It may be a few weeks before we know for sure, but after years of wondering what to do about the Bama Pie mess, the city's inching closer to filing a lawsuit over the empty building in South Dallas. Oh, right -- what Bama Pie building? Longtime Friends of Unfair Park know the whole sordid story. But here's a very quick refresher course for those with short memories:
In 1995, the city of Dallas wanted to raze the old Bama Pie Co. building on Pennsylvania Avenue and J.B. Jackson Boulevard, across the street from Fair Park. But the owner filed an injunction against the city and got 'em to park the bulldozers. Two years later, Derrick Mitchem bought the building for $48,000 and said he needed at least $600,000 to convert it into a race-car museum and auto-shop school. In 2001, Mitchem got a $29,000 grant from the South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund, $290,000 from the city in Housing and Urban Development community development block grant money and another $45,000 from the Southern Dallas Development Corp.
Former council member Leo Chaney once told Unfair Park it'd be open come Christmas 2005 -- hah. First Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans told us in August '06 the city'd had enough; Mitchem said the hold-up wasn't his fault; and Dwaine Caraway, a former trust fund chairman, wondered what in the wide, wide world of motor sports the city was thinking in the first place. "Who in the hell wants a motor sports museum right there?" he said. "Black folks ain't interested." By February 2009, the city reallocated $92,000 in unspent CDBG money toward something called the MLK Blvd. Business Facade/Revitalization Program, while repaying the feds the $200,000 in CDBG money wasted on the project.
That's the short version.
We bring it up yet again because tomorrow, the Dallas City Council's Housing Subcommittee is meeting to discuss changes to the way the city allocates CDBG money. But before doing so, chair Carolyn Davis and the committee had asked the city's outgoing chief financial officer, Dave Cook, whatever became of the Bama Pie fiasco. In a memo sent to subcommittee on Wednesday, Cook wrote, simply, "Management and the City Attorney's Office are working together to provide a briefing at a later date."
Which means ...?
Cook's been unavailable all day, so I called First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers, who said he'll look into it. I called Ryan Evans, who suggested I speak with Karl Zavitkovsky, head of the Office of Economic Development, which oversees the South Dallas/Fair Park Trust Fund. Zavitkovsky, who's normally very forthcoming about these things, had little to offer when it came to the Bama Pie building: "I think that's just a question I'm not going to comment on, because it's in the domain of the City Attorney's Office. That's a question for them."
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
After I spoke with Zavitkovsky, Bowers returned my call.
"We don't know yet," he says when asked if the city's going to sue Mitchem. "We are still accessing the situation and collecting documents, and once we do that, in conjunction with the City Manager's staff, we will make decisions. But we're not there yet."
If Dallas does sue, though, what will the city get out of this? Not much, most likely: Sources say Mitchem doesn't have the money to pay back what the city returned to the feds, and the city's already filed a lien on the building. So, if Dallas winds up with the Bama Pie property, what then?
It'll sell, most likely, but who'd want it at this late date? And for what? (As we mentioned Christmas Eve, there's talk of putting a car museum and shop class at Fair Park.) Guess we'll see what St. Louis-based housing developer McCormack Baron Salazar has to say when it turns in its recommendations for developments along the DART Green Line near Fair Park. Till then, what we found inside Bama Pie over the weekend.