The City Still Wants to Widen Old Central Downtown. But Unhappy Property Owners Say the Price is Very, Very Wrong.

2226elm.jpg
The city's plans to expand César Chávez Boulevard still call for the demoltion of 2226 Elm, which is one of the oldest buildings in downtown.
No doubt you've forgotten all about plans to widen and two-way The Expressway Formerly Known As Central downtown -- a plan that's been around since '05 but didn't get really rolling till January 2009. But City Hall hasn't put it aside; far from it.

This week the council's consent agenda includes five items that involve acquiring the land necessary to make the expansion possible along Central, which, of course, is now known as César Chávez Boulevard. Right now, the council's looking to dole out close to $2 million for the property -- though, it reminds, the city could always "exercise ... the right of eminent domain, if such becomes necessary."

The Commerce-to-Live Oak expansion first appeared as part of the 2006 bond program, where it was guesstimated to cost more than $12 million to "construct [a] six-lane divided roadway with enhanced streetscape."  Construction was set to begin in April 2011. But that was long before the city doled out more than half a million for the Downtown Dallas 360 plan, which has yet to be completely finished or formally presented to the city council for adoption. And what was presented during that December 6 town hall at the convention center has very little detail concerning the future of César Chávez Boulevard, outside of some vague wish-listing around Dallas Farmers Market beginning on Page 149.

It remains unclear when the city plans to buy and raze the properties. Says the consent agenda, "Design for this project started in February 2008 and it is 40% completed," and "acquisition of the subject property is required for the conversion of Central Boulevard and Pearl Street into a six-lane divided roadway with two-way operation, increasing roadway capacity for future growth." Assistant City Manager A.C. Gonzalez is out of town till Wednesday and unavailable to offer more details; messages have also been left for Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan.

But at least two of the property owners along Elm and César Chávez say they're far from pleased with the city's offers and are threatening legal action. And plans still call for the demolition of one of the oldest buildings in downtown.

Right now, the city's offering $757,000 for 2222 Elm Street. And though it's more than twice Dallas Central Appraisal's appraised value ($349,710), it's listed for sale on LoopNet at $1,485,000. James Walker, a partner at Harvard Companies, which owns the building, tells Unfair Park today that "if the city wants to take it, then they can take it, and we'll fight 'em in court for the difference."

That's just what Pete Fonberg says of the city's offer for 2226 Elm Street, for which the city's offering $403,500 (DCAD has it on the books at $349,710). "It never cases to amaze me how, when the city wants what they want, they arrive at the price," says Fonberg, whose father-in-law, Hymie Schwartz, was the original property owner. Fonberg calls the offer "ridiculous" and says that "sometimes, fighting City Hall is like whistling in the graveyard -- it does little or no good." He too expects it'll wind up in court if the city doesn't come back with a better offer.

"I guess they get an appraiser and say, 'We want to pay as little as we have to pay,' so they finds some sales that have taken place and offer that as a comparison," he says. "I don't even think they're recent. And this was a historical -- either historical or hysterical -- property, and now they say, 'That's it, take it or leave it.' It doesn't make any difference." And, he says, the city would also be displacing a business -- TePheJez nightclub, which, Fonberg says, has spent no small amount of money on a full-bore redo.

"I guess none of that makes any difference," he says.

Longtime Friends of Unfair Park will also recall: 2226 Elm also happens to be one of the oldest buildings in downtown -- the old Preston Loan Building built in 1896, which, around the turn of the 20th century, housed the Monarch and then the Phoenix saloons.

"It's getting so there's very few of the original downtown buildings left," says Harvard's Walker. "It's very sad." Messages have been left with Katherine Seale, exec director of Preservation Dallas.

Says Walker, he's actually for the expansion of Chavez: "It'll actually do some good and make farmers market more desirable to get to." But at what price? And whose?

Updates forthcoming.
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28 comments
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Dave
Dave

The City of Dallas announced this year that Farmers Market was losing a lot of money for the City of Dallas. Why spend additional money to purchase property and construct the expansion of Central Expressway when Farmers Market is draining the taxpayer’s pockets. Maybe they should save the money and hire teachers to educate English speaking students. Do we really need this, it sounds like more wasteful spending to me. This is why we have a budget deficit.

chevytexas
chevytexas

These are the only buildings remaining from the old railroad depot area on the city-side; I'm not sure anything can be moved. As for the Farmers Market, it'll be closed and dead by the time this is built, and then it can be mowed southward into the proposed SM Wright Boulevard when they take 175 south. I'll be surprised if we don't lose even more of Old City Park when they do that. Be prepared. Again: all for commuters, not for Dallasites, certainly not for people who are living around that street.

Anonymous
Anonymous

If the goal is to make Farmers Market a more desirable destination, why aren't we trying to make the Farmers Market more desirable. I could walk there every morning for fresh produce and coffee if I wanted to; but I don't. Every visit has been a disappointment. Why aren't more local organic farmers using this? Why is it mostly leftovers from the big grocery stores? But I digress. There's got to be a more effective way to fight these ridiculous decisions.

Thomas
Thomas

Is this the same city transportation planning department that is responsible for the connection of North Central into and out of downtown over Dart Rail Tracks, the creation of the longest 30 mph entrance ramp to a freeway in the United States and the great "How do I get from the south bound service road across 4 lanes of traffic to make a left on Good Latimer? It is already a no mans land down there . Keep bulldozing, this is Dallas after all. I suppose I just want to make sure Triangle Point is left as it is.

Abuckley1970
Abuckley1970

Seems contradictory for a city to want to make use of public transportation to reduce pollution, increase the number pedestrian friendly developments but yet want to invest in street expansions and require massive amounts of parking. As a practicing land planner, I understand growth and change are painful but this just project seems to be taking us a few steps backward.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Less to do with anything other than Bond sales and the MONEY those who sell them make from doing it .

Sorry those structures just happen to be in the way of money that will go into the city's bond sellers pocket..

Follow the money...If you can.

Steve
Steve

Note to self: Learn how to spell 'since.'

Steve
Steve

Well sense nobody but the fools at Dallas City Hall and their road-bulding buds want this useless project, why don't the rest of us start speaking out to the city directly and not just on these sites. As many of you have pointed out, this road will only further seperate Deep Ellum from downtown--this is nuts.

Hlasagna
Hlasagna

Pretty much exactly the opposite of what would be the right thing to do:

- Widening roads when they should be widening sidewalks and removing lanes.- Creating less density instead of more density.- Removing historiic buildings instead of preserving them.- Spending millions on something no one wants instead of something worthwhile.

In other words, pretty much status quo for the council. You have to give them credit though, they don't give a crap about what anyone else thinks.

Guest
Guest

So all over the suburbs, they're building faux downtowns with large sidewalks, limited car traffic and storefronts that draw actual people to the things.

And in an actual downtown with actual storefront-like buildings, we're going to tear that down for a wider road.

Seems like there's something backwards about that.

Jacob
Jacob

I really don't like to sperg out on here but this is just fucking ridiculous. What a bunch of worthless idiots at City Hall. Can a petition be started against this? Would it matter?

Jay Hawk
Jay Hawk

Probably best to contact your council member and let him/her know what you think about it. Or attend the meeting and get your name on the list of public speakers.

Jay Hawk
Jay Hawk

I guess this makes it easier to get to Fair Park if traffic is backed up on 75/45? Like others have said, it only serves to further the divide between downtown and Deep Ellum.I can think of 10 ways to make the Farmer's Market more desirable. None of them involve tearing down historic buildings and widening a road that doesn't need it.

Bill Holston
Bill Holston

I can't tell two things:1. Whose council district is that? 2. Will this extend south of Commerce?

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

It's Hunt's, I do believe. And it's Commerce to Live Oak.

Downtown_worker
Downtown_worker

I usually support the city on projects like this, but this is a BAD IDEA. They need to start over and redraw these plans as a complete street, as in fewer lanes and wider sidewalks, bike lanes and all the things we were promised downtown Dallas would get.

And enough with the bulldozing of old buildings, especially ones that are structurally sound. I was looking at photos of the old Medical Arts building and thought what lousy shame it was to lose such a good-looking structure.

DanaDee
DanaDee

I remember the old Medical Arts building--it was a wonderful structure AND had an old-fashioned soda fountain on the ground floor. How I long for the days!

Bradley Kizzia
Bradley Kizzia

I get the concern of the businesses in the area; but what about the homeowners on Cesar Chavez? We don't want MORE traffic in our front yard. How does this proposal further the notion of attacting more residents downtown?

Warren Harris
Warren Harris

This is the BIG reason that Dallas has NO money... All these expansion projects, and the $$ spent on the studies..... Mark my words.... they WILL keep cutting the rank and file pensions and salaries next year. SOMEBODY PLEASE let them know it's time to stop... Otherwise the city workforce may just stop working.....

FRED
FRED

Completing Haskell Boulevard from CityPlace to Fair Park would be a much better idea -- or even finishing the Fair Park Connector from Gaston to Fair Park, along with the Santa Fe Trail by its side.

elbueno
elbueno

This is the kind of idiotic move that Dallas has been making for the past 40 years. It must stop if we are ever to become a progressive city. When the whole world is going on road diets, it only makes since that Dallas would try to fatten one up.

What is the traffic really like on that road? Does it really necessitate widening? If anything, it needs traffic calming to create a more pleasant connection between downtown and Deep Ellum. It needs to be two-way, but not with extra lanes. There is PLENTY there to work with already.

Something needs to be done to stop this. How can we help?

DanaDee
DanaDee

I agree--during all the times I have been in this area, I have never experienced traffic congestion. Traffic flows pretty well. Dallas needs to start restoring some of its past--failure to do so is to lose its charm to the extent it has any left!

John
John

I'm new to town so maybe I just don't get it, but how would widening that part of NCX help? I mean, we need to get Project Pegasus rolling, but I don't see what purpose this serves

Rixtex
Rixtex

Is there a problem with the Central/Pearl one way confirguration? Beside the old buildings, I mean...

History Girl
History Girl

The city's engineering department was told that the buildings in this area are historic. It was explained to them that these buildings were some of the oldest-one of them the oldest extant building- in downtown. It was explained that an alternative should be explored that would leave these buildings. They indicated that the city could negotiate to move the buildings over to the adjacent lots. But my question is how does a "six-lane divided roadway with enhanced streetscape" add to the pedestrian quality of downtown? This makes it harder-not easier-to walk in the area. I may be a preservationist but I also believe in good city planning. More wide streets does not help. What about putting that money into developing a downtown circulator system. Or, make the road narrow and widen the sidewalks-there's a thought.

El Rey
El Rey

But at what price?How about the price of further disconnecting Downtown Dallas from Deep Ellum? So much for a walkable downtown... This makes no sense. Expect more traffic accidents. What a waste.

Robert Wilonsky
Robert Wilonsky

That's precisely what Patrick "Buzz" Williams and I were discussing this morning -- how is this supposed to be good for Deep Ellum? And how, exactly, does this help create the "walkable Dallas" we've heard to much about -- creating more room for cars? This is the antithesis of the so-called Complete Street.

Alan
Alan

Pointing up yet again why the Legislature should require public disclosure of commercial property sale prices. It's a reasonable bet that the real market value is somewhere between the asking price and DCAD's listing, but it's hard to know with so little comparable sale information available. Imagine the relief homeowners could get from the property tax burden if commercial property was taxed at a true value. BTW, your phrasing suggests that the City either pays or condemns. Even if they condemn, they have to pay. It ain't a monarchy.

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