City Hall

The City Still Wants to Widen Old Central Downtown. But Unhappy Property Owners Say the Price is Very, Very Wrong.

No doubt you've forgotten all about plans to widen and two-way The Expressway Formerly Known As Central downtown -- a plan that's been around since '05 but didn't get really rolling till January 2009. But City Hall hasn't put it aside; far from it.

This week the council's consent agenda includes five items that involve acquiring the land necessary to make the expansion possible along Central, which, of course, is now known as César Chávez Boulevard. Right now, the council's looking to dole out close to $2 million for the property -- though, it reminds, the city could always "exercise ... the right of eminent domain, if such becomes necessary."

The Commerce-to-Live Oak expansion first appeared as part of the 2006 bond program, where it was guesstimated to cost more than $12 million to "construct [a] six-lane divided roadway with enhanced streetscape."  Construction was set to begin in April 2011. But that was long before the city doled out more than half a million for the Downtown Dallas 360 plan, which has yet to be completely finished or formally presented to the city council for adoption. And what was presented during that December 6 town hall at the convention center has very little detail concerning the future of César Chávez Boulevard, outside of some vague wish-listing around Dallas Farmers Market beginning on Page 149.

It remains unclear when the city plans to buy and raze the properties. Says the consent agenda, "Design for this project started in February 2008 and it is 40% completed," and "acquisition of the subject property is required for the conversion of Central Boulevard and Pearl Street into a six-lane divided roadway with two-way operation, increasing roadway capacity for future growth." Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez is out of town till Wednesday and unavailable to offer more details; messages have also been left for Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan.

But at least two of the property owners along Elm and César Chávez say they're far from pleased with the city's offers and are threatening legal action. And plans still call for the demolition of one of the oldest buildings in downtown.

Right now, the city's offering $757,000 for 2222 Elm Street. And though it's more than twice Dallas Central Appraisal's appraised value ($349,710), it's listed for sale on LoopNet at $1,485,000. James Walker, a partner at Harvard Companies, which owns the building, tells Unfair Park today that "if the city wants to take it, then they can take it, and we'll fight 'em in court for the difference."

That's just what Pete Fonberg says of the city's offer for 2226 Elm Street, for which the city's offering $403,500 (DCAD has it on the books at $349,710). "It never cases to amaze me how, when the city wants what they want, they arrive at the price," says Fonberg, whose father-in-law, Hymie Schwartz, was the original property owner. Fonberg calls the offer "ridiculous" and says that "sometimes, fighting City Hall is like whistling in the graveyard -- it does little or no good." He too expects it'll wind up in court if the city doesn't come back with a better offer.

"I guess they get an appraiser and say, 'We want to pay as little as we have to pay,' so they finds some sales that have taken place and offer that as a comparison," he says. "I don't even think they're recent. And this was a historical -- either historical or hysterical -- property, and now they say, 'That's it, take it or leave it.' It doesn't make any difference." And, he says, the city would also be displacing a business -- TePheJez nightclub, which, Fonberg says, has spent no small amount of money on a full-bore redo.

"I guess none of that makes any difference," he says.

Longtime Friends of Unfair Park will also recall: 2226 Elm also happens to be one of the oldest buildings in downtown -- the old Preston Loan Building built in 1896, which, around the turn of the 20th century, housed the Monarch and then the Phoenix saloons.

"It's getting so there's very few of the original downtown buildings left," says Harvard's Walker. "It's very sad." Messages have been left with Katherine Seale, exec director of Preservation Dallas.

Says Walker, he's actually for the expansion of Chavez: "It'll actually do some good and make farmers market more desirable to get to." But at what price? And whose?

Updates forthcoming.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky