholders" may have.

"I've been hopeful we could get the Hall project done since I took office," she tells Unfair Park. "The frustration I've had is we've had urban Stonehenge sitting like a blight in the middle of the Arts District, and it's becoming more problematic as we've built out the Arts District. We've doubled the size of the Arts District in the last couple of years, and it's frustrating to see this undeveloped or partially developed property that's completely underutilized but could have a great impact on the Arts District once developed."

But it'll be a lot of hurry up and wait: The city has set a deadline of December 31, 2012, for Hall to get building permits. And he doesn't need to get a certificate of occupancy for the entire project till the end of 2015. Which will give Hunt and former city council member Veletta Forsythe Lill, named last month as executive director of the newly formed Dallas Arts District, time enough to deal with surrounding stakeholders to make sure the project fits into the expanding neighborhood.

"This isn't an island unto itself," Hunt says. "If it were not intergral to the Arts District, I wouldn't be as supportive, but it is. And we need to make sure their concerns are met too. Now we have to mak sure all the stakeholders are engaged and comfortable with this long-term project, especially since it is receiveing public subsidies."

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