Friday, September 29, 2017

Why Valley View mall, which was supposed to be gone by now, remains a zombieland




Every few days I drive past Valley View Center and can't believe there's still a Valley View Center.
The mall at Preston Road and LBJ Freeway was supposed to have been torn down starting no later than last Dec. 31. That deadline was set by a vote of the Dallas City Council in the summer of '16 intended to pave the way for the Dallas Midtown development, a sprawling multibillion-dollar sea of shiny with a nice big chunk of green planted right in the center. More than five years in the making, though, Midtown remains unmade — less a tease than a taunt at this late date.

The dead mall refuses to fall down. Pieces of it have been excised — the exterior of the old Sangers, a chunk of a parking garage. But that's it. Whole thing looks like hell. The mall of my wasted youth, which sits on one of the most valuable stretches of real estate in the city, has turned into a zombie.
And here's the awful secret: It's going to remain that way for the foreseeable future.


Turns out, the city has terminated its agreement with Beck Ventures to kick in $36 million in tax incentives intended to help cover a whopping initial price tag that was around $290 million more than a year ago and shot up to $500 million a few months back, so who knows. The done deal was undone over the summer, quietly, almost concurrently with a ceremonial groundbreaking in late June — months after the tear-down deadline — that was just a last-ditch effort to keep that $36 million from vanishing altogether.
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Beck Ventures' Scott Beck, who owns the mall with his dad, Jeff, blames the city for the holdup, insisting that zoning issues at City Hall led to delayed approvals that caused problems with the bank that left leases with anchor tenants in limbo. For instance, he said the city told him a planned Cinèpolis movie theater and Life Time Fitness facility couldn't have anything above the first floor with ceilings taller than 15 feet — absurd! He said officials took so long to get things rolling that even with an extension, he missed the New Year's Eve demo deadline.

So he's back to zero, once again filling out paperwork in hopes of getting the city to cough up incentives already approved and removed. City staffers say he wants more — around $50 million. Except this time, the new people in charge at City Hall are going to look at the books, do the math and tell Beck how much he's getting.

Meanwhile, city officials say they've done plenty for the Becks in the more than five years since they announced they'd bought the mall. As in: The city hustled through an area plan for the whole Valley View-Galleria area, wrote up a development plan that rezoned all that wasted concrete and gave the Becks plenty of leeway to build just about anything, created a Mall Area Redevelopment TIF District to help stimulate private investment there and at Red Bird Mall, rezoned some of that early rezoning (twice!), and then agreed to kick in that $36 million. 

Which is all true. I've attended more Midtown meetings than I care to think about since 2012, including an October 2015 sit-down with the city's Urban Design Peer Review Panel where Beck was told the planned development was just too confusing. And, yeah. It was.
And now it's a mess, with both sides likely to blame — the novice developer who's never attempted to build something so Brobdingnagian, and a labyrinthine City Hall with all-new people and all-new rules. No wonder everyone, including Mayor Mike Rawlings, is pitching the Valley View site to Amazon for its second HQ. Feels almost do-or-die at this point. Bezos or bust.

Beck said Wednesday that by now he expected Valley View would be demolished and replaced by high-rise hotels and apartment buildings and a grocery store and that movie theater and that gym.
"And I am disappointed," Beck said when I asked if he's frustrated with the process. "We're in the development business. We're used to things going through a process. I am not frustrated. Just disappointed."


Robert Wilonsky/Dallas Morning News