Sure, We Lost The College Football Hall of Fame, But At Least There's an Office Building in the Works as a Consolation Prize

Two months before last year's May 9 referendum on public ownership of the Dallas Omni Convention Center Hotel, we cautioned voters that one of the key selling points of the project -- the erection of residential units, restaurants, shops, bars, nightclubs, and other entertainment venues surrounding the hotel -- had yet to be determined. All the public really knew at the time was that developer Jack Matthews, who was chosen to develop The People's Hotel, had a sweetheart deal with the city to build $30 million in ancillary development in exchange for $30 million in city capital, and his plans were due one month after the vote.

In his op-ed in The Dallas Morning News shortly before the vote, Mayor Tom Leppert said the hotel was "already attracting potential development downtown around the convention center." He named The College Football Hall of Fame and a minor-league baseball stadium as two being proposed. Of course, The College Football Hall of Fame fled to Atlanta, and despite its plans not being contingent on the hotel's endorsement at the polls, the minor-league stadium is no more.

It's been seven months since Matthews' plans were due to the city and then indefinitely postponed, so we figured that was enough time to get traction on his vision for the surrounding development, which he unveiled to us back in December 2008.

Matthews tells us that he's been dealing with eight "early, serious users," two of which are interested in an office building currently being designed. He says he is not in negotiations with AEG, which he mentioned in December as a company that might be involved in the development of an entertainment venue, claiming he's waiting on studies before moving forward.

He adds that there has been "no movement" regarding a residential component (also discussed in December), but says the more there is, the more the rest of the components will succeed.

"We're working on that, and we're trying our best," Matthews says.

So is the economy holding things up?

"The economy affects every freggin' conversation we have," he says. "It's sort of at the balance between the excitement of regenerating part of downtown and having the convention center beside you versus real life, and that thing is sort of battling out."

Essentially, you're not making a whole lot of headway then?

"Those are your words," he says. "I think we're making normal headway. I don't think there's been anything that's slowed us down, other than the whole way the hotel piece came together so slow."

Matthews then pointed out that I seem "much more disillusioned" than he, which is true, but I don't stand to profit from the development and also want to make one thing clear: It has absolutely nothing to do with Matthews.

As I've said several times, Matthews is one of the good guys in the mess that is the convention center hotel saga. I have no doubts that he's doing everything in his power to make the rest of it work, but Leppert and the other council members who supported public ownership of the hotel sold it to voters as something that would revitalize downtown.

Voters approved the hotel on May 9 and construction began in September, yet not much more is known about these revitalization plans aside from the possibility of an office building in the pipeline. Meanwhile, downtown is filled with vacant office buildings.

So, yeah, consider me disillusioned until convinced otherwise.

We also couldn't help ourselves from probing Matthews about his name appearing on the prosecution's witness list for the trial of Jibreel Rashad, which ended abruptly Wednesday in a mistrial. Rashad, part of the City Hall corruption case, was tried separately because he's the half brother of Ray Jackson, the attorney for Don Hill who will be testifying in Rashad's defense once his new trial gets going.

Matthews didn't recognize Rashad's name and wasn't aware he was on the witness list. "You think they would tell me, eh?" he says.

He was also on the prosecution's witness list for the trial of Don Hill and four others but wasn't called to the stand. Matthews says he was interviewed by the feds years ago regarding an encounter he had with D'Angelo Lee, who he describes as "scary," and Ron Slovacek, whose trial date has yet to be announced. They approached him with a deal in South Dallas; he balked; and that was it.

"Their whole style was just like old Chicago politics," he says.

Sounds like Matthews is again unlikely to testify, but there are two names on Rashad's list that will have us rushing down to the courthouse: Do the names John Wiley Price and Al Lipscomb ring a bell?

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten