Why is Mayor Leppert Putting the Brakes on Dallas' Inland Port Future?

This is a bad story about our city. I am going to tell you that our mayor and other people at City Hall are in the process of screwing around in a potentially damaging way with the biggest, most astonishing opportunity for prosperity ever to come to South Dallas. In the process, they are delivering serious competitive advantages to the Perot family's Alliance Airport complex north of Fort Worth in Tarrant County.

A huge new industry is being created in southern Dallas called the "inland port." We did nothing to bring it here. It is a golden goose that fell to our feet because a business guy from out of town saw an opportunity and took a shot.

The inland port project, which is now many huge private projects, is 5 years old. Eventually it will be a combination of gigantic railyards wedded to huge trucking centers tied to warehouses the size of small towns. Some of it is on the ground already, spread over thousands of acres of old goat pasture.

The project has gone through three years of permitting and planning and politics. People are finally ready to open shop. But now all of a sudden, Dallas has decided to get tighter than San Francisco when it comes to planning and zoning requirements for the project.

All of a sudden we need a whole new governing district and lots of "master planning" to be done over an 18-month-to-two-year period. Dallas—which won't even call its own planning department a planning department because we hate planning so much—has become Professor Planitodeathski with these guys.

There is a chase here. Let me cut to it.

Everything that we do to slow up, sit on or hamstring the inland port tends to deliver a mammoth competitive advantage to the Perot family's Alliance Airport development. Alliance and the inland port are direct competitors in an immensely fluid contest, now especially volatile because of the new instability in world economies.

This is all global stuff—huge container ships too fat to fit through the Panama Canal, carrying goods from China to ports in California and Mexico, off-loading sealed containers that are then double-decked on trains and taken somewhere—somewhere being the key—where they can be broken down into truckloads of cargo.

That's what will happen at the inland port. Trainloads of shipping containers will be opened, warehoused or reloaded on trucks and shipped to suppliers in the northeast or in this region.

Here, we are talking about million-plus square-feet warehouses that will employ tens of thousands of people at entry-level jobs with good wages.

Look at the map. Look at us. We're in the middle of the river of trade that flows up from the Pacific seaports to the urban northeast. That's exactly why both Alliance and the inland port are here.

A key element in understanding this is knowing that this new way of shipping goods is very much in flux. Centers similar to the Dallas inland port and Alliance Airport are being developed in Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago and Denver. Any venture that gets seriously stalled is in danger of dying on the vine when the river of trade jumps somewhere else.

That could happen in South Dallas. The project could go away and die.

Allen Group came here five years ago and made an investment in southern Dallas that no local investor had been willing to make. CEO Richard Allen bought 6,000 acres of land, most of it southwest of the intersection of Interstates 20 and 45, near Union Pacific Railroad's sprawling new 360-acre, high-tech "intermodal terminal." Allen Group will develop most of its land as warehouses.

Lured by this huge nexus of rail, highway and warehousing, other companies have made major investments in the same area—Trammell Crow Company, Pannatoni, ProLogis, Duke Realty, Argent Property Company and more.

Allen says he made a conscious decision to increase his investment in Dallas County rather than California for a reason: "Because they don't have the regulations. They don't have the high taxes. Why do you think Dallas-Fort Worth is the shining star of what's going on in the United States? Texas is a business-friendly state."

So why is Allen so jacked out of shape at this particular moment? Oh, I can tell you the answer to that one. Because Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, despite explicit public promises to the contrary, is pushing a plan to impose massive new planning and governmental hamstrings on the inland port.

Look, Leppert and his helpers at City Hall are going to tell you the only thing they want to do is come up with a so-called "interlocal agreement" with the county and the small towns south of us to allow rational planning and a proper public voice in southern Dallas development.

That's a sweet cover story that leaves out a nasty chunk of history: This latest attempt, the "interlocal agreement" that Leppert is pushing, is a close cousin to two failed efforts in the last session of the Legislature to pass laws that would have crippled the inland port and delivered unbelievable advantages to the Perots.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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