Ah, So This Was All Mary Suhm's Idea: Patting Backs, Drinking Drinks on Margaret Hunt Hill

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Photos by Jay Barker, slide show here
Mayor Mike Rawlings noted: He's the mayor getting credit for the work done by his three immediate predecessors, not to mention City Manager Mary Suhm.
The speeches went on and on and on and on ... and on, everyone on the stage thanking everyone else on the stage for having a hand in building this thing we were all standing on: the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. Mayor Mike Rawlings, Friday night's emcee, introduced "our new skyline" and the structure that would "bridge our socio-economic gap" created, he said, by a simple (and small, most days) body of water. But in speech after speech after speech that followed, most of those who spoke wound up at the same starting point: City Manager Mary Suhm, who, as former mayor Ron Kirk put it, is the "mother" of the latest bridge to span the Trinity River and flatlands beneath, this one costing upwards of $180 million.

The U.S. trade ambassador explained that during his tenure as mayor, the Texas Department of Transportation told Dallas City Hall its levees would need to be repaired, its bridges replaced. Kirk, being a practical man, just wanted to know how to get it done, "how to get the piers out." But Suhm, he said, wanted more. And so, one week later, she walked into his office and dropped on his desk a book featuring the work of Santiago Calatrava. This, she told him. We should do this.

And they did, even when it looked like it was "coming off the rails," said Laura Miller, praising Tom Leppert for rescuing the project time and again.

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Calatrava on the Calatrava
But Suhm didn't sit on the stage, which was filled with way-back council members (Mark Housewright, Leo Chaney, Alan Walne) but also lacking the likes of Scott Griggs, Angela Hunt, Vonciel Jones Hill and Carolyn Davis. The city manager was sitting below, off to the right, amongst the Hill and Hunt families and other VIPs whose price of admission to the gala opening were millions in donations. She stood once, nodded, but said nothing into the microphone. No need.

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After all the talking came the singing courtesy Lyle Lovett, an assuredly respectable choice for a $200-a-ticket party. Toward the end of his hour-long set, he and the big band slow-danced through "North Dakota," maybe his finest song (written with Willis Alan Ramsey) from his finest record (Joshua Judges Ruth, exactly 20 years old) but not exactly a party pick-me-upper; but then ... wait for it, wait for it ... "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)." A crowd packed the middle of the bridge, but there was no bad spot on either side of the stage; even the sound was solid, perfect.

Seems a shame they're going to open this bridge to vehicular traffic at month's end; it's wide enough to comfortably accommodate a large stage and big band and crowd of eating-and-drinking-and-drinking thousands in a way the Continental Ave. Bridge won't upon its conversion to a pedestrian park that's set to begin almost as soon as the MHH opens. And: The arch looks very nice when standing directly beneath it. You will, of course, be able to walk on the Calatrava once again today; and The Relatives perform at 5, don't forget.

I left this shindig 'round 10, when the fireworks were timed to start in order to make the teevee news. City officials had suggested watching them not on the bridge, but from Singleton or IndustrialRiverfront to get "the whole effect." I hit Doc's Bail Bonds just as they started and pulled over to take the photo you see below. Then I rolled north, to the King's Cabaret, where two dudes and a date, let's say, were enjoying the light show from the parking lot. As I drove north on the toll road, you could still see the fireworks in the rear-view mirror, the climactic explosions in the sky visible all the way to Lovers Lane. Maybe we don't need a bridge to bridge north and south, just more fireworks.

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On Industrial ... pardon, Riverfront, where the bail bonds outlets and the King's Lounge were plenty packed last night.

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32 comments
cbs
cbs

I ran on the bridge this weekend and loved every second. Certainly hope it can be periodically shut down for unique events (if NYC can shut down Broadway, we should be able to shout this road down).  Did it cost too much, maybe. Will it spur development, I think it has and will continue to do so (design district is already really coming alive).

I get that people think the money should be spent elsewhere, but I like the forward thinking here and hope it has a positive result for the city for years to come.

BUpD
BUpD

The night captured the self proclaimed 'Dallas elite' perfectly and to really embrace the essence of the night was to see the John Wiley Price entourage that consists of JWP, A Beaty Queen and a bodyguard.

Ge Ehresmann
Ge Ehresmann

Embarrassing.This....is our 'Eiffel Tower'?

Walking across the bridge yesterday I soon began to understand what might lead a decision-maker to completely reject common sense--and contemporary urban planning principles--and build a bridge that neither pedestrians nor bicyclists could cross:  this bridge is a FREEWAY bridge.

There was an uncanny, post-apocalyptic feel in strolling along among hundreds of people, looking down to see striped highway lanes and knowing that, after this weekend's opening festivities, there would be ZERO provision for pedestrians or bicyclists.  Happy motoring.

Dallas: 'The Worst City for Bicycling' in 2009 (Bicycling Magazine).  Where do we now stand?

From the same city that invented the 'McMansion', the Margaret Hunt Hill freeway bridge remains mired in expansionist 'growth' thinking.  Historically, transportation infrastructure is built or improved along routes already established as highly-trafficked.  A ''build it and they will come' approach--or a 'build a FANCY it...' approach--is irresponsible in its speculative nature when we have MULTITUDES of improvable areas within the existing city core. But why densify, when we can colonize NEW territories for real estate moguls?

Putting aside the bridge as an absolute urban planning failure for its lack of accessibility, the next most flagrant insult is its aesthetics.  Now, this becomes a bit more subjective, of course, but anecdotally--among people I've encountered that 1. have no vested interest and 2. are citizens of this city, but mature enough not to need civic ego boosts--the verdict is guilty: not beautiful--not actively post-modern ugly, but in fact a bit strange.  Jangled.  Having experienced several of Calatrava's projects in person, I know he has done some amazing, beautiful work. Not here.

Admittedly, architecture is in identity crisis today, with the sterile white walls of modernism besieged by those longing for the human scale, beauty and quality the historic styles carried.  Even so, this bridge fails at both ends--too clumsy and elementary (not to mention its glaring functional failure) to be beautiful in the modern sense, too sparse, unarticulated and poorly-proportioned to be beautiful in the historic sense.

You can see it in all of the kid's crayon drawings of the bridge.  Often, ALL that is drawn is the lone big arch (which is creepily similar in profile to the McDonald's 'M').  This fat, white, segmented arch [too costly to have made smooth?] is so out of proportion with the gangly plastic-covered cables and the rest of the bridge, that the overall effect evokes some kind of fairground construction (a bungee jump structure?) or a toddler's toy (you can imagine a big baby lying on its back directly under the arch, batting at some dangling, oily Pegasus).

There are only a few angles at which the asymmetrically arrayed cables do not look haphazardly chaotic--and sparse. This is an architecture geared towards T-shirts, letterhead logos and--city officials proudly admit as much--postcard views.

The good news is that:1. At least they/we cared enough to make something (however corrupt, clumsy or disfunctional the process and result was).  The city's 'Starchitect Jeep Safari' gets another big name creature, and this one you drive THROUGH!2. The giant flagpoles--flying the Texas and U.S. flags--start to make up for the fact that we contracted a foreign architect and bought all the bridge's steel from an Italy company.3. Others (perhaps ourselves in addition) will learn lessons from this astoundingly backwards rejection of contemporary urban planning.  An exposé documentary is inevitable.4. The bridge is wide enough to narrow to 4 lanes, even 2, and still have room for a pedestrian promenade, bicycle lanes and vegetation (or would that 'dirty' the postcard view?)...even, dare say, small shops and residences ala the Ponte Vecchio.5. There will be SOME degree of 'build it and they come' development, and there is still time for the city to enact more socially just housing and property policies in advance of this impending gentrification, and to generally improve their planning, zoning and other regulatory frameworks, assuming the city isn't a proxy for real estate moguls.

Choderus
Choderus

How many potholes does it come with?

Kcorbet
Kcorbet

detractors.  please.  Dallas is moving in the right direction.  the Calatrava, the Arts District, the AAC and Victory Plaza.  never underestimate the power of Cool Stuff on a city's skyline and this bridge is very very Cool.  we need more.  put up a damn, give us a river and build the other 2.  let's have something to look at along the river other than the Lew Sterrett Theme Park. 

Gabe
Gabe

Maybe it cost too much, but I hope it does inspire people to build quality buildings and neighborhoods around it. Now how about getting Continental switched over to velocipedal bridge?

yeahIsaidthat
yeahIsaidthat

I find it interesting that Mark Housewright who now works for Dallas Cothrum Master Plan Lobbyist Inc is sitting up there. Oh yeah, Cothrum is representing the gas industry trying to 'bait' the council into rolling over for them. I guess you could say he's becoming a Master at Baiting.

DIVASI
DIVASI

Well it gave everyone a night off from attending that dreaded opea....lol...seriouslt RW didnt even mention the other party favors,drunk socialite with a waiting limo....We had a blast..

Dalguy
Dalguy

The best Trinity River bridge is the Commerce Street Bridge.  It is a straight shot that connects the three main drags of Downtown Dallas (Main, Elm and Commerce) to the main drag of West Dallas, Fort Worth Avenue.  The arch bridge is sculpture for the deep pocket Arts District gang and a major real estate promotion for the real estate speculators.  Not to mention that the Continental Bridge has long been a very efficient connection to Singleton Blvd.

dallasmay
dallasmay

I don't know why people are so upset about the city taking on a little risk. What if it pays off? What if in 10 years the Singleton/West Dallas are has transformed and becomes valuable real estate that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars annually into the city? Why is it so much less fun for commenters to think "What if it works?"

Bob
Bob

We all know the Trinity projects were always about V.I.P.'s real estate opportunities. What I did not know - or maybe I've been asleep - is that there are numerous gas leases in West Dallas and especially near the bridge. http://bit.ly/zPbvBe.

I hate to believe in yet another conspiracy, but was everyone thanking Mary Suhm because she has delivered the goods to real estate speculators and investors?

LaceyB
LaceyB

"Climactic Explosions at King's Cabaret". I think that's their goal each and every night.

I somehow don't understand, however, how one person, Suhm, could be responsible for the entire bridge project (and will be held responsible when it goes south).

Hank Hill
Hank Hill

All this hullabaloo and fanfare gonna cause me any problems today when I need to head 'over there' to get my muffler looked at?

Ohhmhai1
Ohhmhai1

Signature bridge or a copied signature bridge?

Folley...
Folley...

Where to begin?  Well, just one comment.

Dallas' "Signature" bridge is like Springfield's monorail.

jon from TJs
jon from TJs

so i guess since we had fireworks and a band, we've forgotten that it cost a fortune and our city doesn't have funds for basic city services?  cool.  I'm all for developing near west dallas, but our city planners can't even plan henderson ave or victory park right.  a quadrillion dollar bridge (that a bunch of other cities already have...maybe Dallas can get a 9ine Steakhouse and a Planet Hollywood if we are patient!) won't change our lack of planning ability.

Daniel
Daniel

Well stated, Ge. I would add that from several angles, it looks like a not-quite-fully-assembled circus tent.

Mike
Mike

Dallas stopped putting vegetation, other than basically open fields, on roads because we do not know how to keep it alive, mainly because we keep forgetting to budget for it.

Bob
Bob

 Have you considered composing a theme song for all of these new playground? Maybe something Felini-esque-meets-the-circus.

tear it down
tear it down

Kcorbet, I just don't see the cool factor of the bridge. I realize most of Calatrava projects are awesome, especially some of the train stations in Europe. But I don't see it in this project, plus the bridges look similar (not exact) to two of his other bridges. So, not even that original.

Lorlee
Lorlee

meanwhile, our streets crumble, our parks deteriorate, basic services are stretched all for "Cool Stuff".  Guess my definition of "cool" differs from yours. 

And as someone involved in the first Trinity election -- I said then and will say again, it was and is a road project.  Forget about the solar water taxis and all the pretty pictures.  A development play -- but with corporations and LLC, we are never able to find out who benefits. 

And I believe most of the $240 million is gone -- what do we have to show.  A killer wave. 

Lolotehe
Lolotehe

 Is he also a cunning linguist?

jon from TJs
jon from TJs

 nothing would make me happier.  my point is simply that the city has a poor (terrible) track record planning development. Henderson ave is a mess.  Victory Park is a failure.  i don't doubt the city's intent.  i doubt their ability to execute.  PLEASE dallas prove me wrong!

Bob
Bob

 I have zero problem with the city of investors making money off West Dallas or the Trinity River. In fact, I encourage it.

The problem I have is that the Trinity projects were not sold to voters - I'm not talking about insiders - as such. The tollway, for example, was not about "relieving traffic." It was about making money for the builders and landowners.

Demismith22
Demismith22

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Gabe
Gabe

For the record, a quadrillion dollars would have 5,291,005 of these bridges. 

10^15 / 1.89x10^8 = 5.291x10^6

Travis Rex
Travis Rex

 we already had a Planet Hollywood in the West End.  It failed.

dallasmay
dallasmay

I'm not sure what you mean by "the Trinity projects were not sold to voters". We had two very large, very nasty public ballot votes on the Trinity project and the toll road. 

That said, I agree with you about the toll road, but it's dead anyways. But it doesn't matter, it's dead anyway. (Thank goodness.) And I agree with you that the purpose of this bridge is to raise the values of the property on the other side of the river and spur development in an area that SHOULD be highly valuable. (Downtown on one side, Medical district to the north, Bishops Arts to the South, and the gateway to Arlington and Ft. Worth to the West.) If the bridge is successful, as I think it will be, everyone in Dallas will benefit. 

jon from TJs
jon from TJs

 that was the joke.  I was comparing the copycat "signature" bridge we just built to inported chains from other cities...that ultimately failed.

Bob
Bob

Re-read my statement. My point was that the Trinity package was sold to us as a park first, not as the business investment for businesses/investors that it really is.

The Tollway project is dead? Really? The DMN talked about in Sunday's paper like it is still a possibility. Trust me: it will not come up in the next bond package, but it will in the one after that. Maybe 2015-16? There is a lot of money counting on that road, especially if these gas leases can't be flipped at a good profit.

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