At Today's Economic Development Committee Meeting, Where Downtown Comes Alive!

GrandRicchiconceptuals.JPG
The Grand Ricchi, some day
Afternoon, Unfair Friends! Once again I find myself at City Hall, moving and shaking as I do among the political hoi polloi, bringing you the livest, bloggingest account of today's Economic Development Committee, wherein we'll be hearing about the Downtown Connection TIF District, meaning the mixed-use development of the Grand Ricchi Project on Pacific Street, near Thanksgiving Square.

The Grand Ricchi project is part of the City's larger efforts to revitalize downtown by planning that mother into the ground -- or rather, into a street-level, walkable, livable space. New urbanism and all that. Anyhoo, it's all wrapped up in the Downtown 360 plan, which was presented to the Transportation and Environment Committee yesterday and will be presented to eco-dev today, where perhaps it will be greeted more warmly than yesterday's chilly reception.

Grand Ricchi honchos walked the committee through the design layout initially, explaining that the project would be made into, in part, "real, class-A office space" to make the building financially viable.

"You're having to throw everything but the kitchen sink in order to get deals done," said Office of Economic Development director Karl Zavitkovsky. Floors one through four will be "smaller shops," restaurants and perhaps a ballroom and meeting room on the fourth floor. A hotel will be on the middle floors, while the upper floors will house high-end office tenants.

The project will cost around $26.4 million, of which Zavitkovsky says around $12.8 million is expected to be reimbursed in a TIF grant (including interest). Conditions for funding include requirements for parking spaces and "leasing hurdles," per Zavitkovsky, that include square footage lease requirements to retail and commercial space.

There's some question as to when TIF funds can be allocated, since they won't be available until 2016 and the renovation should be completed by 2012. Natinsky's insisting that "we do it in a way that's fair to us and fair to" the Ricchi's funders -- namely so that retailers, which are required for TIF funds, don't bail at the last minute. "That would not be a fair thing, I don't believe, for the city or for downtown Dallas," said Natinsky.

Then the committee had questions. And, oh, how questioning their questions were!

To the question of downtown being a historical landmark area, which Natinsky raised, asking who gets the final say if developers and Landmark Commission disagree on the project? "The final design needs to conform to comments that the Landmark Commission puts on the project," said Zavitkovsky. But it's more of a "courtesy" review than anything else.

Ann Margolin was skeptical about there being enough business from outside, non-hotel and office folks, going all the way up to the second floor of the building to eat and shop.  Margolin knows about stairs, elevators and escalators, right? Well, if not, she was informed -- a developer stood up to assure her that they have "beautiful new escalators" to take those people all the way up to the second floor.

Sheffie Kadane is confused. "Explain this to me again," he says, asking why they're going to gut out a bunch of floors and sell them. He misunderstood the part where they were talking about gutting the lower floors so that they could be modified to tenants' individual specifications. Sheffie asks again:  "The plans we see, is what's going to happen there?" Indeed, Sheffie. Indeed. Hence ... the plans. Sheffie is satisfied. "I think it's a great project. I got a little confused there."

Natinsky then went to John Crawford, the president and CEO of Downtown Dallas sitting in the audience. Since he is "Mr. Downtown," what's his take? "It's a good example of a public-private partnership," says Crawford. And we all rejoiced and talked about ivy growing on the building's north exterior.

After a brief discussion of loading docks, the project is recommended for approval. It's time to talk about Downtown Dallas 360. The big'un. The large kahuna. El grande. Join me in the comments to see what happens.

Moving on.

"This is a great time to do a downtown plan," said O'Donnell, because we're in a construction and development lull.

She's joined by Peer Chacko, assistant director of development. He wanted to make sure we have "a clear path for the next 10 years," and to "continue to provide a framework" for projects like the Grand Ricchi. He said the plan should be complete and ready for action in January. Nnnst, nnst, nnst, nnst. In the meantime, let's talk about plans! Remember, the game is that you take a shot everytime Chacko says "plan." I hope you visited the wholesale liquor store this morning.

"Part of the role of this plan is to help find the market niche," of each downtown neighborhood district -- Main Street Street, Arts District, West End, Deep Ellum, Riverfront, etc. Downtown has great transit and transportation potential, said Chacko. "There's a unique opportunity for downtown to take advantage" of infrastructure investments like light rail.

Then he shows up a picture of Times Square featuring a pedestrian who looks like Sean Connery. "We want to be a place where Sean Connery can come," said Chacko. Here is me avoiding the easy joke about actions, plans and where Sean Connery can come.
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