By David Wilfong
NDG Special Contributor
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told members of the minority press last week that when he was seeking his current office, the top priority on his list was South Dallas.
“It really was the opportunity I saw in South Dallas,” Rawlings said of why he ran for mayor. “I felt that North Dallas was going to be alright, even if we tried to screw it up a little bit. I think it’s going to be solid. And downtown, it wasn’t at a tipping point, but it was pretty close to being at a tipping point.”
With that, Rawlings introduced the “Grow South” initiative, dividing the southern section of the city into seven zones and taking strategic aim at the needs and steps necessary for improvement and revitalization of what many have identified as an underserved swath of the DFW metroplex.
“The big headline is, in a couple of years we grew faster than North Dallas grew,” Rawlings said. “But when you include downtown, we’re probably about the same rate. In the last four years we have increased the value – that’s one way you would look at this – of southern Dallas by $1.5 billion. The City of Dallas’ value is about $100 billion, and so in southern Dallas we’ve increased it by about that much.”
Advances in retail Rawlings cited were the Walmart project on IH-35 and the recent investment in Southwest Center Mall, which has recently been the subject of private investment. Also growing rapidly is the North Oak Cliff area and the development in the Inland Port.
On the negative side, the Fair Park area is not seeing the growth Rawlings would like. East Oak Cliff and other nearby areas are also in need of improving economic performance.
“I think we’ve cleaned up a lot of what’s on Lancaster, but there’s a lot more to be done,” Rawlings said. “Also, what I call the ‘Education Corridor’ which is where UNT Dallas is through Paul Quinn, we’ve got the Blue Line that’s going to be coming in there and we’re going to try to break ground on some new development there hopefully by the end of the year.”
The two projects the mayor refers to as “enablers” of development in South Dallas include the Trinity Parkway, along with the Trinity Park itself, and Fair Park.
Rawlings noted a park design has been put together at an estimated cost of $250 million which he believes will be a major boost for the city. The parkway which goes along with the Trinity park has drawn a bit of criticism from residents in the past, but Rawlings said changes have been made which he thinks will make the project more acceptable.
“We have shrunk the footprint of the parkway,” Rawlings said. “It is now a four-lane parkway, and it is still connecting the largest job area, which is the hospital and the Love Field area, to South Dallas/Fair Park and on to Pleasant Grove. This is very important because we understand that transportation is becoming a bigger and bigger issue for people that are, let’s call them ‘the working poor.’”
Fair Park is the other issue that is on the top of the mayor’s to-do list.
“Fair Park has been a major disappointment to South Dallas/Fair Park, and it has just kind of done nothing,” Rawlings said. “We’ve under-funded it and we’ve really underplayed it and under-leveraged Fair Park.”
The State Fair has a contract with the city until 2028 on Fair Park, and Rawlings said the land purchases and concrete sprawl has caused hard feelings in the neighborhood. He is seeking to devote a public/private partnership to raise private funds to revitalize Fair Park by building a park, pushing back the fencing and “put the ‘park’ back in Fair Park.”
Rawlings said he believes the biggest part of growing South Dallas is is to “debunk myths” about the quality of life in South Dallas.
“It needs to get on the radar screen of this city,’ Rawlings said. “I think the saliency of southern Dallas, because of a lot of different things, is much better today than it has ever been before.”
Some other issues still facing South Dallas are commercial owners and landlords who do not reinvest in their properties. Rawlings said the area also needs more neighborhood organizations to enhance the “culture of clean,” noting the city has knocked down more than 1,100 condemned homes to that effect. Stray dogs have recently become a major issue.
And finally, the perception of the quality of schools in Dallas continues to be a problem.
“I was very disappointed that (Tax Ratification Election) didn’t pass at the school board,” Rawlings said in regards to the recent decision by the Dallas Independent School District’s board of trustees not to seek a tax increase in the November election.