Saturday, February 4, 2023 Feb 4, 2023
35° F Dallas, TX


BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME DART: a case study for future civic investment.
By |

IN 1967, VOTERS REJECTED MAYOR ERIK Jonsson’s plan to build a huge new regional airport. In 1978, the voters vetoed the building of a new museum to be the anchor of an arts district downtown. In 1989, the voters turned down a proposed DART bond issue that was integral to the building of its planned light trail system.

What would Dallas be today without DFW Airport? And where would we be without the Dallas Museum of Art? Increasingly, the same question is being asked about DART light rail. In all three cases, civic leaders went back to their drawing boards, came up with solid arguments, campaigned hard, and eventually won the battles to invest and build.

In the case of DART. this magazine owes the city a mea culpa. We opposed the light rail system, and we made the case against it with impeccable logic and solid reporting. Ours was a pure cost/benefit analysis. In a city in love with its automobiles, how would $890 million spent on light rail ever be paid back? It seemed to us like money being thrown into an engineering hole.

Although I wasn’t involved with the magazine during that particular battle, I’ve reread the articles from those years and can’t find fault with the reasoning. If I had been here, I would have been proud to publish them. So it’s beholden on me to say that we were wrong.

Sure, this city is still car crazy, as our cover story this month attests. But DART ridership has exceeded all expectations, as anyone trying to get a seat on a rush hour train ai the Mockingbird station can tell you. The light rail system is an unqualified success. And Dallas is beginning to see the payoff on its investment. HBE Corp. is investing more than $150 million in the new Adam’s Mark hotel downtown, and the reason is the light rail connection to the Convention Center. The old Sears, Roebuck, and Co. building just south of the center is being renovated, and once again because of its light rail connection. Ken Hughes is redeveloping a site near the Mockingbird station. The city of Richardson is doing a joint venture that will build a new office complex, a performing arts center, and a hotel around the planned station near Campbell Road.

WILL WE GET OUR S890 MILLION BACK? No doubt about it. As the light rail grows and extends, and as Dallas becomes more accustomed to using it. we should get 10 times our investment back.

There’s a lesson in the light rail story, and not just for magazine publishers. Like DFW Airport and the DMA, DART’s light rail system shows the wisdom in investing in our city’s growth. New investment often can’t be justified according to a static model. A new airport, a new museum, or a new light rail system changes behavior patterns. It creates its own dynamic and alters the way we live. It spurs private investment, and creates its own demand. “Build it and they will come” has turned out to be more than a line from a movie.