"It's Time to Celebrate Easter Early," Says Mayor Mike Rawlings About Resurrection of South Dallas's Bonton Neighborhood

Categories: Politics

Buckeye Trail Commons Groundbreaking1.jpg
Photos by Greg Howard
Mayor Mike Rawlings, council member Dwaine Caraway and other officials broke a little ground in Bonton yesterday.
For years, the city has wanted to do something, anything about the 60-year-old public housing project on Bexar Street known as Turner Courts, once described in a council briefing as "severely distressed," a victim of "elevated rates of vandalism and criminal activity" and in desperate need of demolition. Things were so bad, says council member Dwaine Caraway now, that Dallas Police officers refused to patrol the area.

But those days, like Turner Courts, are long gone: Yesterday afternoon, Caraway joined Mayor Mike Rawlings, council colleague Carolyn Davis, Dallas Housing Authority President MaryAnn Russ and other officials to break ground on what will be known as the Buckeye Trail Commons, a $50-million, 322-unit DHA complex that will replace Bonton's Turner Courts and, officials and residents hope, transform that slice of South Dallas.

Appropriately, the groundbreaking ceremony was downright joyous. A mixed crowd parked their cars on freshly upturned clay and dirt and huddled beneath a white tent overlooking the already bulldozed site. The Lord's Missionary Baptist Church Sanctuary Choir led off the event by performing "Expect the Great," and by the end of the song, people were clapping and amen-ing. The day was warm, bulldozers were grumbling contentedly in the distance, and it felt like this time, surely, a new day was dawning.

"People had to live here," said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Regional Administrator Don Babers. "At one time it's because they didn't have a choice. Now, I hope it's because they want to live here, not because they have to."

ChoirandRawlings.jpg
The ceremony coincided with Rawlings's new ambitious growth plan for South Dallas, aptly named "GrowSouth." In the last couple of weeks, Rawlings has been traveling around Dallas, peddling a growth and development plan for southern Dallas that would create what he estimated to be "at least $8 billion" in growth for the city. His 10-step plan, if executed, will create businesses, improve the quality of life in the region and seamlessly join southern Dallas with the thriving sector north of the Trinity. Buckeye Trail Commons is one of the first steps toward that vision.

Council woman Davis grew up in the area and will acquire Bonton in 2013 following impending redistricting of the city. "It has come a long, long way from what it originally was," she said. " I remember a time when Bonton was not what you see now."

The councilwoman, who has also picketed in front of that Diamond Shamrock Kwik Stop in South Dallas, continued: "We want to make sure we create more African-American jobs in this community." She paused. "And there's nothing wrong with saying it!"

Velma Mitchell, a lifelong Bonton resident, was also there yesterday. "It's awesome, absolutely awesome," she told us as she looked at the vacant land full of potential at present. "I wouldn't believe this would ever happen to a place like this. Up until a few years ago, we weren't even on the Mapsco. Praise God." She said she plans on opening up a restaurant, Velma's Kitchen, across the street.

Rawlings spoke last, praising the way the federal government, DHA, the city of Dallas and private sector came together to finalize the process. Finally, he formally announced the demise of the old Bonton: "That old Bonton is dead. Now it's time to bring it back to life. It's time to celebrate Easter early."

In the end, politicians took pictures with shovels, tossing dirt into the air, before traipsing off to shake hands and slap backs, and Bonton citizens took their places to ceremoniously dig into the fresh dirt. The sun was smiling, and in the background, "America the Beautiful" was playing.


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4 comments
Hannibal Lecter
Hannibal Lecter

Just think how much better this city could be if the mayor and city council spent less time giving things away and spent more time on the folks who pay the bills.

cp
cp

Just wondering what Davis's plan to create jobs might be. Lessie... six years on the council and the most she's created is public and tax-credit housing. Wondering if she's thinking about picketing the Korean-owned liquor store there are the stop sign, since that's the only business down that end of Bexar Street...

Ben
Ben

 "The Community" needs to embrace these projects or they will fail. Someone, a preacher, a guiding hand, an asskicker, someone needs to get "The Community" down there in gear. It really is a slap in the face to have so many people work so hard volunteering their time and money, only to see their efforts go to waste. Makes me angry, sad, furious coming up or down Bexar and see people drinking beer and selling drugs, hooking on the block that many tens of millions of dollars were spent on to fix the area: http://img193.imageshack.us/im...People want to drink beer or do something to feel good? Great. More power to them, knock yourself out. I don't care. Just don't do it in the new development. That photo was from a couple weekends ago on Bexar. Would you buy a $150k townhouse across the street from a bunch of dudes drinking all day long and selling/doing drugs?

I realize these guys have probably been sitting there on that sidewalk for years. I don't want them arrested or yelled at. I'll even buy them a picnic table and put it down the street in a vacant lot for them to drink beer and smoke drugs on. But....they just can't keep doing that, there. It looks bad. I can't bring people down from North Dallas or the Park Cities to show them the cool new stuff going on if people are gonna keep this up. With "Standing Outside and Drinking Beer Season" quickly approaching, maybe someone could talk to these guys.

The Bon-Ton redevelopment has me scratching my head too. The area is the Dallas version of the New Orleans Ninth Ward. It's surrounded on four sides by levees and floodgate blast doors across the roads. When the river comes up, the neighborhood is cutoff from the rest of Dallas. No grocery stores, no gas stations, one DART bus, one elementary school. If you were a future resident of the projects there and had no car, the grind of daily life would be extraordinary just to reach your job or feed yourself. Will that change too?

cp
cp

That's kinda my point. Davis is just full of soundbites. And takes credit for other people's previous hard work. It's absolutely infuriating to hear her say "We want to make sure we create more African-American jobs in this community. And there's nothing wrong with saying it!" Well...... SHE IS THE COUNCIL PERSON WHO IS SUPPOSED TO BE DOING THAT! Instead she yells at white folks for giving a shit when she and her constituency that keeps her in office do nothing, absolutely nothing. 

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