Dallas' Inland Port of Gall

I write a lot about how the city, Dallas proper, needs to defend itself against the suburbs. Sometimes I feel as if we are an urban Jerusalem surrounded by Nebuchadnezzar and all his Babylonian, golf-playing horde.

But lately I'm wondering: Who's the horde? Them or us?

I'm talking about this "inland port" thing, but please put that term out of your mind, because it doesn't make any sense. How can there be a port in Dallas? How will the ships get here? Won't it scrape all the paint off their bottoms?

They already do get here. Sort of. Look, it's not something any of us can grasp easily, because it's so new and beyond our ken. Trains haul shipping containers here from Pacific Coast ports and the Port of Houston. The containers are hoisted onto trucks in Dallas and then hauled to the Northeast or to warehouses the size of small towns in southern Dallas and Dallas County.

The bottom line is that this new "logistics" industry could make Dallas the biggest shipping center on the continent.

I know. Who knew?

There are other spots around the nation where this operation could develop instead, and some of them already are being developed in competition with this one. The one reason for it to be here is Richard Allen, a shipping magnate from California.

Allen came here five years ago, looked around, said, "This is it," and bought 6,000 acres in southern Dallas County. If this is it, it's because of him.

I wrote about this whole thing November 13 in a column called, "The Big Stall." I said Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert are working together to screw up and sabotage the inland port in ways that would seem to benefit the Ross Perot family, which owns a directly competing shipping facility in Tarrant County around their privately owned Alliance Airport.

The Perots are not the bad guys here. They're just pursuing their own interests. Ross Perot Jr. calls the southern Dallas inland port a "direct threat" to the shipping center his family has developed at Alliance.

The problem is the mayor of Dallas and Commissioner Price. They should be fighting for the interests of their own constituents. Instead, they are pushing for land-use studies and rules and enforcement for the Dallas inland port, all of which threaten to stall the inland port and turn the advantage toward the Perots at Alliance.

I suggested in my last column about this that Leppert and Price have joined in a kind of sicko good-old-boy embrace: They want to help a well-connected local family ward off competition from an outsider, even if it means screwing their own constituents.

As if to prove my point, Commissioner Price called me the day after the story came out and accused me and Allen of being "carpetbaggers."

I moved here from Detroit 30 years ago. I checked with my wife that evening. She's a Dallas native. I asked how long I'm going to be a carpetbagger. She said until I die. OK, so I give Price a point on that one.

But he also was calling Richard Allen a carpetbagger, a point he made again in a letter to the Observer. "The only thing worse than a carpetbagger is a convening or collaboration of the same," he said in the letter.

Carpetbagger? This guy is trying to change southern Dallas from an impoverished Third World slum into a boomtown.

I need to say right here that John Wiley Price's position on this is not universally shared. A couple weeks ago I attended a breakfast meeting of the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce at which Richard Allen was the featured—and, I must say, honored—guest. The proceedings opened with an invocation in which the pastor called on the deity to bless Richard Allen.

Then Allen was introduced by John Ellis Price (no relation). This Price is vice chancellor of the University of North Texas over the new UNT southern Dallas campus, where he is developing a whole "logistics" curriculum to prepare students for management positions in the industry expected to spring up in and around the Allen Group developments.

Vice Chancellor Price opened by making sure everybody in the large audience understood that his relationship with Allen is more than professional. Speaking to Allen, who was standing at his side, but also to the audience, Price said: "On my most recent visit to California in October, I had a chance to meet you and members of your family and friends. I had an absolutely delightful time."

Vice Chancellor Price said he spent part of his time driving Allen's vintage pickup on the streets of San Diego. Then he launched into a description of the Allen project and what it promises:

"The 6,000-acre master plan with 60 million square feet of distribution, manufacturing, office and retail development is slated to become one of the biggest economic engines for northern Texas," he said.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze