Jerry Allen Suggests Demolishing Convention Center If Hotel Isn't Built, Compares Trinity Toll Road Project to Landing on the Moon
While researching our upcoming cover story on Mayor Tom Leppert, which will appear in the paper version of Unfair Park Wednesday, we sat down with Lake Highlands city council member Jerry Allen, who announced in a recent council meeting that he believes anything that comes out of the mayor's mouth. Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway quickly overshadowed Allen's comment when he said he'd "take a bullet" for Leppert. Caraway declined our interview request for the story.
Sam Merten Now we know why Jerry Allen hasn't been allowed to debate about the convention center hotel.
Allen says he issued that comment in the heat of battle, revealing that he and Caraway played a game of what they call "tag team" to defend the mayor. "It is strong to say that," he says with a country boy chuckle. "I've had no reason not to. I think that's probably the key. He's never given me a reason to sit and scratch my head and wonder if he's telling me the truth or not."
While Allen votes with Leppert the majority of the time, only recalling one zoning issue where they disagreed, he says that's because they're like-minded. He stresses that he does his own research, and while Leppert is "a great source of information," he listens other places too. In fact, Allen and Leppert originally were on opposite sides on the strengthened smoking ban, but Allen changed his mind after listening to the voices of his constituency -- 85 percent of which he claims favored the new ordinance.
Allen, a senior vice president at Colonial Bank, says his position on the convention center hotel came from his 30 years in banking and researching the risk assessment and return on investment, claiming hotel opponents don't understand the revenue streams and economic impact attached to the project. Much like Leppert and other council members, he also cites the $3 million annual subsidy given from the city's general fund to support the convention center, which he says won't get any better, although that scare tactic has been debunked.
"If we don't build that hotel, and I hate to say it like this because I'm not a fear guy and try to put fear in people's heart and all that kind of stuff, but man if we don't build that thing ... you might as well just demolish that convention center," Allen tells Unfair Park. "It sounds corny, but just tear the damned thing down. Just tear it down and let someone else have it and do something. But seriously, get out of that -- get out of that business. Make the decision that you're not going to be in that business."
But what if the city-owned hotel loses money, wouldn't that increase the burden to the taxpayers?
"That's an element of risk that's out there," he says. "Of course, by that time, I'll be off council. So I cannot be held accountable."
We also asked Allen, who supported the Vote No! effort to keep the Trinity River toll road inside the levees, if he thought Leppert was being entirely truthful when he told voters the North Texas Tollway Authority would be picking up $1 billion of the tab.
"I think the anticipation was that the money would come," he says. "I don't remember it being that crystal-clear."
How about Leppert's statements regarding the corps' approval of the road -- would Allen have made such assurances?
"My words are pretty broad," he says. "I've just learned over the years until I've got it and it's a done deal, I don't tell somebody because obviously it could come back and bite you on the thing."
Despite Leppert's actions during the Trinity campaign, Allen says his opinion of the mayor hasn't changed and he sees him as "a straight-shooter."
"I've never seen him do anything that would indicate to me that he isn't pure in what he's trying to accomplish," he says.
Although the toll road has piers that will penetrate the levees and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently rated piers from the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge as unacceptable, Allen has no reservations about building the toll road inside the floodway.
"We can do it," he says, reciting some of President John F. Kennedy's 1962 speech about the country's ambitions to land on the moon. "In other words, we can go to the moon."