Whose Pockets Are They Anyway?

Some of these city tax subsidy deals are a whole lot sweeter than the public ever knows. In fact, they're sweeter for the developers than the even city council knows. I have a column in today's paper about the dispute over the city's giving a $3 million tax subsidy to a developer who wants to build a 20-story luxury condo tower on the Hank Haney driving range at Haskell Avenue and North Central Expressway. Mayor Laura says the city should save its subsidy money for deals that wouldn't get done without it. This property was so hot it had to get developed anyway.

Assistant Dallas City Manager Ryan Evans is saying a subsidy was promised already; a deal's a deal; the council should vote to approve this one. The chairman of the Cityplace TIF, which has already approved the $3 million subsidy in this case subject to the council's approval, is Dallas real estate scion Henry S. Miller III. The person selling the land to the developer is Neal Sleeper, also a member of the TIF board. Here's what Ryan Evans is not telling the council:

Anybody who wants to buy land from Neal Sleeper has to agree to put retail on the first floor of his development and then deed the retail back to Sleeper in a condominium arrangement. And then Sleeper has a contract with Henry S. to fill the retail.

Get it? Henry S., wearing his crown and ermine stole as chairman of the TIF, bestows $3 million in city funds on you. But you have to agree to do retail and give it all back to Sleeper. And Sleeper turns it all over to King Henry.

Evans did ask the city attorney to do a sniff test on all of this last week after somebody (not me) expressed reservations. City Attorney Tom Perkins reported back that it's all copacetic: State law contemplates that the people on a TIF board will include persons who have major financial stakes in the area covered by the TIF, and state law specifically exempts them from conflict of interest when they make TIF decisions that have bearing on their own interests.

Sleeper talked to me about this and said it's the reason the Cityplace TIF, which includes West Village, is cool. You have a walking neighborhood with lots of retail on the street level because Sleeper saw to it. And he said contracting with Henry S. to do all the retail is a way to ensure a consistent level of quality. That does make sense.

The only part I still don't get is the need for a subsidy. With all of this back and forth from King Henry's pockets to Sleeper's pockets and back to King Henry's pockets again, couldn't they keep their hands out of our pockets? But I'll bet you 10 to one the city council votes yes on the condo subsidy and castigates Miller in the process for being cheap. Know why? None of it comes out of their pockets. --Jim Schutze

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