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Dallas Will Spend Over $300,000 to Make Sure the Downtown Pegasus Won’t Fall On You

At Wednesday's City Council meeting, an emergency request to spend almost $360,000 evolved into a discussion about how Dallas got stuck footing the bill to keep the iconic Pegasus sign sitting safely atop the Magnolia Hotel for 88 years and counting.
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The Magnolia Dallas Hotel, with the Pegasus peeking out way up there. Zac Crain

It’s not every Dallas City Council meeting that you hear that a giant red horse might fall from the sky, but it’s Wednesday and it’s 2022, so sure, it tracks. 

Except, technically, it’s two giant red horses.

In the last agenda item the Dallas City Council tackled before taking a lunch break today, the Office of Arts and Culture informed the members that the Pegasus derrick atop the Magnolia Hotel downtown was in danger of potentially, uh, toppling down — all 30 tons of it.

An hour and a half later, all but one council member approved spending about $358,000 to secure and repair the piece of public art that the city has had in its charge since 1934.

Now, for those of you playing along at home, this is not the original 1934 Pegasus. This is the new sign that was installed in 1999 in time for the hotel’s New Year’s Eve unveiling. 

According to Inspire Art Dallas, the 1999 reproduction of the Pegasus itself used galvanized steel instead of prime steel “to prevent rusting for the next 100 years,” and extra sets of neon were made for future repairs.

According to OAC Assistant Director Benjamin Espino, while the two new Pegasus panels were made with galvanized steel, the derrick supporting the two 15 ton panels was installed in 1934 when the original Pegasus was erected. The framing structure between each face at the Pegasus sign is galvanized steel tube bracing members and steel struts within a carbon steel angle iron structure, he said. The derrick itself has a rolled carbon steel – angle iron – framing structure.

“The extra sets of neon provided in 1999 have already been used for neon replacement,” he added.

When the Omni Hotel was built, the restored original 1934 Pegasus was installed in front of it – safely on the ground. 

Both structures are part of the city’s public art catalog.

You might think that it would be a simple decision — yes, we would like very much for the very large piece of art to stay where it is and not suddenly fall down and squash pedestrians as they walk over to the Rodeo Bar or the French Room, so here, take our money.

During Wednesday’s meeting, several council members took issue with the fact that the hotel gets some benefit from having the art atop the building, but isn’t contributing to the maintenance. Those concerns were enough to lead to a protracted discussion about the best use of taxpayer money.

Mostly, they wanted to know how the city got roped into an 88-year commitment when the whole deal could’ve been renegotiated at several points since. 

The 100-year-old Magnolia was purchased by NewcrestImage, a Dallas-based real estate investment company, last year. Prior to that, the building was owned by Denver’s Stout Street Hospitality.

At today’s meeting, Assistant City Attorney Connie Tankersley said through the years, the hotel had been approached by city staff about sharing some of the expense of the installation’s maintenance.

“Those conversations were not fruitful,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to try.”

Kay Kallos, the city’s Public Art Program Manager, clarified after the meeting that the NewcrestImage wasn’t necessarily unwilling to share the cost in some way in the future, but that an agreement wasn’t in place yet.

“NewCrestImage, the current owner of the Magnolia Hotel, has not been unwilling to contribute to the maintenance of the Pegasus,” she said. “There has been a discussion about future opportunities with the Pegasus, but no agreement is in place at this time.

“I was present for the discussion and I wouldn’t characterize it as unfruitful … the City will continue discussions and NewCrestImage is open to future discussions.”

Despite its owners (historically, that is) not wanting to pay to maintain the piece, it appears that the Magnolia is appreciative of the giant red horse atop its building.

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The Pegasus needs some love.
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City of Dallas

“Pegasus, the Flying Red Horse, shines as a vibrant icon from atop Magnolia Dallas Downtown, formerly the Magnolia Petroleum Company Building, one of the city’s most revered structures,” its website boasts.

The fact that its owners haven’t already partnered with the city was clearly an irritant to council members. Both Council members Cara Mendelsohn and Adam Bazaldua proposed amendments to the original motion — the former to only pay for what it would take to secure and stabilize, but not repair or improve, and the latter to delay the whole decision until it could go before a the Quality of Life committee to hash out possible ways to get the Magnolia to help with the repair bill.

“I don’t feel good about it,” Mendelsohn said of the agreement, adding that it galls her that the city is spending so much money on a reproduction.

Councilwoman Gay Donnell Willis joined Bazaldua in questioning whether the whole issue was truly an emergency, citing the lag in the city council actually hearing about the issue that was uncovered last fall.

City Manager T.C. Broadnax told the council that 90 percent of the ask was to address an emergent situation. The issues the council had with who should be paying for the maintenance and when is a policy issue, he said, while this was an administrative one.

“We’re talking about a structure we own,” he said. “We own it today, we’re responsible for it today.”

City staff explained to the horseshoe that it was an emergency — winds were picking up and the Pegasus sign and the supporting steel derrick base at the Magnolia Hotel was in bad shape. The check the council would approve would go toward stabilizing and securing the sign, with about $19,000 going to fix the lighting.

In October 2020, the whole sign and derrick was evaluated and the steel structure was “observed to be in an advanced state of corrosion and may be structurally compromised if corrosion elimination and inhibition, structural repairs, and a protective coating system was not performed as soon as possible,” city staff explained in supporting documents. 

Not encouraging! The original work was included in a different job order that totaled $295,000.

Contractors began working last November — more than a year later — but the rooftop crane that is the only way to access all of the Pegasus for maintenance is also in bad shape. The crane’s control center, telescoping components, and the manlift basket are all corroded, and, if it’s not fixed, it would be hazardous to operate for both the maintenance crew and the people below.

The repair and stabilization of the Pegasus would cost about $287,000, and the repair to the crane clocks in at about $52,000. The council was also asked to approve the $19,662 to re-illuminate the sign as well, because it would be less expensive to do it while the other structural work was being done.

Without the repair, the continued corrosion would “inevitably compromise the structural steel tower,” staff said. 

“In the event of a failure of any of these support points, the outcome could be catastrophic,” they added. 

“This is a public safety issue,” Councilman Omar Narvaez said. “This isn’t about policy. This isn’t about public art. This is a public safety issue. This council has more than once said that public safety is our number one priority.”

“We are going into our two windiest months — we need to repair it,” Councilman Jesse Moreno said. “It’s our obligation and responsibility.”

In the end, the council — Mendelsohn the sole “nay” vote — approved the expenditure.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson

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Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She's written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.