Tuesday, January 27, 2015
$55 million redo of historic Braniff building at Dallas Love Field ready for full council vote
The Dallas City Council’s Economic Development Committee spent almost an hour this morning discussing the old Braniff building at Dallas Love Field, which Ford dealer and private-plane salesman Randall Reed intends to save and redevelop at the cost of more than $55 million. Council members had myriad questions, among them: Is this reallythe best deal for the city? How much noise and traffic along Lemmon Avenue will this pile on neighbors already struggling with the recent influx of passengers and planes arriving with the end of the Wright Amendment? Are there others interested in redeveloping the building? And, what makes the rotting structure so historic and worth saving, anyway?
But in the end, all agreed to send the deal to the full council for a vote, lest the property continue to sit vacant and rot and wind up costing the city a small fortune to prop up and remediate.
Per the deal going to council, Reed Enterprises will spend $35 million on “aviation use” within the next three years, and another $20 “for commercial use within 60 months.” Reed Enterprises won’t have to pay rent for the first 10 years, after which rent will run around $1.3 million a year. Reed Enterprises is promising the creation of some 1,100 jobs. Reed will also pay to remediate the site, unless something significant pops up unexpectedly.
“In the ’50s and ’60s, concerns about environmental impacts were not as significant as they are today, and folks tended to dump things out the back door,” the city’s director of aviation, Mark Duebner, told the council. “There may be some unseen and unknown things the city would have to clean up.”
Duebner also made it very clear to the council: For years people were interested in the property, which takes up some 26 acres along Lemmon. Duebner said he could recall about 10 solicitations just since 2011, when he took over as aviation director. They were inevitable, he told the committee: It’s a big piece of property far below market value due to its proximity to the city-owned airport and copious environmental issues. Duebner said not one of the submitted offers was “viable” until Reed approached the city in 2012 via a broker and began discussing the mixed-use development focusing on car and private-plane sales with attached office space and retailers.
Initially, Reed and the city intended to raze the structure at the cost of $8 million to the city. In November 2012 the council agreed to lease the land to Reed. But the lease was never executed. Meanwhile, preservationist raised hell about demolishing Braniff’s 1958 structure designed by the Los Angeles architectural firm Pereira and Luckman so closely tied to the future development and identify of Love Field. As our Mark Lamster wrote last year, “In the coming years, the design-forward carrier would use the building — known as Braniff Operations and Maintenance Base — to position itself as the defining airline for the modern jet-setter. That included a graphic identity by architect Alexander Girard, superchic uniforms by the Italian designer Emilio Pucci and a series of planes painted with whimsical abstractions by the artist Alexander Calder. Braniff promised the ‘end of the plain plane,’ and it was here that the reinvention happened.”
In the end, the Texas Historical Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration agreed, and signed off on saving the structure after an environmental assessment study was completed last October. (Council member Jerry Allen is skeptical about the building’s historical significance. “I’m not an architect kind of guy,” he said, referring to the building’s designers. “How famous are they? What else have they done? The Eiffel Tower?”)
Flying Crown Development, which had been interested in preserving the building three years ago, maintains that Reed’s plan is just Flying Crown’s plan. Council members Adam Medrano and Jennifer Staubach Gates asked Duebner why the city wasn’t taking other offers, when clearly there are other interested parties — well, one, at least. Medrano asked Duebner if he thought the city could get a better deal by issuing as request for proposals.
“We think this is a very good deal for the city,” Duebner said. He told the council that it already had a deal in place with Reed, and that showing off his new proposal would give other interested parties an advantage at this late date. Others, he said, could just “mimic what they’ve done and beat it by a buck.” To issue an RFP at this point, said Duebner, would likely mean losing a partner. Reed Enterprises, he said, would likely “feel like they don’t want to deal with the city anymore.” The city has a duty “to protect the developer,” he said.
Flying Crown’s managing director Stephen Birch says via email that “we are confident in delivering our proposed 1,242 jobs created with over $63.8MM in annual payroll, an overall project investment in City owned property of $84.4MM, an additional $4.2MM annually to the City General Fund, involving Dallas companies for every aspect of design and construction, and engaging the community in developing a project the entire city can be proud.” City officials say Flying Crown’s proposal is too dependent on state and federal tax breaks and incentives that, even if ultimately approved, could delay the project for decades. Duebner says Reed Enterprises is ready to go pending the council vote and the finalization of construction plans.
In the meantime, the city will also have to go searching for more than 800 parking spaces for airport employees that will disappear with the redevelopment. Duebner said that will likely involve some future land acquisition.
“The real benefits to this is continuing the development of Dallas Love Field and its positive impact for the city,” he told the council. “[I'm] excited there is a way to save this building and remove something that has been vacant, that is unused.”