Re: Hard Rock and a Hard Place

I finally talked to Jack Gosnell, the broker handling the Hard Rock Cafe sale on behalf of Brett Landes, and he could not have been more insightful concerning the battle over the fate of the 97-year-old former church on McKinney Avenue. Turns out, our Friend who attended Monday's Landmark Commission meeting was indeed right: This is turning out to be a contentious little scuffle over whether the building should be granted the protections that come with historical designation or whether Landes should be able to do whatever he wants with the building, which he has promised not to raze.

But Gosnell pointed out a couple of very important things -- chiefly, that he alone did address the commission, but that he did so in conjunction with Landes' attorney as well as Jay Wolszcak, the Hard Rock's vice president of business affairs and its general counsel. Gosnell said it was Landes' lawyer who told the commission that his client may have to back out of the deal should the commission grant historical designation status. And it was Wolszack who said designation might impact Hard Rock's plans for a $150-million Hard Rock Hotel and Cafe in the West End-Victory Park area.

"I don't recall him being site-specific," Gosnell tells Unfair Park, "but he said they had signed a letter of intent to build a $150-million Hard Rock Hotel and Cafe. And they didn't threaten to back out of the deal. The only thing he said that could be construed that way is he said, 'We anticipated using the equity from the sale of the building -- the entire purchase price from this property -- toward the downtown property, which would employ 750 people.' But I don't think that was said in any menacing or threatening way. They were saying, 'We're a team player, and we didn't anticipate selling the bulding and having it designated.'"

Gosnell says Landes isn't being "cantankerous or selfish," only that he has concerns about how designation would affect his ability to find tenants for the building. Gosnell, who is brokering the deal and trying to find folks interested in leasing it from Landes should he wind up buying the property, says he's talked to 12 potential clients from around the country who are interested in taking over the building. Most would use it as a restaurant; some, as a restaurant and a club. But all would want to make significant changes to the building, which would be difficult to do should the former McKinney Avenue Church, which was built in 1910, be designated as a landmark.

"In my talking to those potential tenants, every single one of them is convinced you have to completely, utterly expunge any remnant of the Hard Rock identity in that building," Gosnell says. "And if it gets designation, you have to go through the Landmark Commisison, the City Plan Commission and the city council on every single change to the exterior of the building. I don't know if you've been through it before, but it's as close to a nightmare as you can get, because it's all subjective. We sit down with Landmark Commission and write a development criterion, and that's what everything gets judged by, and you apply that to the Department of the Interior's regulations concerning historic buildings, and there's nothing left except what people feel about it."

The Landmark Commission proceedings were instigated by a neighborhood resident who doesn't want the building torn down, a sentiment echoed by council member Angela Hunt, the folks at Preservation Dallas and others who feel this city's iconic buildings are being torn down at an alarming rate. Gosnell says they have nothing to worry about, that his client will keep the building standing. He says rumors that it was to be razed and replaced with a CVS most likely cropped up when someone Googled Landes' name and found out he's "been in involved in buying packages of CVS stores through his capital company." But, Gosnell says, "that was never, ever thought of" for the McKinney Avenue site.

"My instructions have been to lease the existing building," he says. "We were not interested in flipping the real estate, we were not interested in talking to developers about developing the site out. My task was to get a great tenant in the building, and I've been targeting fantastic restaurants and club-restaurants and those kind of uses from all over the country, and we've had interest from many of them...

"Look, Brett's worried about it," Gosnell continues. "He's not been though the scenario where a building is designated. When someone comes in and says, 'Your building's being designated historic, first you wonder, 'Is this an honor?' Then you look at what that entails, and it's onerous. I've been through situations where I've had amazingly difficult problems with it, and it's because the process is so laborious. When we started downtown, when the Davis Building got developed by the Hamiltons, it took them six years to develop the building because there was no mechanism for urban redevelopent. Then they did the DP&L Building in less than two years and the Mosaic at warp speed. It took Forest City coming in to redevelop the Mercantile Building for the city to develop this one-stop-shop mechanism to speed up that whole process. There needs to be something like that -- some kind of fast-track mechanism -- for this process, because when it gets slowed down and has to go through so much vetting and public hearings and scrutiny, it wears you out -- especially when there's a high-interest meter running. That kills deals." --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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