Dallas and Dwaine Caraway Both Have Big Plans for the Reunion Arena Area, but Only One Involves Prince's "Purple Rain."
Downtown Dallas 360, the city's long-range master plan for the area, has high hopes for southwestern downtown. Where Reunion Arena once stood, it envisions a cluster of mid-rise mixed-use developments. These would be clustered around a promenade and central park and would be accessible by stops on the new Oak Cliff street car lines and by foot. The parking garage along the Houston Street Viaduct would become a terraced park leading down to the Trinity River Corridor, and Union Station would become a transit hub, seamlessly connecting the area with the rest of the city.
That's a long way off. The area remains a lifeless, forbidding tangle of concrete with no housing, retail or green space to speak of, a legacy of the area's history of rail yards and industrial plants combined with '80s-era urban planning. But the city is looking to take one small step in that direction.
At a briefing this morning, the city council gave initial approval to a land swap with Hunt-Woodbine, the developer that owns whatever portions of southwesternmost downtown that doesn't belong to the city. Right now, the holdings of the two entities are arranged in a sort of checkerboard fashion. After the swap, each would control a solid block of real estate, thereby making the land easier to develop.
It's "part of changing the whole dynamic of what we want downtown to be," John Crawford, CEO of Downtown Dallas, Inc., told the council.
The swap is part of a 1974 master agreement between Hunt-Woodbine and the city in which the developer agreed to build the Hyatt Regency and renovate Union Station in exchange for the city's construction of Reunion Arena. The hope is that consolidating the tracts of land will make it easier to develop.
Under the terms of the deal, the city will give up 8.2 acres, including the Reunion Arena site and a small parcel along Stemmons, in exchange for 6.6 acres on the other side of the Jefferson Viaduct. To make up for the discrepancy in land area, Hunt-Woodbine will pay the city $3.5 million.
"It opens up great possibilities. It really does," said Theresa O'Donnell, the city's director of sustainable development and construction. "The exchange is they get this, we get this plus $3.5 million."
It was at this point that Councilman Dwain Caraway chimed in to eulogize Reunion Arena and offer his own suggestion for revitalizing the area. It used to be, Caraway said, that downtown was the place to go to see Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston, and Prince (Caraway was careful to point out that he was referring specifically to the "Purple Rain" era). Now concertgoers head down I-30 to Grand Prairie.
Caraway's solution, familiar to anyone who's heard the man talk for more than five minutes, is to revitalize the Dallas Convention Center and transform the arena into a place that will attract and host big-time acts.
"I'm also going to suggest that the $3 million, I want some of that to go to the arena," he said, in reference to the cash the city will be getting from Hunt-Woodbine. "Y'all figure out between now and this week how to get this money into the arena."
This last part was directed at City Manager Mary Suhm, whom he preemptively thanked for being such a forceful advocate for his cause.
"I'm not saying anything Mr. Caraway," Suhm demurred. "I'm listening."
Caraway rode his convention center hobby horse for a few more minutes before adding, "Thank you, Mary, for saying you're really, strongly going to make this happen."
And by "this," we can only assume he was referring to a Prince concert.