Dunno if you remember this, but back before Christmas the city of Dallas took out a lease on the abandoned JCPenney's space at Southwest Center Mall -- a six-month lease, that is, with an option to buy. Rent -- $16,200 a month -- may be a little high, given that the space is empty and has been for years and isn't really in the best of shape. But we had no choice, said the city council upon approving the deal initially suggested by the Urban Land Institute, to which we paid $120,000 for a study of The Mall Formerly Known as Red Bird. It was either that or let the place turn into a flea market. Right. You remember that.
The six months is almost up. So what now? That's something the council will have to consider on Monday, when its Economic Development Committee and Karl Zavitkovsky, head of the city's Office of Economic Development, go behind closed doors to figure out what's next. Says right there on the committee's agenda: "executive session" to "deliberate the purchase of real property" and/or "the offer of economic incentives associated with redevelopment of property at Southwest Center Mall including the former JC Penney property."
There are several options on the table -- but, sorry, Zavitkovsky can't tell you what they are just yet.
"Because we're in economic development negotiations, you can't disclose terms," he tells Unfair Park. "Essentially what you've got there is the Penneys building, which has mold and all kinds of stuff in there. And we're trying to make a decision: In what direction we want to go? Right now, the decision would be: Do you extend the lease? Is there another purchaser of the property? Are there redevelopment opportunities combined with the purchase? There are three, four things we're juggling right now and trying to find the best solution for the city."
Will the council come to a decision at the end of Monday's closed-door session? Maybe, says Zavitkovsky. Maybe not. But he says "the various options involve different things, so we need to bounce them off the council and get some feedback." Either way, he says, council isn't trying to be sneaky, just prudent.
"When you're in a negotiating process with multiple parties," he says, "you gotta touch base with your decision-makers so you don't get out on a limb or you can't back what you're talking about."
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The city's just doing what ULI suggested, when it noted in its report last year that "the market is too weak to support a solely private investment in revitalization." ULI said the city needed to step up in a hurry, as "the window of opportunity to save the Southwest Center Mall as a viable retail site is closing fast." From the report:
There are concerns about the city's commitment to help with revitalization the way it has done for several other projects in the city. The city has a track record of extensive public/private partnerships for helping with the revitalization of distressed areas in North Dallas and the downtown, but the panel found some skepticism about the city's commitment to assist with an area as intractable as the Southwest Center Mall. The panel believes that the city has shown commitment by first creating the forum for the Southern Dallas Task Force Area Strategies and by supporting the panel's efforts to formulate a strategy for the Southwest Center Mall. The city's followthrough on both of these initiatives will dispel the skepticism about city commitment.
Hence, the $16,200 in monthly rent payments and Monday's meeting. So, then, when will we know what the council's decided to do at Southwest Center?
"When we're ready to do something, one way or another, and have it ready to go, we'll be out in the open and announce it," Zavitkovsky says. "This is pretty normal in any kind of negotiations. If we were negotiating with a company moving here or a busines retention deal, we'd go into executive session. We did that with Craig Hall on the [Arts District] garage. This is pretty standard."