Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Close Dallas Love Field and redevelop it, real estate broker Randall Turner proposes

Channel 8 News Report on The Texas Riviera June 23 - 6 pm:
Click on the Link Here to View Video

Dallas real estate broker Randall Turner has a $26 billion dream. He calls it the Texas Riviera.

In it, he envisions thousands of reasonably-priced housing units, office parks, a golf course, minor league baseball park, 100-lane bowling alley and entertainment complex -- all in the heart of Dallas surrounding a massive San Antonio-style Riverwalk. A 1,300-acre Midtown Manhattan for Dallas, he posits.

And Turner wants to shut down city-owned Dallas Love Field to do it.

Love Field, as in, the headquarters airport of Southwest Airlines. The nation's 47th busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic. The recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars of public bond funds for a massive remodeling effort now underway.

"The Texas Riviera could be one of the greatest projects in Texas of all time," says Turner, chief executive of Dallas-based Harvard Companies, Inc. "I see no negatives whatsoever. Sure, it would be painful to move Southwest Airlines. But in the long term, it'd benefit everybody."

Turner has no funding, no master developer of record, no discernable public support.

But in recent days, Turner, who says he's been planning details of the Texas Riviera for several years, has aggressively attempted to curry the favor of city officials and area businesspeople, toting colorful schematics and attractive conceptual designs. Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and Forest City Enterprise Vice President of Development Jim Truitt rank among those on Turner's list.

Turner's written correspondence to Leppert includes suggestions that he's secured "significant interest" from Forest City to develop the Texas Riviera, and is pursuing a partnership with the Walt Disney company. The Texas Riviera, Turner wrote Leppert earlier this month, would create up to $26 billion in new development in northern Dallas and represent more than $100 million in annual property tax revenue to the city.

(Download a copy of the project concept here.)

In essence, Turner suggests Dallas Love Field's entire operation could be shuttered, then transferred to Dallas Executive Airport in southern Dallas. No matter that Dallas Executive has but one main runway whereas Love Field has two -- Dallas could build a new one using bond money now earmarked for Love Field reconstruction.

Leppert, Truitt and a Southwest Airlines official stopped short of saying Turner is, well, delusional. But they offered him little hope that the Texas Riviera concept will ever become reality so long as they're around.

"[Turner] brought his idea by and showed it to me, and I told him that if the city is interested in closing Love Field, then we'll be interested in discussing it," Truitt said.

Is the city interested in closing Love Field?

"No," said District 14 council member Angela Hunt, whose district includes the airport. "I don't see this riviera idea as viable. The city is investing too much money in Love Field. We're too far down the road."

Said Leppert: "Clearly, there would be many challenges to overcome. It would be difficult to do."

And is Southwest Airlines interested in moving its Love Field operations?

"No. We would not want to move from here or support any such plan. Love Field is our home, and we want to be here," airline spokeswoman Ashley Rogers said.

Where does this leave Turner?


"Every issue can be overcome. We need to be willing to work together. And we're looking for the support of the public in doing this," Turner said. "It's a process. But we're envisioning this as a project for the masses, which is why we're appealing to the masses to get behind us."
Dave Levinthal/Reporter

Friday, June 19, 2009

Redevelopment funding rejected for LTV Tower at 1600 Pacific

A plan to restore the LTV Tower at 1600 Pacific Avenue into a a 590-unit residential building got the thumbs down Monday from the city's Downtown Connection TIF Board.

Craig MacKenzie and Curtis Lockey, who hoped to redevelop the property with 236 affordable units, are none too happy about the decision.

In a presentation before the TIF board Monday, MacKenzie and Lockey requested some $46.3 million in TIF funds plus interest.

(A briefing prepared by the city's economic development staff set the subsidy figure at as much as $120 million in principal and interest, a number the developers called sensational.)

After the jump, read what MacKenzie told us in an e-mail this morning.

Craig MacKenzie:

After brief deliberations, the Downtown Connection TIF Board of Directors voted yesterday "against" the proposed redevelopment of the 1964 vacant LTV Tower Building.

Despite pouring over $140 Million in subsidies into redevelopment projects in the City's core during the last ten years, the TIF Board said "no" to the 590 planned residential units (including 236 Affordable Housing Units) planned for the project. There are more than 2,400 residential units in Downtown Dallas today; none of these units serve the affordable housing market.

For years, Dallas politicians have waxed lyrically over the trials and tribulations of trying to bring affordable housing to the City Center. Finally, two developers, Curtis Lockey and Craig MacKenzie, have a plan for an affordable housing project.........but the City Leaders at the TIF Board said "NO".

In a city that aspires to build a $500 Million Convention Center Hotel, the Citys' leaders (apparently) could care less about the 1,000 employees who will work at such a facility and where they will live.........$500 Million for a Convention Center Hotel and $0 for Affordable Housing....Dallas wants to be a "world class" city????????"

Rudolph Bush/Reporter - DallasNews.com

Investors say Dallas office building prices may drop 17% in next year

Investors predict that the Dallas area will suffer the sharpest office building value declines in the country over the next year.

Overall office building prices here could drop 17 percent over the next 12 months, according to a new survey of investors by PricewaterhouseCoopers. That's much higher than 11 percent to 12 percent decline predicted nationwide in the report released Thursday.

Investors say they are more pessimistic about the Dallas area office market because of cutbacks at large corporate employers in the area. They also cite contractions at major high-tech firms in North Texas "due to increased international competition, as well as global downsizing."

Some Dallas area office properties may see declines of more than 33 percent, the study warns.

A few years ago, North Texas was one of property investors' favorite markets.

But the turnabout shouldn't come as a surprise, said Susan Smith, director of the real estate advisory practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

"Typically in your market, investors get a little better return" when times are good, Smith said. "The problem is, when the market turns down, you guys tend to feel it a little bit harder than the rest of the country because of oversupply."

Still, Smith said, she "never really likes to give Dallas a bad rap. Even though you tend to build a lot, you have good job growth and industries that keep investors coming back."

PricewaterhouseCoopers found that investors expect the U.S. commercial real estate market to decline over the next year as business demand for real estate slumps and rental rates soften.

The property market recession is likely to continue through next year, according to the 22nd annual investor survey.

Investors say they are likely to see an overall 10 percent further drop in commercial property values nationwide during the coming 12 months.

The biggest declines are forecast in the office and regional shopping mall markets.

By some estimates, commercial real estate values have fallen more than a quarter since mid-2007.

Prices are falling in part because few investment transactions are taking place because of the credit crunch.

"The sales market is simply stalled and remains in a state of flux because neither buyers nor sellers know exactly where pricing is right now," Smith said in the report. "Investors are concerned that the industry is basing values on distressed sales which will ultimately reset the market too low."

Investors surveyed worry that commercial mortgage defaults and distressed property sales will continue to rise, which "some investors fear will lead to a market overcorrection."

Dropping building rents caused by business consolidations are adding to the commercial property industry's woes.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers survey shows that building rents have been affected in all but two of the 28 markets it covers.

And most of the investors anticipate office rental rates to decline further over the next year.

The forecast calls for a recovery to begin in the nationwide retail and office markets starting in 2011. But the investors surveyed said that "it will not dominate these sectors until 2012."

By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas commercial property in for a bad year, survey says

The Dallas area will suffer the sharpest office building value declines in the country over the next year, according to a new survey of investors.

Overall office building prices here could drop 17 percent over the next 12 months, investors surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted. That’s much higher than the 11 percent to 12 percent decline predicted nationwide in the report released Thursday.

Investors say they're more pessimistic about the Dallas-area office market because of cutbacks at large corporate employers in the area. They also cite contractions at major high-tech firms in North Texas “due to increased international competition as well as global downsizing.”

Some Dallas-area office properties may see declines of more than 33 percent, the study said.

PricewaterhouseCoopers found that investors expect the U.S. commercial real estate market to continue to decline over the next year as business demand for real estate slumps and rental rates soften.

The property market recession is likely to continue through next year, according the results of this 22nd annual investor survey.

Investors said they expect an overall 10 percent further drop in commercial property values during the coming 12 months, with the biggest price declines in the office and regional shopping mall markets.

By some estimates, commercial real estate values have already fallen more than a quarter since mid-2007.

Prices are falling in part because of the credit crunch.

“The sales market is simply stalled and remains in a state of flux because neither buyers nor sellers know exactly where pricing is right now,” Susan Smith, director, real estate advisory practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, said in the report. “Investors are concerned that the industry is basing values on distressed sales, which will ultimately reset the market too low.

“It is a very difficult cycle for investors to be in and one of the most challenging cycles for them to get out of.”

Investors surveyed worry that commercial mortgage defaults and distressed property sales will continue to rise, which “some investors fear will lead to a market overcorrection.”

Dropping building rents caused by business consolidations are adding to the commercial property industry’s woes.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers survey shows that building rents have been affected in all but two of the 28 markets surveyed, and most of the investors anticipate further office rental rates declines over the next year.

The forecast calls for a recovery to begin in the nationwide retail and office markets starting in 2011.

By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News

Medical real estate provides rare opportunity for builders

Duke Realty Corp. has built millions of square feet of industrial and office space in Dallas-Fort Worth.

But the developer's newest project isn't another warehouse or corporate office suite.

Duke just started construction on a $154 million Baylor Health Care System cancer center east of downtown Dallas that is one of the biggest medical projects in the state. It's one of a series of medical complexes Duke is building in the area.

The commercial builder – and others like it – has found that medical projects are among the few remaining opportunities in the current economy.

"The medical building field has become pistol hot," said Jeff Turner, Duke's executive vice president in Dallas. "The office building business is terribly slow right now – almost nonexistent. And industrial building has slowed down.

"The medical sector is a brighter light."

No wonder then, that in the worst construction slowdown in 20 years, developers are lured to the one industry still seeing substantial expansion.

"We think it will be a large part of our new business over the next several years," said Toby Grove, president of developer KDC.

The Dallas builder announced a major expansion of its medical division last month.

"We don't look at this as a temporary fix," Grove said. "We think it will be a large part of our new business over the next several years."

KDC – formerly Koll Development – has proposed a 12-story medical office building on Walnut Hill Lane across from Presbyterian Hospital. The developer is scouting for other medical building projects in Texas, California, Colorado and North Carolina.

KDC also plans to invest in existing medical and hospital buildings.

"Any industry today is trying to find ways to raise cost-effective capital,"Grove said. "Selling real estate assets is one way of doing that."

More complex

Unlike standard-issue office and warehouse projects, medical real estate takes more time and effort to build and acquire, developers say.

"When you are talking about a building that may be 50 percent more expensive on a square-foot basis, you really have to understand it," Grove said. "Figuring out how to capitalize those may prevent some people from jumping into the business."

Maybe, but Duke Realty's vice president John Huff said the medical development business is already "getting pretty crowded."

Indianapolis-based Duke has a handful of medical projects under way in North Texas. It just finished an 83,000-square-foot administrative building at Baylor's East Dallas Campus. And next to Baylor's Plano hospital, Duke built a 140,000-square-foot medical office building.

The developer also is working on a 57,000-square-foot specialty hospital in Arlington north of Interstate 30 that is a partnership between Baylor and United Surgical Partners.

In Fort Worth, Duke is building a 210,000-square-foot outpatient clinic for the Veterans Administration.

"Our goal is to go into these major metropolitan areas and find one of the big hospital players that we can partner with," Huff said.

That's key to the success of such developments, said Jack Eimer, who heads the Dallas regional office of real estate firm Transwestern.

"These projects are proving to have a lower degree of success without the sponsorship or support of a hospital," Eimer said. "It's a little disconcerting if we are going to see a significant ramp-up of that kind of product."

Mixed feelings

Eimer says the credit crunch makes it tough to finance even medical developments. Still, he understands why so many developers are embracing the sector.

"If what you have been doing full time for the last several years is development, you have a whole lot of staff and overhead you have to direct into another area," Eimer said.

Companies that have specialized in medical projects for years have mixed feelings about the rush to their business.

"Most recently, we have seen many newcomers to the space as a result of the distress being experienced in some of the other property sectors," said Chris Godfrey, director of finance for Dallas-based Cirrus Group, which has been in the business for more than a dozen years.

But Godfrey knows the appeal of the medical building business.

"The fact is that health care real estate assets are typically well-positioned to weather economic downturns due to the recession-resistant, noncyclical nature of the demand for health care services," he said.

"The demand drivers for health care properties are expected to remain very favorable over the next decade."

By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More Dallas home sales prices kept secret

Early this year, a Tudor-style cottage in the M Streets with a stately stone exterior and stained-glass windows was listed for sale at just under $500,000.

How much it sold for is top secret.

That's because real estate agents, buyers and sellers are keeping sales prices under wraps on hundreds of houses – even on the Multiple Listing Service.

The trend is troubling some market watchers because Realtors and appraisers use the service to set prices and prepare offers. And everyone who depends on the data – including the economists who track the North Texas housing market – is getting only part of the housing picture.

"It started pretty much in the high end, and it's spreading out and getting worse," said longtime Dallas appraiser Jack Towers. "It's misleading, and most people are unaware of this happening."

Only five states don't require home sales prices to be disclosed – Texas, Kansas, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. In states with disclosure rules, all sales are recorded at the courthouse.

The 'Z'

The MLS is a proprietary real estate database in which property agents share information about home listings and sales among themselves. Most home and condo sales are supposed to be recorded in the MLS, but the process is voluntary and unregulated.

Many MLS sales forms now have prices marked with a "Z" – Realtor lingo for a price that's not the actual sales price. Often the Z price is simply the original list price.

The agent who sold the M Streets house, Kate Mote, wouldn't explain why the price was kept confidential.

"I am sorry, but any undisclosed property sale cannot be discussed," Mote said in an e-mail. "I do not discuss confidential information."

In neighborhoods with large numbers of undisclosed prices in the MLS, the practice can skew median home price data, which is made public each month and widely reported.

"They say the sellers or buyers don't want this information public," Towers said. "But they shouldn't be manipulating the market."

Agents say the practice has grown over the last two years, partly because some buyers want to keep the data out of the hands of tax appraisers and sometimes because sellers don't want anyone to know how little they got for their houses.

Agents sometimes push secrecy as well.

Some of the lowest-priced homes are being kept out of the system, which makes overall prices seem higher, agents and appraisers say.

"All we hear about in every aspect of the capital market is transparency," said Chuck Dannis of Crosson Dannis Inc. "This flies in the face of that. This is going to further lead to inaccurate values across the spectrum."

The MLS is not open to the public or the news media, but real estate agents often share the data with their clients. The growing use of undisclosed prices threatens that information source, some agents and appraisers say.

Because of the way the MLS database is structured, it's hard to find out how prevalent the practice is.

Rich Thomas, CEO of Dallas' MetroTexas Association of Realtors, says undisclosed sales account for less than 10 percent of total MLS listings.

But he concedes that in some neighborhoods – the Park Cities, Preston Hollow and other high-end areas – the majority of transactions are being kept hidden.

"In some pockets, it's the chic thing to do," he said.

Clients' wishes

Thomas said real estate agents must abide by their clients' decisions about disclosing information.

"The MLS member is in a difficult situation – they are trying to get this property sold," he said. "You can guess that people who are selling their property at a little bit of a distress have a desire not to release this info for ego reasons.

"And if you are an institution holding lots of foreclosed properties, you don't want to be in a situation where you are creating fire sales."

That may have been the case with a house that agent Jackie Dorbritz sold late last year off Hillcrest Road in North Dallas. The five-bedroom, six-bath, 2-year-old house was listed at $1,448,500 – less than the appraised value.

The ultimate sales price was withheld.

"That was a bank-owned property, and the bank requested it," Dorbritz said. "It was written into the sales contract that way."

Another recent sale in North Dallas was kept secret at the buyer's request.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, it's the buyer who's pushing for it," said listing agent Greg Pape.

"A lot of agents are complaining about it," he said. "In the last two years, it's quite prevalent."

One appraiser looking at homes sold in the Park Cities priced at more than $3 million found that almost two-thirds of the recent sales were undisclosed.

Mary Frances Burleson, president of Ebby Halliday Realtors, North Texas' largest residential firm, said: "I don't like it either. It skews the ability for an appraiser to give us a really updated evaluation.

"It's a growing issue, and there is not a thing you and I can do about it."

At the same time, Burleson said, she has never been in favor of mandatory disclosure of home sales prices. And she agrees that undisclosed sales can mask falling prices.

"In today's marketplace, people are reducing prices and sometimes don't tell everyone," she said. "They don't want their neighbors to know what they sold the house for because they took a lot less."

The tax man

If buyers are trying to keep their home values secret from tax appraisers – well, good luck with that, said Ken Nolan, chief appraiser for the Dallas Central Appraisal District.

"Is it going to get them out of paying taxes? No," Nolan said. "They may get a lag. But in most areas, there are going to be enough sales reported that we know what is going on."

Thomas of the MetroTexas group says there's no evidence of slashed prices on foreclosed homes in the area. But he's not pleased that so many prices are being kept out of MLS data.

"There is this misconception on the part of the consumer that it is helping them," Thomas said. "What hurts the consumer is that when they go to try and adequately price their home for sale, they don't have as much data as they should have."

Thomas doesn't think withheld sales prices are skewing real estate data.

"It puts pressure on [the media] industry, reporting accurate median prices in some areas," he said. "But that's why a person really needs to use a Realtor."

Researchers who count on accurate MLS data have the opposite view.

Jim Gaines, an economist with Texas A&M University's Real Estate Center, wonders how withheld prices affect the data his center releases to the public each month.

"Of course, if these are systematically at lower prices, then our averages and medians are overstated to the extent they are not showing lower-priced property sales," Gaines said.

He said reporting only part of the housing market picture doesn't work in the long run.

"You are better off to have everything, even if you don't like it, than to try and edit and restrict it to make it look another way."

Economist D'Ann Petersen of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas was surprised to learn that not all home sales make it into the housing reports.

"It's so confusing anyway, and that's what we depend on to be able to do our jobs," she said. "No data is perfect, but this could definitely make it more difficult to find out what is going on.

"If you can't believe your numbers, you don't know what to report."


By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Dallas City Hall layoffs to be announced in early to mid-August

The current recommended budget for the city of Dallas includes a plan to lay off at least 785 employees.

Many of those layoffs - accounting for some 19 percent of the city's civilian workforce - seem certain to happen because there does not appear to be any answer to reducing a $190 million deficit other than deep cuts in spending.

Announcements of layoffs could begin as soon as early August, Chief Financial Officer Dave Cook just told the City Council.

Employees would be required to leave their jobs on October 1st, he said.

Rudolph Bush / The Dallas Morning News

Trinity tollway is a go

Turnout at polls exceeds forecast for city election

Dallas voters on Tuesday rejected a plan to kill the highway, a key element of the city's ambitious effort to transform the Trinity River Corridor.

The vote means the city's massive Trinity River project can proceed as planned. In addition to the highway, which is intended to help relieve downtown traffic congestion, the project calls for enhanced flood controls; a downtown riverside park with lakes, trails, promenades and green spaces; preservation of the Great Trinity Forest south of downtown; an equestrian center; and other recreational amenities.

"There's one winner, and it's Dallas," an exuberant Mayor Tom Leppert, flanked by other members of the Dallas City Council, told supporters Tuesday night. "We have the opportunity to realize our dream. ... Now it's time to get to work and make it happen."
The vote was a victory for Mr. Leppert, who – almost from the day he took office in late June – campaigned energetically to defeat Proposition 1, the referendum that would have halted the planned toll road.

And it was a blow to the political fortunes of Angela Hunt, the second-term Dallas City Council member who – alone among the city's elected officials – crusaded to remove the $1.3 billion highway from the river channel.

It was Ms. Hunt, a 35-year-old lawyer from the M Streets, who organized the petition drive to place Proposition 1 on the ballot. And it was Ms. Hunt who emerged as the leading voice for the proposition, which she characterized as the citizenry's last best hope to build a world-class downtown park along the banks of the Trinity.

"Never before in the history of this city have we seen a grass-roots effort like this," she said Tuesday, in conceding that the effort had fallen short.

Even in defeat, she maintained that the highway project – and, with it, the whole Trinity River redevelopment effort – had gotten "off track." And she said her supporters would now hold the city's political and business elite to their promises that the toll road would bring thousands of new jobs and allow construction of a world-class park with no new taxes.

The election turnout in Dallas was 15.3 percent, higher than what Dallas County Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet had forecast.

Proposition 1 would have forbidden construction of any road inside the river levees unless that road were four or fewer lanes, had a speed limit of 35 mph or less, and provided direct access to the riverside park.

The language was written expressly to kill plans by the city and the North Texas Tollway Authority to build the toll road – officially known, much to the chagrin of its opponents, as the Trinity Parkway.

The road

The highway is to run from U.S. 175 southeast of downtown Dallas to where State Highway 183 branches off from the Stemmons Freeway south of Texas Stadium.

It's envisioned as a reliever route to help ease congestion along Stemmons Freeway and in the freeways that meet in the Canyon and Mixmaster along the southern edge of downtown. State highway planners have said construction of a reliever route is necessary if work is to proceed on a $1 billion project to untangle the Canyon and Mixmaster.

Ms. Hunt and her allies said repeatedly that they were not against building a toll road; they just didn't want it next to the Trinity park.

She framed the fight over the road in us-vs.-them, David-versus-Goliath terms. The slogan on the yard signs of TrinityVote, the group she organized to fight the highway, was: "Keep their toll road out of our park."

Supporters of the highway agreed that putting it next to a park wasn't ideal. But they argued that there were no good alternative routes.

The best of a bad lot, they said, would have been to run the highway along Industrial Boulevard and Irving Boulevard. That would have required the displacement of more than 230 existing businesses. The NTTA estimated that such an alignment would cost at least $300 million more than building the highway inside the levees, where the city already owns unobstructed right-of-way.

Supporters of the road also said that trying to move it now would unnecessarily cause further delays in a project that, to many, already seems to be moving too slowly. It's been almost 10 years since Dallas voters approved $246 million in bonds for the Trinity project.

"For us to lose this would have been a devastating blow to the long-term economic and social well-being of our city," said Ron Kirk, who was mayor when that bond vote took place.

"It's evident of our maturation as a city that we know how to make decisions ... and not tolerate delays. It's a very positive step."

The pragmatic arguments against Proposition 1 – we need to fight traffic, there's nowhere else to put the road, we've already done all this planning – were not persuasive to those who simply thought it foolish to build a toll road next to a park.

Ms. Hunt often joked in debates that she didn't know of anyone who wanted to have a picnic next to the Dallas North Tollway.

A renewed debate

Until a year ago, the Trinity toll road hadn't figured in a public conversation, and certainly not a heated one, in a long time. After voters approved the 1998 bond issue, the Trinity plan withstood several lawsuits by environmentalists. In 2003, the City Council unanimously adopted what became the working design for the toll road – four lanes through the central city, six lanes elsewhere, all of them on the downtown side of the river corridor.

Planning along those lines was proceeding.

Then along came Ms. Hunt, a practiced trial attorney with a knack for asking questions and little patience for equivocal answers.

After her election in 2005, Ms. Hunt was appointed by Mayor Laura Miller to the City Council's Trinity River Project Committee. As Ms. Hunt tells it, as she continued to attend committee meetings, she grew increasingly frustrated at the lack of precise information from the city staff on the costs and timetable for completion of the Trinity project.

In particular, she said, she grew concerned that the cost of the toll road was spiraling out of control, while the downtown park remained woefully underfinanced.

The final straw, for her, came last November. That was when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers informed the city that the toll road would have to be moved farther into the park. In the wake of the Katrina disaster, the Corps' engineers had grown leery of the city's plans to build the road into the side of the levee – they wanted it moved so it didn't touch the levee at all.

That realignment would reduce the size of the downtown park by more than 40 acres.

Ms. Hunt said enough.

In March, she announced that she would lead a campaign to let voters decide whether to scrap the toll road. In June, she and volunteers from TrinityVote turned in referendum petitions bearing more than 52,000 valid signatures. On Aug. 15, the City Council reluctantly approved placing Proposition 1 on the ballot.

The election pitted Ms. Hunt against the mayor, the rest of the City Council and the downtown business establishment. All 14 of her fellow council members opposed her referendum. So did the entire county Commissioners Court, the North Texas congressional delegation and every chamber of commerce in the city.

Her opponents raised far more money than her group, they spent more and they nailed down far more big contributions. The Dallas Citizens Council, representing the leaders of the city's most prominent businesses, gave $200,000 to the Vote No campaign, by far the largest single donation to either side.

When making his first council committee appointments as the new mayor, Mr. Leppert made a point to exclude Ms. Hunt from the committee with oversight over what had become her most passionate cause – the Trinity River committee.


Economy scuttles plans for billion-dollar complex near Galleria in Dallas

A prominent LBJ Freeway property that was planned for high-rise development is now posted for foreclosure.

The 15-acre tract next to the Galleria previously housed an automobile dealership.

Last year, developers announced plans for a $1 billion complex on the land that was to include office buildings, a hotel, condominiums and a shopping center. But the development was delayed because of the recession and building slowdown.

Now lender RMR Investments Inc. of California has filed for foreclosure on the property, seeking repayment of more than $18 million in debt, according to county records collected by Addison-based Foreclosure Listing Service.

The loan was made to a real estate partnership that owns the land, Woodmont TCI Group IX. Officials with Icon Partners, which proposed the big development, could not be reached Tuesday about the foreclosure filing.

The Icon Midtown project was one of the largest such developments ever proposed along LBJ Freeway.

The plans included 700,000 square feet of office space, a 200- to 300-room hotel, about 500 high-rise residential units and a shopping center.

With the credit crunch that has cut builders and investors off from financing, many developers and property owners have been unable to extend or replace real estate debt.

In a growing number of those cases, properties are then posted for foreclosure.
By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning News

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

General Datatech Buys 70,000 SF For HQ

DALLAS-General Datatech LP has ended a close to two-year search for new headquarters with its acquisition of 999 Metro Media Place. When the computer networking company moves into its new 69,552-square-foot office flex digs by year end, it will have effectively tripled the space it leases now.

“They were always looking for a good building to purchase, so leasing wasn’t an option,” explains David Cooke, vice president with Stream Realty Partners LP’s Dallas office, who represented General Datatech. “This building came along at the right time.” He tells GlobeSt.com that General Datatech’s headquarters at 3160 Commonwealth Dr. measures approximately 20,000 square feet.

Senior vice president Gregory S. Cannon and vice president Ward Richmond with Transwestern’s Dallas office represented seller Metromedia Investments LLC of California. Cannon says the building in the Brookhollow area just northwest of the CBD attracted a great deal of interest both on the sales and leasing end. He tells GlobeSt.com that the seller received four bonafide offers. “We even had someone call during escrow, to see if this had closed, because that person was interested in the building as well,” Cannon comments.

General Datatech ended up with the facility because of its ability to close. “Financing was not an issue,” Cannon remarks. “The buyer had no problem getting the money to close.”

Cannon points out that the building, constructed in 1959, had a lot of great selling points, including interior office finish, location in the high-demand Brookhollow market and the fact the facility is on more than five acres. The extra acreage provides opportunities for more development and a lot of parking, he adds.

999 Metro Media place began life as a home for Foremost Dairy. Over the years, the facility was renovated to house an advertising agency, and later on, a technology services company.
By Amy Wolff Sorter with Globest.com

Dallas commercial real estate community plans fundraiser for injured exec

Even in one of the worst business environments in decades, commercial real estate industry members are lining up to do an elaborate fundraiser for a long-time local executive. Tommy Van Zandt was paralyzed after a fall earlier this year.

The Dallas commercial property community is holding a fundraising bash next week at the American Airlines Center seeking money to support the former real estate broker’s medical and family expenses.
So far the effort has yielded more than $145,000 in pledges.

“We’ve all come together for one of our own,” said Randy Garrett, an officer at real estate service firm Transwestern where Van Zandt where worked for many years, until moving to Fayetteville, Ark., in 2004 to start his own company. He fell at home in February while trimming trees and was left with a severe spinal cord injury. Van Zandt is now in a rehabilitation center in Denver. On June 11, local real estate firms will sponsor the three-hour fundraiser in the plaza outside the American Airlines Center. Called Tommy’s Nite Out, the event will feature live bands, food and a silent auction.

Sponsors of the charitable event include Transwestern, Hall Financial Group, Hillwood, Capstar Commercial, Cushman & Wakefield, Jones Lang LaSalle, Behringer Harvard, BOKA Powell, Duke Realty, Scott & Reid General Contractors, Texas Capital Bank, Stream Realty, Granite Properties, Crescent Realties and NexBank.
(Pictured above: Transwestern Tommy Van Zandt with his wife, Robyn)
10:43 AM CDT on Friday, June 5, 2009
By STEVE BROWN / The Dallas Morning

Monday, June 15, 2009

Brinker influence: Just e-NORM-ous

Toni Brinker is hosting a celebration for her husband tomorrow at the Meyerson. No doubt his family and friends will pack the symphony hall. Undoubtedly there will be plenty of tears shed for the maestro of the restaurant business, who died Tuesday.

But she hopes most of those tears will be from the joy of having known Norman Brinker.

"He had a spot in his heart for every person that he came in contact with," she says.

If the worth of a man is judged by the number of genuine friends, Brinker was one of the wealthiest people I've known.

His two best buddies of more than four decades were Ross Perot and Pete Schenkel. He and Toni called Ebby Halliday every Friday to wish Dallas' first lady of real estate a happy weekend.

Brinker had a way of making people feel they were special.

Perot and his wife, Margot, met Brinker while eating at the first Steak and Ale on Lemmon and Inwood shortly after it opened in 1966. He's helping plan the Meyerson celebration.

"We will have a full-sized [bronze] horse with his polo saddle, boots and his mallet that he rode with in the Olympics and several motorcycles in the big foyer as you come into the symphony hall," Perot says. "And we're going to have a lot of big pictures of Norm with the Brinker smile. No matter how tough things were, he was always smiling, his eyes were twinkling, and he was ready for action."

Everyone close to Brinker knew this day would come. But he'd cheated death so many times that few expected it to come this soon.

Besides his legendary polo accident, Brinker suffered a broken hip from falling off a recumbent bike, a back injury from tumbling downstairs, and throat cancer. The cancer and its aftermath caused the first aspiration episode two years ago while on vacation in Florence, Italy.

"He had a courageous and indomitable spirit," Perot says. "He lived the words of Winston Churchill's shortest speech: 'Never give in – never, never, never, never.' "

Norm and Toni Brinker were having a romantic dinner to celebrate his 78th birthday last weekend in Colorado Springs, Colo., when things went horrifically wrong. Brinker got sick, sucked food into his lungs, resulting in aspiration pneumonia. He died with his wife by his side.

"We had a great love affair, as late as it was in our lives," she says. The couple married on March 1, 2003. "Despite all of the things he was faced with on a daily basis, he smiled in the morning and told me jokes in the middle of the night."

While in intensive care, there was a time when he could communicate by squeezing her hand. Somehow this ardent history buff and steadfast Republican let her know that he wanted her to read him a book about George H.W. Bush. "I'm going to tell the president that when I talk to him," she says.

The milkman

Schenkel, former vice chairman at Dean Foods Co., met Brinker in the early 1960s. Schenkel, who was working at Schepps Dairy, wanted to sell milk to Brinker, who was with Jack in the Box. "Norman used to tell people, 'Pete's the only milkman I ever had.' I was quite proud of that."

For years, Brinker and Schenkel ran around with Jack Evans, the grocery store executive and former Dallas mayor who died in 1997. The trio had their own idea of late-night entertainment. After dinner with their wives, they'd visit a Tom Thumb and then a Chili's to do reconnaissance and boost troop morale.

Before Brinker died, he and Schenkel were planning a couples' trip to Costa Rica. "We were down there last year – the four of us on the beach and Norman with those sunglasses on," Schenkel says. "A pretty girl would walk by in a bikini, and you'd see his head moving, watching her. Toni knew he was harmless, so she let him look.

"Norman was really looking forward to going back to the beach."

In February, Schenkel was in the hospital recovering from a knee replacement when he heard a commotion. "It was Norman Brinker on his red scooter coming down the hallway with a Mardi Gras mask on and beads. It was a sight to see."

On May 15, Methodist Health System Foundation honored Brinker with its Robert S. Folsom Leadership Award. He rode triumphantly onto the stage of the Hilton Anatole ballroom on a roaring three-wheeled motorcycle.

He was joined on stage by a similarly attired Doug Brooks, chief executive of Brinker International Inc.

The 57-year-old credits Brinker with dishing out tough love when Brooks lost his leg in 1998 after a car struck him while he was jogging.

Positive attitude

"He immediately was at my side at Parkland Hospital telling me how I had to be strong mentally and that, even though it was a physical injury, recovery was about positive attitude that would overcome anything.

"All I had to do was remember that this guy was in a coma for three weeks, and a month later, he was walking through our front door. He could sell ice to Eskimos or convince someone that they could hurdle walls."

Brinker was my first big interview in 1972. He helped me craft the concept for my column in 1992 and was my inaugural subject.

My favorite Brinker moment came when we met for lunch at the Romano's Macaroni Grill on Northwest Highway about 10 years ago. The server gave the Norman-inspired, "Hello, I'm Tom. I'll be your server today," and then added, "Have you dined with us before?"

Without missing a beat, he smiled warmly and said, "Yes, a time or two."

I've often wondered how the poor guy felt after his boss clued him in.

Friends say Brinker never complained. But there was a moment with me in a 2007 interview when Brinker let that smile momentarily fade. He admitted frustration with his growing debilitation. Unsteady footing – even with ski-pole contraptions given to him by Perot – made walking dangerous. Increasingly, he was being pushed in a wheelchair. Cancer treatments made talking tough and his voice low.

"This is doggone hard for me. I've always been so active," he said. As soon as he let that slip, there was an emphatic but followed by how he expected to live long enough for modern medicine to stave off or even reverse the damage.

When the Brinkers built a new home, it included a big gym.

"When I watched him work out," Toni Brinker says, "I could see why he was picked for the Olympics, and why he did so well. He pushed and pushed himself."

Brinker's family life wasn't always harmonious. He had five children from his first three marriages. Toni, who has a son from a previous marriage, was determined that she and Norman were going to bring together disjointed factions into one family.

"His intensity and focus on the love that he had for them rose to the top," she says. "I know Norman passed away knowing a little bit more about what the whole meaning of life is."

He'd told me the same thing back in 2007.

"Something like this makes you sit back and think about what really matters," he said. "People have always been the key to my success in business and sports. Now people, especially friends and family, are the central focus to my success in life."

He cast a loving smile at Toni.

"I've always been able to motivate and lead people. Now they really motivate me."