Developer Mike Ablon, the public head of the public-private partnership that’s managing the development of the park near the Trinity River, officially filed to run for mayor today.
Ablon is the second candidate to formally throw his hat in the ring for next May’s election. Albert Black, the Oak Cliff businessman and Baylor Scott & White board member, filed to run in July. (Ablon’s filing isn’t yet on the city’s website, but the city secretary’s office confirmed that it had been submitted and was being processed.)
Ablon was boarding a plane Wednesday afternoon and declined to comment until Monday, so we’ll talk about his platform then. But he’s a real estate developer held in high regard who was one of the drivers of the transformation of the Design District. Alongside investment group Lionstone, PegasusAblon scooped up 40 acres of land and 700,000 square feet of showroom space from Crow Holdings in 2007. They picked up where Trammell Crow left off, bringing in a mix of new uses to the neighborhood—restaurants and bars and coffee shops and more than 1,000 multifamily units. He refused to rent to national chains, instead favoring locals. His vision helped open up a broader potential for the neighborhood, which had for years been used as a supply and warehouse center for home builders and designers and the like, with some galleries and antique shops scattered around.
His firm sold its properties in the neighborhood in 2014. Ablon has been a proponent for the individuality of Dallas neighborhoods.
“The city is just now getting into a maturity, where it has a depth to these places,” Ablon told me four years ago for a piece in American Way magazine. “Now, (tourists) could say, I was in Dallas and went to the Design District or XYZ neighborhood and I thought it was really special. Five years from now there will be 10 of these neighborhoods. And 50 years after that there will be 20 of these neighborhoods, and 50 years after that, there’ll be New York.”
You’ve likely seen Ablon’s name most recently associated with the Harold Simmons Park in the Trinity River levees. Mayor Mike Rawlings last year appointed him to be the head of the local governmental corporation, or LGC, that’s overseeing the development of a 200-acre park. Prior to that, he largely stayed out of politics.
“Mike just struck me as somebody that was proud of his ears and not his mouth,” Rawlings told the Dallas Morning News last year. “And he understood the nuances of bringing the city together.”
With regard to his appointed perch as head of the Trinity’s LGC, Ablon may run into the same problem that Black did when he filed to run. The mayor in 2017 had appointed Black to be chairman of the Dallas Housing Authority. His campaign and the city secretary got into a bit of a back and forth over whether he needed to step down because of this portion of the Dallas City Charter: “If a member of any board or commission appointed by the city council or any appointive officer of the city … becomes a candidate for nomination or election to any public office, he or she shall immediately forfeit his or her place or position with the city.”
Black’s campaign maintained that was incorrect, but he still wound up resigning anyway—all the while maintaining that it was voluntary and that he didn’t have to. I have a call into the city secretary’s office for clarification about whether Ablon will wind up in a similar situation. Billierae Johnson, the city secretary, has been in meetings all afternoon. I’ll update if I hear from her. However, after Black announced his plan to run for mayor, she sent this statement to us: “Such announcement by a city of Dallas mayoral appointee to DHA triggers immediate forfeiture of his place.”
We’ll wait for Monday to chat with Ablon to hear the details of his platform. (Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, after all.) And we’ll continue to wait for the other dozens of mayoral candidates to begin filing for the May election.