In an 8-7 vote Wednesday, the Dallas City Council signed off on a $15.9 million development agreement with a former city employee, over the objections of council members who believed that the deal should've gone through the city's bidding process.
Rodney Burchfield, who worked in the city's economic development office from 2009-15, will get favorable terms on a 40-year lease with the city on land west of Dallas Executive Airport that could extend to as long as 70 years, in addition to $7.6 million in development help from the city.
Dallas City Council member Scott Griggs, who led the opposition to the plan, said the city failed on two fronts in agreeing to the deal with Burchfield. It hadn't properly vetted Burchfield's proposal, which includes a new 70,000-square-foot hangar and 20,000 square feet of office space, and it allowed Burchfield to get the deal when he had inside knowledge that others interested in developing the airport might not have.
According to Griggs, Burchfield — who followed followed all city rules in getting the project funded — knew that the city was about to increase general aviation landing fees at Dallas Love Field in an attempt to move business to Dallas Executive, something an outsider looking to get in on the deal might not have known.
"The right way to go about this is to put it out for a bid," Griggs said. "Let the public know that we're going to increase general aviation landing fees at Love Field and have a long-term strategy to drive traffic to the west side of Executive Airport. We need to start treating southern Dallas, all of its parts, like assets and putting them out for bid."
In an interview with The Texas Monitor earlier this month, Burchfield said he was just taking advantage of an opportunity no one else wanted at the airport.
“We are taking a huge risk with our own money. There are no other developers lined up," Burchfield said. "When I worked for the city, we had events where we would try to market the available land at the airport, we’d invite all the major players in the city, and less than five would show up. I see this as an opportunity that the other guys are not willing to look at.”
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Council member Casey Thomas, who represents District 3, where the airport is, exhorted the council to support Burchfield's project. Incentives are necessary sometimes, Thomas said, in order to turn undesirable areas into desirable ones.
"It's not too long ago that Bishop Arts wasn't what it is today," Thomas said. "It's not too long ago that a lot of over-investments and incentives had to be put in place in order to create the environment and atmosphere that Bishop Arts has now. ... We need that same respect, and we need that same investment."
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said it was too complicated to go back and opening the project at the airport to bids based on the fact that more people might be interested because of the increased fees at Love Field.
"It sounds like a fumble-rooski for a touchdown. It's a little complicated play and I'm a big believer that we've got to move, as opposed to [taking time] to figure out how to manipulate the marketplace out there," he said.