Caraway Has Some Interesting "Out of the Box" Ideas to Make the City Money

Yesterday I called Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway to discuss the fate of the Dallas Convention Center Arena -- otherwise known as Memorial Auditorium. Because it was Caraway who really pushed for its overhaul in the fall of 2008; matter of fact, he reminds, he only signed off on the demolition of Reunion Arena after he was promised that the arena would get an extreme makeover.

"That was part of the agreement: We are going to redo Memorial Auditorium, retrofit it to something along the lines of Nokia so we can have competitive concerts and make it a revenue generator instead of just sitting there empty as it is today," he told me last night, when he returned my call. "That's what I expect. I expect for no different to happen. That's what had better go down."

At which point I asked him how viable that was now, given the fact City Manager Mary Suhm is already warning City Hall that next fiscal year's budget, which will be voted on by council in September, will be even more crunched than last year's cut-to-the-bone-breaker. At which point Caraway began throwing out myriad "out of the box" revenue-generating solutions -- among them, everything from leasing deteriorating city-owned properties to renting out Fair Park to, yes, raising taxes.

Much more from our conversation follows in a sort-of Q&A fashion. As Caraway acknowledged, he was kind of "rambling."

The city's paying HKS to do a facilities assessment at the Dallas Convention Center, which would include as priorities Memorial Auditorium. Where does this money come from at a time when Mary Suhm is warning city council that there'll be a slowdown on hiring new police officers this year and next?

Unfortunately, we, on behalf of the citizens and looking ahead for the next five to 10 years, have the responsibility to figure out how we're going to continue to move forward, to repair and keep in good shape our infrastructure and streets, and that may unfortunately entertain the discussion -- and underline that, the discussion -- of possibly having to raise taxes. We must fix the streets and keep the city secured and keep the city polished to the point where people will want to come here.

There's nothing else left for us to cut but ourselves, so what do we do? If we can find ways to generate new dollars and offset cuts of programs and jobs, we're all for it, and that's what we have to look for. That's why we need Memorial Auditorium retrofitted and why we need new out of the box types of revenue coming in, so we can offset some of these other services we must maintain. And, unfortunately, if there's nothing else left to cut, then we have to consider -- at least discuss -- the possiblity of raising taxes. And I am not for raising taxes and raising taxes. If we do, we need to really raise 'em and get going to craft a plan for the next five, 10 years so we don't have to go down this road again.

Over the last couple of days, I've been looking at city-owned properties in various states of disrepair. And I've spoken with some city officials who say, off the record, that offloading them or leasing them to businesses that might be able to get them back on the tax rolls and out of the city's hair ...

We can always reacquire when we're in better shape. We ought to find a way to utilize those facilities and turn them into revenue generators. Maybe we should think out of the box and turn these fire stations into museums or something and generate revenues. Or turn the libraries into book stores.

But we also under-utilize Fair Park. I will go on record with that. I think there are facilities there that we could be competing with on a daily basis, where all types of activity should be going on. But for some reason, it's a diamond in the rough that only shines during September and October. That's something we're sitting on.

If you look at the Dallas Convention Center, one of the most beautiful things I've seen was the transformation done during the All-Star Game, when the NBA activity took place in the convention center. That place showed us we've been sitting on a diamond and not using it, and we've got to turn these places into go-getters.

We need a Fair Park czar. We need a hell of a team to come in and compete with Jerry Jones. Listen. The man got boxing. The man got the tractor pull. The man got monster trucks. The man got the NBA All-Star Game. He's playing the go-get-it role, and I don't see us doing that enough. It's in our hands. Come on, crank the engines!

Stop the damn politics. Let's get with it! We've got a city to sell. We've got a city on fire, but it's our story to tell, and till you tell it, no one will know about it. I'm fired up. If you build it, people will come. If you don't, they'll go somewhere else. I've got a saying: Play cheap, get beat. We played cheap with the Cowboys, and we got beat. We played cheap with the Rangers, and we got beat. We played cheap with the soccer team, and they went to Frisco. Not that I'm saying, "Let's spend money," but if you're gonna get in the game, get in the game. Anything less and we'll pay the price. Right now we're paying the price. We're not fixing streets. We've got once-a-week trash pick-up. We've got additional furlough days coming. We've got concerns.

Back to Memorial for a moment ...

I saw James Brown there for 99 cents when I was a kid. It's a heck of a venue, and I hate to see us not be able to compete and see that money go down I-30 when it could stay right there. I pushed for it because it's here, because we own it, and because we should better utilize what we own instead of just building news. Let's take care of what we already have. You'd be surprised: If we put some paint on some things, we might make a dollar.

I can't believe more people didn't seize on my proposal to hood parking meters downtown Imagine: You can sell advertising -- The Blind Side, movie of the year, stamped on every parking meter downtown. Then another movie comes along, sell 'em again. It's advertising dollars! It's the same thing you do in the newspsper: Sell adds, and people will pay. They paid $70,000 to put a mural on a downtown wall few people will ever see!
We need to think out of the box. Because guess where you cut costs by putting hoods on the meters. You're not paying people to write tickets. You're paying them benefits to write tickets 24-7. This way, you're saving money and making money. I told them it might sound stupid, but it's not.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky