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Uptown and Gomorrah

A Dallas neighborhood is struggling with its burgeoning popularity, as residents complain about drunken invaders and late-night nuisances. Haven't we been here before?
By |
Robert Neubecker

The drunks had overrun State Thomas. The residents said so, and they had trash bags filled with bottles and red Solo cups to prove it. In August of 2016, Councilman Philip Kingston responded by proposing an ordinance, called an “overlay,” that would force some businesses here to get special permission to stay open past midnight. But the overlay would’ve been citywide, meaning any neighborhood could get ticked off about the bars on single block increments and request a hearing with the city about making them apply to stay open between midnight and 6 a.m. It wouldn’t be an automatic thing, but the bar and restaurant owners followed with fierce opposition nevertheless. The motion failed. Thrice. It finally died in committee in November, just about 16 months later, but Kingston vowed to keep fighting.

So what’s going on here? Is Uptown in a “state of emergency,” as Kingston has said a cop told him? (Dallas police wouldn’t talk about Uptown for this story.) On a recent Sunday, 10 minutes shy of closing time, rapper Boosie BadAzz’s nasally drawl poured out of a shopping center bar called LongShots. A party bus idled around the corner. A couple nearby hung off one another in the street, clutching a pizza, the man slurring, “I’m drunk.” A single block of Fairmount, between Cedar Springs and McKinney, featured no fewer than three dudes urinating in different dark corners. Neighbors say this doesn’t compare to the scene when the weather isn’t 40 degrees.

So things do get a little spicy on the weekends. We saw this same sort of thing in Deep Ellum in the mid-’90s and on Lower Greenville in the aughts. A neighborhood with some good bars becomes popular. Then the clubs move in. The neighborhood becomes something different: an entertainment district. People pour in from the suburbs, many of them—gasp—young and black. They drink too much and make a lot of noise and hang out in the streets. Crime becomes more common. The older white neighbors freak.

But the city solved those problems in Deep Ellum and Lower Greenville. An overlay, combined with infrastructure improvements like the widening of sidewalks and the narrowing of driving lanes, helped drive out nuisance clubs and lower crime. Uptown, though, is different. It is a corporate relocation hub, with some of the highest rents in the city. There are quaint historic districts of Queen Anne-style homes and tasteful condominiums. It’s also, yes, a nightlife destination. And the problem most residents point to is a single stretch of McKinney Avenue, filled with rooftop clubs, parking lot loiterers, off-duty cops, and stop-and-go traffic, all sound-tracked to the music that’s pouring out of the bars.

The problem with Uptown, if you are one of many who believe there is one, is an existential one facing many cities. The urban resurgence that has happened here has smashed together people who use the city in very different ways: the young people who pack the bars and clubs, the daytime business workers, and the longtime residents who didn’t sign up to live in a nightlife district. In areas like that stretch of McKinney, Kingston and others argue, the bars are so concentrated that it kills the vibrancy of the street.

“It’s become a 100 percent late night district,” Kingston says. “You can’t get run over on a Tuesday afternoon.”

Something will need to change in parts of Uptown. The overlay is just one part of it. You shouldn’t overlook the role of city-funded infrastructure improvements like sidewalk widening and the narrowing of lanes in changing Deep Ellum and Lower Greenville. Indeed, Kingston’s next step would be to pull Uptown’s entire zoning policy and open up changes well beyond operating times; parking, outdoor seating, and noise limits are all on the table. “There has to be a way that we can coexist in that area in a way that makes sense,” says Andrew Rittler, the executive director of the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association.

Until then, one of the best ways to track the mayhem is to follow the Twitter feed of a resident named Kelem Butts. Every Sunday he posts a picture of the booze detritus he awakens to. Our favorite: “Highlights today: Paul Masson Pineapple ‘wine’ and a single shoe.”

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