Tuesday, November 29, 2022 Nov 29, 2022
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It Appears Unbelievably Easy to Break Into the Dead Valley View Mall

The city attorney’s office is threatening litigation if Valley View is not demolished “in the next couple weeks.”
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In 2017, some structures near Valley View were demolished. But the mall has remained. Bethany Erickson

Nearly three years after reaching an agreement with the city of Dallas to tear down Valley View Center, a chunk of the mall is still standing, and the inside looks like a blast zone. We know that because a pair of urban explorers—YouTubers Eric J. Kuhns and a guy named Holland who goes by “Helicopter Bear”—had an easy time walking into the wreckage of the vacant mall through an exposed loading bay. They emerge in the food court, whose floor now has a patina of tiny glass shards.

The sheetrock is smashed through, the drop ceilings look like a half-finished puzzle, and all manner of wire and metal juts down from above and through the walls. Plaster columns look like they’ve been smashed with a bat. Most surfaces appear spraypainted.

The Dallas City Attorney’s Office this week opened an investigation into the property, basically signaling to the owner, Beck Ventures, that City Hall is again watching. Jill Haning, an executive assistant city attorney, says the city expects asbestos remediation to start next week, with full demolition coming “in the next couple of weeks.”

“It is our expectation that they follow that timeline,” she says. “Should they not follow that timeline, then we would proceed with litigation.”

The city would likely ask a judge to mandate demolition as well as levy $1,000 daily fines for each violation left unchecked.

All this should sound familiar.

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The end of days of Valley View in 2016, including this long-gone mural.

Developer Scott Beck first told the city in the summer of 2016 that he would demolish the mall. He told Council it would take about six months, and the city began making plans to fund infrastructure improvements with TIF dollars. The city promised Beck $36 million in tax incentives to help fund his mixed-use dreamscape he called Midtown, then took it back when the developer blew past the deadline without pulling the mall down. Beck said the city didn’t move quickly enough on changing the zoning, which affected his ability to secure tenants and financing. The city blamed the missed deadlines on Beck.

And so the mall sat, a few vendors scattered around an old AMC theater. The Valley View site is actually a number of parcels owned by a few different developers. Beck in 2017 sued one of those, EF Properties, when it started demolition on the old Sanger’s department store and blew out a piece of the mall that Beck owned. That slowed things down even further.

The city got involved in 2018, filing a lawsuit that alleged that Beck Ventures had racked up $3.5 million in fines for code violations. The next year, the two parties settled the suit and reached an agreement: all the tenants but AMC would be evicted, the mall would come down before the start of 2020, and Beck agreed to pay the city $1 million.

Beck pulled a demolition permit in February 2019, which expired in June 2021. Haning says some of the mall was demolished, but the portion containing the AMC theater was allowed to stand because it was still showing movies. The theater was on the second floor, which meant a chunk of the mall had to remain intact so moviegoers could get into the theater. But the AMC closed in January 2022, and the last piece of Valley View has stood ever since.

This is in Dallas City Council District 11, which is represented by Jaynie Schultz. The previous councilman, Lee Kleinman, spent much of his tenure battling with Beck.

“My predecessor was very adversarial with the Becks. I decided to take a different approach,” Schultz says. “My approach has been to simply sidestep their obstreperousness, their unwillingness to help or participate. I believe that they are simply land flippers. They are not developers. As a result, it’s a waste of time and effort to encourage any type of development.”

Beck did not return requests for comment. Even before the city attorney opened its investigation this week, Beck was required to secure the building, mow the grass, and clear all debris, Schultz says. The YouTube video makes plain that very little of that was happening, if any at all. “Unbelievable. Terrible. Shameful,” Schultz said in a text after I shared the video with her.

“I’ve been out there several times with our city code compliance and we reached out to them in good faith,” Schultz says. “Clearly that was not necessarily the right way to go with a nuisance property.”

It wasn’t difficult for our two adventurers to find their way in and around the mall. They got into the upstairs AMC theater. They passed through a hole in the sheetrock into a hall that led them to a tornado shelter under the mall.

They’re clearly not the only people who have ventured into Valley View since the theater closed. In fact, they’re not even the only people in the video: three other dudes were also inside, wandering around. The team of five joined together and explored the AMC before going their separate ways.

Haning has an anecdote about a contractor at Valley View, who “says he has to be out there every single day and even within three hours it can be unsecured. That’s also a reason why they need to demolish it as soon as possible.”

The old mall is part of what the city views as the 450-acre International District, with I-635 as its southern boundary, the Dallas North Tollway as its western edge, Southern Boulevard to the north, and Preston Road to the east. It’s prime real estate, the sort of blank slate that could be the city’s next big neighborhood. On the east side, closer to Galleria Dallas, Schultz has a number of wins already.

Dallas ISD set aside $75 million for a new K-12 STEAM school, and the district has purchased a 12-story building at 5501 LBJ Freeway. The city of Dallas purchased the Prism at Midtown building, and Schultz says France plans to locate its trade office there. Montfort Drive is getting a “complete street” makeover with additional pedestrian infrastructure, and the North Central Texas Council of Governments has awarded the area a $10 million grant to house an on- and off-track driverless “people mover” to shuttle riders 2.2 miles throughout the district, Schultz says.

The councilwoman plans to pursue bond funding to build a 20-acre park near the Prism Building, which also houses the City Council’s District 11 office. Future plans include more housing, retail, and office space surrounding the park. Schultz says any apartments lost to construction will need to be replaced somewhere in the district with subsidized units so “the people who live there now will have new places to live.”

But Valley View will be a dead zone so long as the mall stands. One of the other major property owners, Seritage, is selling its 17 acres. That land included the old Sears department store, which is also vacant. Beck had grand plans for what he called Midtown, with over 1,000 apartments, a luxury hotel, a Cinépolis luxury theater, and a Life Time Fitness residence and resort.

All that is gone. And whatever will wind up coming here will have to wait. There’s a shell of a dead mall in the way.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the boundaries of the International District. They have been corrected.

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Matt Goodman

Matt Goodman

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Matt Goodman is the online editorial director for D Magazine. He's written about a surgeon who killed, a man who…

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