A few days back, a Friend of Unfair Park wondered what was up with the old LTV Tower, once a crown jewel in downtown courtesy its bright night lights. Turns out, a couple weeks back there was a joint meeting of the Downtown Connection TIF Board and Downtown Dallas Development Authority during which the fate of 1600 Pacific Avenue was discussed. You know the building: It was designed by the late, great Harwood K. Smith and built in 1965, 33 stories strong as it casts a shadow upon Thanks-Giving Square (now in Lego!). It was once a mighty giant downtown, though in recent years it's turned into a shell of its former self filled with "obsolete office space" as it awaits a do-over courtesy Curtis Lockey, who, for the past two years, has hoped to turn it into a giant residential tower.
Since at least December 2007, Lockey and the city's Office of Economic Development have tried to figure out how to pay for the project, guesstimated to cost $120 million at this point -- at least. The answer's been the same time and again: using money from the Downtown Connection Tax Increment Financing District, created in 2005 to "provide funds for public capital improvements in the core of Downtown essential for development of key spaces and buildings," chief among them Forest City's Mercantile Place on Main, which has more or less depleted the TIF for the time being.
Which makes it tough for the city to cough up the dough Lockey's looking for: somewhere between $36 and $46 million in TIF money and affordable housing tax breaks, as Lockey is offering to turn some of the proposed 300-plus apartment units into workforce housing. Initially, the developer wanted far more than that: "They were asking for a $76-million subsidy," says Karl Zavitkovsky, head of the city's Office of Economic Development. The city's been whittling away at that number ever since.
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"Everybody would like to see the deal done," says Zavitkovsky, who says the TIF board vote's been deferred till at least next month. "It's got a large affordable component, which is important for downtown. It's not easy getting affordable housing there, and we'd like to put 10,000 residential units downtown by 2015 -- and 10 percent of those we want to make affordable."
But Zavitkovsky is worried about putting so much money into one project. And at least one city official with whom Unfair Park spoke said there's also a concern about putting so much affordable housing into one enormous building; the city would rather spread that 10 percent throughout the entirety of downtown.
So the city's exploring its options: using federal Section 108 money (Zavitkovsky says the city's "going to Housing and Urban Development for a $75 million allocation of Section 108 money"), low-income housing tax credits (a la Central Dallas Ministries' CityWalk@Akard) and TIF money. Among other options. But there's no rush -- not in this credit crunch, not in this bond market. The TIF board meets again in March, after which Zavitkovsky expects the project to wind up in front of the city council's Economic Development committee -- and then, eventually, in front of the council.
"There are things that can be done, but right now we're not there yet," he says. "Everybody has the best of thoughts and would like to find a way to do this deal, but it's just one of those things where there are a bunch of loose ends."