To Expedite Continental Building Makeover, City May Have to Cough Up More Millions

When last we visited the Mercantile Continental Building, the Landmark Commission was on its way to designating it a historic landmark against the wishes of its owners, Forest City, the company responsible for the Merc redo and the next-door Element. Forest City had hoped to give the Continental an extreme makeover, a la the Mercantile, but as Jim Truitt, Forest City's vice president of residential development, told Unfair Park in May, "when the economy fell apart, it put a stop to all that." Hence, the developer's search for loose change -- maybe some U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money, most definitely some city-provided tax breaks and incentives.

Looks like Forest City found what it was looking for: Tomorrow morning at city hall, a joint board of directors meeting of the Downtown Connection TIF District and the Downtown Dallas Development Authority will propose substantially upping the city's contributions to the stalled project. There are two items on the agenda concerning the Continental Building: One calls for increasing "the aggregate limit on City funding for reimbursement cost for the redevelopment of the Continental Building from $10,000,000 to $25,000,000"; the other would give Forest City "future TIF subsidies consisting of an amount not to exceed $18,305,700 ... plus interest in an amount not to exceed $22,528,288." I've left a message with Karl Zavitkovsky, head of Economic Development.

Update at 9:36 a.m.: Zavitkovsky says tomorrow's meeting may not take place due to the potential lack of a quorum. But he explains that some of the funding for the project will indeed come from the HUD Section 108 Loan Guarantee Program, which is administered by the city, and further TIF reimbursements and historical tax credits.

"That whole area there is a top priority for us getting it redeveloped," he says. "You've got the Merc, Neimans, the [Main Street Garden] park, the UNT law school and, of course, the Grand Hotel needs to get help. ... The thought is, if you're able to impact an area significantly, it's going to have some positive effects in surrounding areas. We're doing everything we can to focus scarce resources to help that part of downtown."

Forest City also won't have to deliver as much as earlier promised per its agreement with the city: According to the agenda, it'll reduce the number of retail square footage from 9,000 square feet to 5,000; and cut back the number of parking lots, from 350 to 250. The city is also extending the build-out deadline: Forest City had hoped initially to have the redo done by June 30, 2011, but the city's giving it December 31, 2011. Which still seems optimistic.

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