What if the City offered Lincoln a bunch of money for the Triangle project, along the lines of revenue bonds used for the Omni Hotel?

What if the City offered Lincoln a bunch of money for the Triangle project, along the lines of revenue bonds used for the Omni Hotel?

We had a spirited discussion here last week about Lincoln’s plans for the Gaston-Garland-East Grand triangle, soon to be known as Arboretum Village.

The tenor of readers’ comments went two directions:

1) Lincoln could do so much more with the property (my view, too).

2) Leave Lincoln alone, because it’s their property and any improvement there is better than what’s there now (hard to disagree with this one, too).

One of our editors, Keri Mitchell, even dredged up our four-year-old story I had forgotten about; back when I thought the convention center hotel Downtown was a mistake (I still do), we pondered the possibilities for our neighborhoods if instead of dumping all $500 million of taxpayer money for the hotel Downtown, we instead spread $100 million in the revenue bond money into five separate projects, and we looked at the aforementioned triangle as the recipient of that largesse for East Dallas.

Of course, our idea went nowhere: All of the City-injected taxpayer funds went to the hotel, as have many millions of other taxpayer dollars (generally in the form of TIFs or tax abatements) to other Downtown projects being developed and owned by private companies. For some reason, at least when it comes to free taxpayer money, Downtown seems to get the lion’s share of the funds.

So it wasn’t a big surprise when I read over the weekend that the Farmer’s Market privatization, which has been talked about  for years, may finally be coming to fruition. The DMN reports that a private developer is partnering with Dallas architects and PR people to put together a mixed-use (retail, office, apartments and the Farmer’s Market) deal Downtown, with the help of $670,000 in straight City grant money, about $19 million in City/County TIF funds (essentially property tax money re-routed back into a project that generates additional property value) and another $5.5 million in street improvements from a recent bond program originally planned to benefit the Farmer’s Market and now, for the most part, benefiting the private developers instead.

Honestly, I have no problem with this type of City seed money at the Farmer’s Market, because it’s a potential gathering place for residents from throughout Dallas, and the developer is going to have to ante up about $26 million in equity plus be responsible for additional debt in the projected $64 million project. Yes, we’re subsidizing it, but at least we’re not doing the whole thing (a la convention center hotel).

So I ask again: Why isn’t Lincoln asking for a bunch of City money to make the Gaston-Garland-East Grand triangle deal more of a gateway to White Rock Lake while keeping it profitable for the company? Perhaps Lincoln is leery of dealing with the City on a development deal, but surely truckloads of taxpayer cash would grease the skids a bit, right?

Instead of just carrying out the company’s current plan, which presumably would be both profitable and expeditious, why isn’t Lincoln at least asking for a huge handout just like every other developer in town to make its triangle property even more profitable, knowing full-well there’s an excellent chance the company will receive one?

A couple of commenters on our blog posts, including one that sounded suspiciously like a Lincoln insider, basically made it clear that what happens at the triangle is none of our business and that Lincoln can do what it wants; if it wants to build a suburban-style strip center, the argument goes, quit whining because it’s the company’s property.

My question is this: If the City kicked in $50 million, say, couldn’t the property be even more profitable for Lincoln and a better gateway for us? If Lincoln is worried about a lower return on the site if it develops a full-blown mixed-use project there (higher costs and longer buildout equaling more risk and perhaps a lower NPV), why not at least ask the City to juice the deal enough to drive the return to a higher level than the current plan?

As we’ve said many times here, Lincoln can do what it wants. But why not ask for a bunch of free money, given the Council’s track record on handing out funds to “world-class” projects? What’s the harm in asking, particularly while Lincoln idles waiting for its big grocery store anchor to sign up?

It’s time the City Council spread its taxpayer-money largesse around to our neighborhoods, instead of just Downtown.

So why not here and why not now for a potentially “world class” project by a “world class” developer next for a “world class” gateway to the “world class” attractions of White Rock Lake and the Arboretum? A deal like that has City Hall written all over it.

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