Developer Says Arlington Killed Plans to Turn Six Flags Mall Into Hispanic Shopping Center [Updated]

SixFlagsMallDillards.jpg
Flickr user LadyJaneGrey
Since its anchor stores began moving out in the late 1990s, followed by all but a couple of other tenants, the empty storefronts and weed-sprouted parking lots of Six Flags Mall have become little more than a haunt for camera-wielding, dead-mall fetishists. It's not completely dead -- a Dillard's outlet still operates there, as does a Cinemark movie theater -- but almost.

But where some saw an outdated eyesore, G.L. "Buck" Harris, an affable furniture and antiques dealer from Fort Worth, saw opportunity. Late last year, he snapped up 364,000 square feet of the mall, which included the shops and food court and one of the four anchor stores. The plan was to renovate the building, now called Plaza Central, and transform it into a shopping center targeting Hispanics.

"God led me," he told the Dallas Business Journal.

Harris did his due diligence before making the reported $5 million purchase. He met with city officials who he says assured him he would run into no permit or zoning issues before renovations.

"I'm 76 years old, and I told them I'm coming to you before I have any financial investment because at 76, I don't want to buy a problem," he says. "I want to buy an ongoing shopping center."

He hired a contractor to begin work on the facade. The contractor went to the city to get a permit but was told that one couldn't be issued until he did a certain piece of work to the building. When he returned, it was something else. Harris says he visited with city building officials a dozen times until, one day, he discovered the property had been "flagged" by the city, meaning no permits could be issued.

That left Harris in a tricky spot. He'd just put down serious cash on an enormous building, not to mention the money he was shelling out for electricity, water, and property taxes, only to find that, despite assurances to the contrary, he wasn't actually allowed to do anything with it.

"I'm like a man that's laying on the floor breathing my last [ounce] of breath, and I got a guy choking me to death. You try to reason with him, but he keeps choking you."

(Update at 4:28 p.m.: Arlington City Attorney Jay Dogey acknowledges that city officials initially told Harris there would be no procedural problems, but that was when they assumed he was going to buy the entire mall property. Because he only wound up purchasing a portion of it, it needed to be replatted, a pretty standard zoning procedure. They made this clear in numerous conversations with Harris and his representatives.

Arlington officials figured they had made themselves clear when Harris applied for a replat of the property. They have been working with the city's development office ever since to refine the proposal. "We're a little bit puzzled" over why he would file a lawsuit.)

Harris says he responded by hiring a couple of consultants who soon developed a theory for Arlington's about-face on the project.

"Everyone seems to agree that the city of Arlington, we believe -- this is our opinion. We have some evidences, but this is our opinion. I don't want problems over it -- that the city is acting unreasonably ... because they want [General Motors] to own this site and build a warehouse."

He and the consultants also have another theory, which is based on hearsay but which Harris thinks might be a contributing factor. "We have been told ... that some of the City Council members have been heard to say that we're not gonna let a Mexican or Spanish shopping center in Arlington."

The other thing Harris did is hire a lawyer. He sued the city of Arlington in federal court on Wednesday, arguing that the city, by preventing him from conducting business, has effectively taken his property illegally and violated his due process rights. The suit also claims that he's being treated differently than other business owners in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

An Arlington spokesman has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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70 comments
citizenreader
citizenreader

Since it's a center of activity, it makes sense that it should remain an amalgam of cultural goods/ services. 

ryan762
ryan762

I'm so glad to live in business-friendly Texas.

d-may
d-may

I don't know about the anti-hispanic charges, but it does look like the city wanted GM or Six Flags to buy it. It's been Zoned "IM" with an Entertainment District overlay. That basically means, they wanted Six Flags or GM to buy it and expand into the space. Though it appears that general retail is an allowed use.

So, I don't know what the city can do without changing the zoning again to nix the use.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

The old coot is using discrimination to make the city budge.  The city wants it torn down and redeveloped.  This "hispanic" tenant play has never come up in previous articles (Star Telegram and DBJ).  And it wouldn't come up when his general contractor filed for building permits to renovate to a "white box" in order to lease the space.  Only when he had tenants on lease proposals (which he doesn't) would the City building permit people be delivered finishout plans for a particular tenant and . . . call me crazy . . . but I don't think the Hispanic building permit people at the City are going to turn it down over racism, much less city lawyers.  The guy's a nut.  He says he intends to deed it over to some Bible thumpers of dubious background out of Kona, Hawaii, in a couple of years, and the city probably wants to just see it bulldozed and sold for land development.  The landscape is littered with dead malls.  40 YO ones are knockdowns because the demographics shifted.

http://tinyurl.com/kn3zu82

Having said that, if he paid $4 to $6 million, then his annual property taxes are in the $145,000 range, so no doubt he is in a hurry to get it cleaned up and leased in order to start paying taxes out of income, instead of feeding it money.

Municipalities do this all the time.  It's called inverse condemnation, and you have to sue to get redress.  However, Texas inverse condemnation law is weak.  California has done this a lot via highly restrictive environmental regulations the towns and other taxing authorities cook up to stop development.  The city of Dallas has done this several times to get rid of existing landowners who operate yucky businesses (see: auto repair on Ross Ave.).

My money's on the old coot unless he drops dead, then his kids will dump it.

jesdynf
jesdynf

Arlington doesn't /have/ to be just a place old people go to die, but correcting that is going to be difficult and time-consuming and expensive, and after a couple years of this effort I'm still not convinced it's worth the trouble. I have enough money to buy a home in Arlington, but I'm pretty sure I'll just stick with a leased apartment. My next job will be in a first-world city that merits investment.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

"God led me," he told the Dallas Business Journal"

if that is the case, apparently God doesn't like you very much.

"I don't want to buy a problem" he says, "I want to buy an ongoing shopping center"

If that is the case Buck, you should not have purchased this old, almost dead property. Caveat emptor......

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Arlington won't let public transportation be developed in their city because it would bring in "undesirables".  They assume Arlington is a desirable place.

animas
animas

FWST has an article about this acquisition on 12/5/2012 in the business section.  Harris is all over the place on this issue.  He wants to bequeath the portion  of the mall he bought (he doesn't own all of the property) to a Christian outreach group when he passes on OR when it becomes profitable(!?).  He says his family is "more or less" OK with this--(looming will fight) ?.  He says that he has "studied the scriptures"--(the Holy Book of Commercial Real Estate-lol?) and thinks that this group is the best beneficiary although a member of this group (Youth with a Mission) shot up a chapel and killed two missionaries in Colorado in 2007.  There are spaces for "a hundred small tenants" but 15 prospects have "shown interest"-!? .  I can kind of see where any planning and zoning commission might be a little confused by these less than coherent  speculative"plans".  His beef might be with the real estate entity which enabled the transaction as they may have made unrealistic representations to the old fellow in order to get him to buy the property.

ruddski
ruddski

About 65% of Arlington is 44 or younger. It's not a retirement center. If you want a "world-class city", you'll have to move to Dallas.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@mavdog 

OK, I'll grant you there's a reason we don't hear this guy's name tossed around like Trammel Crow, but, c'mon.

If the actions of the city even remotely resemble what was portrayed here in this blog, he never even got the chance to fail on his own.

wcvemail
wcvemail

@animas I believe you hammered every nail. Thanks, citizen!

jesdynf
jesdynf

@ruddski Break out the demographics by district, and take especial note of District 1, which (thanks to the at-large districts they'll defend to the death) enjoys a very pleasing four votes on the City Council, and you'll begin to understand the source of my aggravation.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@TheCredibleHulk

I know the property, know the area. Buck isn't the first investor to look at the former Mall, put some $ into the dream, and find it was a bad decision.

There is more than enough existing retail in Arlington, to the west of 360, that satisfies the demand from consumers. The former Mall sits on the edge of the residential market as the residential is all to the west. to the east, south and north for several miles is Great Southwest Industrial Park, one of the largest warehouse areas around, which means there aren't residents/homes, consumers.

There was another retail center 2 miles south, Forum, which was demo'd and replaced with warehouses. That is what should be done with the former Six Flags Mall, too.

believe me, the City of Arlington couldn't care less if an Hispanic themed development, an Asian themed development, or whatever themed development (except for a SOB, which as we all know Cities don't want) was attempted. They just want code followed.

IMHO Buck is looking for someone to blame. He needs to look in the mirror.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@TheCredibleHulk I don't think he would have failed.  I'm not Hispanic, but I'd love to shop for real Mexican foodstuffs at a real Mexican store.  The same goes for Asian stores and authentic Asian food.

ruddski
ruddski

Arlungton was at one tine considered desireable for middle and upper-middle Metroplexians, but the overbuilding of apartments brought in a lower-end demographic which made it less desireable.

IOW, Arlington lost its edge and became undesireable to the Myrnas because it became more diverse, which is exactly what the Myrnas would demand of Arlington to make it more desireable.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@jesdynf @ruddski I was about to ask if this was Mike Dunlap using a fake name since you were talking about world class cities, but no, its not, you actually brought facts to the table


animas
animas

Not true.  There is a very  active "Handi-Tran" service and Medicare and Medicaid provide free cab rides to patients for doctor or hospital visits.

d-may
d-may

@ruddski Fine, it's the largest municipality that makes no transportation provisions for the blind or handicapped. 

ruddski
ruddski

I like to point that out to people who like to say that Arlington is the largest city in the US without public transpo.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@mavdog @TheCredibleHulk 

I just re-read the part in the update that explains the position that the city is taking and why, and your explanation of the permitting process seems reasonable - city won't grant permits for undefined projects. Can't fault them for being prudent stewards of the city.

Still, it seems like this guy purchased the space on the assurances (by the city, or at least city staff) that he'd be able to develop it.

Whether he neglected to inform the city that he didn't own the entire parcel, or, whomever made him those assurances either wasn't aware of that fact or wasn't aware that there were restrictions to that effect was not specified in the article.

I think that information is relevant here and would be helpful in determining if this is actionable on Harris' part or not.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@TheCredibleHulk 

having dealt with multiple cities on similar discussions, i can say with certainty the city staff would not give an OK to any "permitting" question without the submittal of specific building plans for the proposed work.

there is a set process that begins with the application for building permit, and nothing progresses without the plans.

without those building plans the staff would be unable to determine if there are any "issues".

The staff could tell him his proposed use would comply with the current zoning, and with that compliance they could get a CO (certificate of occupancy, needed to open their doors to the public).

like I said, it is likely Buck is over his head here, and he is looking for someone to blame. pointing his finger at the City deflects from himself.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@mavdog 

That's all well and good, as far as it goes, but per the story, he met with city officials that assured him ". . .he would run into no permitting or zoning issues." and then the minute his contractor tried to obtain one, that's exactly what he was subjected to.

I'm not arguing Buck's business acumen, here, only his rights as a citizen.

animas
animas

If you go to Tom's nearby, for one of their excellent burgers or Chicken Fried Steak-they will give you the beer for free.

Sharon_Moreanus
Sharon_Moreanus topcommenter

Or the fear of her 2 cats over the limit in fear if code compliance.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@rubbercow she cant leave her downtown loft for fear of being ran over by the Jimmy Johns cyclist on her sidewalk

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz why not, I think youd see that Im a lot more fun that you think, and generous, I dont mind buying drinks for others

rubbercow
rubbercow

Jeezus! Do you do anything besides scold people on this blog? One can find almost any ethnic store imaginable in the metroplex. You might have to leave your house, though.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz Because that center is a piece of shit, on prime land in an area that doesnt need a full blown mall.  The land could be used for so much more, and as one said in the article, if GM has their eye on the land, GM will get it.  

Sidenote, there is a dumpy hole in the wall Karaoke bar right by this place that I go to sometimes, sidetracked.  

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz @ruddski Arlington is filled with areas of diverse people and foods.  Hell, at the corner of New York and Pioneer Pkwy is a large Asian shopping area, with grocery, restaurant, and clothing.  All Asian all the time.  Drive back down Division toward Collins and thats basically little Mexico, with tons of Hispanic markets, taquerias and shops.  

ruddski
ruddski

Now we get to the crux of the matter, your un-informed prejudices. Try studying the yellow pages.

ruddski
ruddski

Arlington is full of such markets. There's even halil. You'd love it there!

Storm_71
Storm_71

Man Tom's Burgers just went there the other night with the fam.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@TheCredibleHulk  @rubbercow the good thing about Tom's is it right off of  30, so you dont have to venture deep into Arlington, if you hate, it to find it

rubbercow
rubbercow

Studer's alone is worth a trip to Arlington.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@ruddski Arlington made the mistake of thinking it could hide its bad side.  Then they flushed them all north to the nicer areas when they built the death star.  Totally ruined a nice decent neighborhood.  They are now targeting those older apartments with code enforcement, trying to bring the crime levels back to where they were in the late 90's

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz @Montemalone wait, having six flags hurricane harbor, the rangers and cowboys is boring and bland?  You can keep your douche bars, ill take the entertainment district

MaxNoDifference
MaxNoDifference

@ruddski"condider a now-very-diverse Arlington" - It looks like Arlington now has a Sexual Anarchy Agenda.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@ruddski The color of the residents is not the reason Arlington is a pit.

ruddski
ruddski

Myrna, you condider racial diversity a plus to say the least, yet you condider a now-very-diverse Arlington to be undesireable. Why?

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