Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Love Field—With All the “Ifs” in the Deal, There Needs to Be a Good Alternative

June 28, 2006-- The announcement has come and all seems right in the world of Love Field. The Cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, together with Southwest and American Airlines, all stood on the stage and announced they had a deal. Problem solved, right?

Not exactly. You see, Even as the announcement was coming out, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson was having doubts about her ability to sell this deal to the rest of Congress. The deal calls for a phase out of the Wright Amendment in eight years. That’s a long time in political years. A very long time.

There are plenty of members of Congress from other States chomping at the bit to reverse Wright. These members want to go back to their constituents right now, not in eight years, and say, “I got ya’ Southwest Airlines, now how’s about filling the campaign coffers?”

What many are missing in this picture is that so long as there are States who see Southwest being free to fly wherever they want from Love as a form of economic salvation for them (mostly seen in reduced airfares), it’s not likely the rest of Congress will go along.

Make no mistake, Congress may have deferred to the locals and given the mayors a chance to sort things out, but Congress is still the 800 pound gorilla here and if they don’t like the deal, it’s dead in the water.

Most people probably even missed the fact that if Congress doesn’t approve the deal by the end of the year, it’s back to square one. The agreement has no binding effect in that instance.

What we need is an alternative plan. One that gives the City control of the fate of Love, rather than continuing a running battle over the Wright Amendment.

The City of Dallas should be deciding its own fate here, and it can’t so long as there are so many interests tied to Love Field. The City should have the authority to decide to close it, without any interference from Congress. So close it.

Do this and, really, it turns into a winner for everyone.

You see, we’ve got a problem in Dallas. There’s really not a big draw for residents outside the City and tourists to travel into Dallas evenings and weekends. With the closing of the West End Marketplace and the malaise surrounding Deep Ellum, what little we have is dwindling.

At their heights, neither was a major draw, particularly not for the average middle income family.

We can end all the wailing and gnashing of teeth by shutting Love Field down and then redeveloping it. And we don’t just do any old redevelopment.

I’ve got a plan. Close Love Field. And everyone wins in the end.

Love Field comprises some 1300 acres. That’s a lot of space to fill up. We need a comprehensive plan to turn all that acreage into economically viable land. Bear with me and I’ll lay everything out for you.

Now, naturally, Southwest won’t be too happy about this because it means they move their flight operations to DFW, something they are resisting tooth-and-nail.
If any airline has proved resilient in the face of adversity, it’s Southwest. I believe they can not only survive, but thrive, at DFW and area air travelers will benefit

Move them, and the positives outweigh the negatives.

With Love closed, Southwest no longer has to groan under the weight of Wright. They’d be able to fly anywhere they want. While Southwest tickets will rise slightly (it will ultimately pay higher gate fees and such at DFW), it will still offer lower airfares than normally seen out of DFW.

That in turn forces American, the 800 pound gorilla at DFW, to lower its fares. This seems like a bad scenario for American, but, apparently, they believe they can compete with Southwest’s fares if the two fly out of DFW. Why not give them what they want and let the fares fall where they may?

Perhaps then we won’t have to keep reading about the DFW area has to pay the highest average prices per tickets in the nation.

Moving flight operations helps eliminate the noise problems associated with Love Field. Not because Southwest has moved out, their 737s are relatively quiet thanks to “hush” kits, but because it forces corporate jets based at Love out of the area as well. It just so happens, corporate jets do not have to comply with the same noise regulations as the airlines do. Generally, if you’re in the Love Field area, if you hear a shrieking jet taking off, it’s probably a corporate jet.

No airport. No corporate jets. No noise.

There’s a bonus in this plan for Southwest, because a major piece of the redevelopment I’m proposing includes creating a corporate park, with Southwest as the centerpiece.

We’ve got 1300 acres to work with, with Bachman Lake bordering the north end. What I’m suggesting, and the project I’ve been developing, is to create what amounts to a “City within a City,”™ a large multiuse development that includes the aforementioned corporate park, apartments, condos and homes, retail outlets and what I think will become the premier entertainment facility not only in Texas, but perhaps the entire country. The entire project would be known as “The Texas Riviera.”™

This would be a 20-phase development, created over 10-15 years. It would include a Galleria/North Park quality mall, several world class boutique hotels and restaurants. A state-of-the-art skateboard park and teen/young adult entertainment area would be situated near a daycare center staffed by registered childcare providers.

In the middle of it all would be “The Riviera Center,”™ which would consist of a multi-level entertainment complex. One level would feature the “Showtime Venue,”™ a 5,000 seat concert arena.

Other entertainment components, situated on different levels in the Center would be an R&B bar, karaoke bar, piano bar, C&W bar and sports bar. Restaurants offering Mexican food, steaks, BBQ, seafood, burgers and pizza. It would also include a 60-lane bowling alley.

Outside The Riviera Center™ would be the “Plaza at Riviera,”™ a huge outdoor festival area, capable of accommodating up to 25,000 people and featuring four stage areas. An outdoor arena would be home to rodeos, cutting horse competitions, dressage and equestrian events. A minor league ball field would offer affordable, competitive baseball in Dallas, not the suburbs.

This would be entertainment designed for, and available to, everyone. The American Airlines Center is great, but it’s really a meeting place for the wealthy. The Texas Riviera™ would be a playground for the rest of us.

Using Bachman Lake as a starting point, a river would trail throughout the area, giving Dallas its own “Riviera Walk.” Couples could stroll, joggers jog and families wander along the two mile river. Lining it would be restaurants, hotels, retail outlets, apartments, condos and homes.

It’s a big project. It would probably cost $5-6 Billion to complete the entire 1300 acre site. But compare that to the roughly $3 Billion 75 acre Victory Plaza development and you’ll see you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck.

Tens of thousands, of jobs would be brought into Dallas. Property and sales taxes generated would be in the billions. Far more then are currently generated by Love Field.

Best of all, it would make Dallas the undisputed “destination” city in Texas.

It’s a big project, but I know there are investors excited and ready to be a part of it. However, this proposal really can’t be explored until Love Field is closed. Once Love Field is officially shut down, The Texas Riviera, and Dallas’ place as the premier entertainment destination in the Southwest can be set in motion.

But first, someone has to pull the trigger on Love.

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Randall Turner is the CEO of Harvard Companies LLC. He has a passion for downtown Dallas and its development and his companies are a part of a number of projects in the Uptown and Downtown Dallas area.

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