Sometimes It Ain't Easy Developing Dallas, Even in Small, Out-of-the-Way Corners

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You probably don't think of it as part of Deep Ellum; it's on the wrong side of the tracks, near the machine-works and car-repair shops and old warehouses that, in recent years, have been converted into animation and video production houses, studio set-makers and offices for Web developers. (Among their lot: Janimation, Brainfood and HD Republic.) That part of town can be a "mixed bag," says Karl Stundins, area redevelopment program manager for the city's Office of Economic Development. Which is one reason among many the city looks at that little bit of southeast Dallas "as an area with great potential."

But it's also a frustrating hot spot troubled by all the things that hampered development in Deep Ellum for years -- crumbling infrastructure, rotting 100-year-old sewer lines, narrow streets pockmarked by pot holes. Which I mention this afternoon only because one developer down there, Ken Good, has been attempting to develop bits and pieces of Benson Street -- otherwise known as the Olympic Arts building, among one piece -- only to get "mired down in city bureaucracy," as Stundins puts it in order to explain a proposal before the Deep Ellum TIF board that would allow extending the project two years past its original due date.

"Ken purchased an abandoned laundry building and added loft space and converted it into offices for [Janimation], and he bought another building, but he needs more time to do the streets, which are a mess," Stundins says. "He also bought the building diagonally across from it. There was a homeless guy camped out there. Ken has cleaned it up and wanted to convert it to commercial space." Stundins says that Good, with whom I've left messages, has been patiently trying to get the development done; the city acknowledges that, yeah, sometimes it could go a little easier.

"We're looking under stones, trying to turn up good, positive things in the city," Stundins says. "It's been really tough for the last 18 months for people to find financing, and we found we're better able to work with smaller developers. Ken Good won't do $20, $40 million projects like in downtown. He's conservative and can finance things -- as long as he doesn't get too frustrated with the city, which we try to assist with. It's really tough. In a lot of these areas with special incentive programs, it can be tough to develop. Most of the water and sewer lines are over 100 years old, and they're shot. And putting in new streets and infrastructure's tough, which is why we have programs to asisst with those as well."

In other words: You not only have to have money, but patience -- a vault's worth.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky