This year, it may be time to give the Dallas City Council the benefit of the doubt. This may seem like a bold and revolutionary statement from someone who regularly refers to the Council as a tool of the North Dallas policital elite.

But it may nevertheless be true. As 1993 begins, the Council may have finally decided to represent the people who elected it, and not the movers and shakers who have previously run the City.

The reason for optimism? A compromise reached last month between the Council, the Southland Corp. and Target, which will allow the discount department store chain to build one of its stores at Southland’s Cityplace next to Central Expressway. With any luck, a Target spokesman said, construction will start within six weeks, and the store will open this fall.

This deal is almost certainly the first in a decade in which the Council approved something that will benefit East Dallas that doesn’t involve hiring more police officers.

The 14 members of the Council – including those from North Dallas, who usually want to send us U.N. Peace keepers instead of City services – agreed that helping a large retailer move in would benefit not only East Dallas, but the entire City.

Now, this is truly a revolutionary statement. Imagine someone who represents Preston Hollow consenting to allow tax money raised in East Dallas to be spent in East Dallas. That boggles my mind. Usually, we pay taxes so the City can hire policemen to patrol up there.

But this time, the key to the deal was the formation of a special tax district that requires a certain percentage of tax money collected in the district to be spent in the district.

Best yet, the City didn’t give away the store in getting Target, and it didn’t spend any of our tax money that it doesn’t have. Under the plan, both Target and Southland will still have to pay their fair share of taxes. In the old days, the Council would have granted so much in tax concessions – similar to the sweetheart deal J.C. Penny received from Plano – that we would have been subsidizing a multi-million dollar company with our property and sales tax for years to come.

Target, by itself, is not the beginning of a Golden Age, no matter what the editorialists at Dallas’ Only Major Newspaper say. The store will only employ 100 or so people, and it will still be only one outlet in a part of town where we have plenty of empty strip shopping centers and way too little retail.

At last count, there were three grocery stores, one hardware store, one drug store and no bakeries in East Dallas south of Mockingbird Lane.

The challenge for the Council members, if they are really serious about representing us, is to find an economically efficient way to fill up those strip centers.

“I think you’re going to see us doing that,” says City Councilman Chris Luna, whose district includes Cityplace.

“We have more projects like this that we want to do, although not all of them are on such a grandiose scale as this one.

“The thing to remember,” he says, “is that everyone had almost unrealistic expectations for this Council, since it was the first under 14-1. Part of that was our fault. We set ourselves up for a fall, thinking we could undo 152 years of the way Dallas was run in one year.”

That is a good point – and it is also a refreshingly candid admission from someone who serves on the Council. It may show that I’m not being too silly in trying not to be too pessimistic about what can be accomplished.

But just to be safe, I’ll keep watching.


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