A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Good Public Transit

The Federal Grants That Built the Dallas Streetcar Are Now Funding Roads

| 10 hours ago

To explain the significance of a wonky shift in policy transpiring in the Trump administration, it is worth briefly revisiting how Dallas got into the streetcar game. It began in the 1980s, when some trolley enthusiasts created a nonprofit that helped get the historic McKinney Avenue Trolley restored. They raised the money, part of it through a local taxing jurisdiction known as a PID, and managed to get it built. Then, in the 2000s, a more modern-minded crew of trolley enthusiasts thought it would be cool if Dallas restored the streetcar line in Oak Cliff. Local officials were less than enthusiastic.

All the typical transportation powers-that-be — the North Central Council of Governments, the city, DART — thought this new generation of streetcar nuts were hapless hipster dreamers. Nonetheless, the Oak Cliff streetcar nerds applied for a TIGER grant from the federal government and won it. That essentially twisted the arms of the city and region to start thinking about streetcars. Now there’s a plan on the table to connect the McKinney line to the Oak Cliff line that was constructed after the TIGER grant award, and even more conversation about how to utilize that connection as a springboard for building out an entire network.

That’s the power of a federal grant: it can serve as a catalyst, a way to circumvent entrenched local thinking and shift attitudes around transportation policy. The TIGER grant program was founded by the Obama administration as a way to help push a more broad-based approach to funding mobility projects of all sorts. Sadly, the new administration has taken the hatchet to the TIGER grant program, reworking it into a program that generates more federal funding for road projects. They’ve also renamed the thing, from TIGER to BUILD.

How surprising is that? Well, not at all, of course. 

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Arts & Entertainment

Watch: Why the DMA Should Be Grateful It Passed on an Alleged Da Vinci Painting

| 12 hours ago

Back in the heady days of 2012, Max Anderson, the Dallas Museum of Art’s relatively new, swashbuckling director, was doing everything he could to raise the museum’s international reputation. He returned some art in the DMA’s collection to Turkey in hopes of playing a leading role in the repatriating of cultural artifacts around the world. He was working behind the scenes to secure a long-term loan of one of the largest collections of Islamic art in the world. He launched a digital initiative that turned a museum visit into something like a credit card rewards program, with visitors racking up points for seeing various works of art or participating in programs.

But the most daring move of all was the time Anderson tried to convince his board to drop $100 million on a single painting — Salvator Mundi, by Leonardo da Vinci. Paintings by da Vinci are rare; paintings by the Old Master on the open market are unheard of. To convince Dallas collectors to reach even deeper into their pockets than they are used to, Anderson brought the painting to Dallas, plonked it up on an easel, and invited donors to have a look. In the end, the donors passed. The painting was finally sold at a Christie’s auction to the Louvre Abu Dhabi for $450 million.

Did Dallas miss out on the art deal of the century?

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The Economy Question Every Dallasite Is Asking

| 12 hours ago

It’s like a party that sinks a little too late into the night. Everyone is still having fun, but you get the nagging sense it won’t end well, and that you’ll pay for it later. That’s what this ongoing economic up-cycle is beginning to feel like.

In a market like Dallas, which has lived through wild swings in banking, energy, and real estate, concerns are percolating about another downturn, especially as stock markets get rattled by fears about rising interest rates, deficits, and political dysfunction.

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Local News

Leading Off (12/14/18)

| 16 hours ago

Dirk is Back. He came in the game with 3:27 left in the first quarter against the Phoenix Suns. It took him about 40 seconds to drain a fadeaway off the glass, which was exciting until you see the guy run. He looks like he’s imitating running through quicksand while playing with one of his young kids. There was a play where he fell hard onto the court and I thought he might turn to dust. But, hey, the guy will beat you every time on a spot-up jumper. I’m curious how Carlisle uses him this year, his 21st. (That’s a record for total years on a team.) Anyway, Mavs still lost to the Suns, 99-89.

Rain, No Snow. Apparently, snow will stay to the west of us today. Temperatures will hang out above freezing, and warm into the 40s by the afternoon. There’s a wind advisory all day, so be careful on the roads.

Jury Finds that Nightclub Overserved Ex-Cowboy Josh Brent. Brent left the club and got in his Mercedes with teammate Jerry Brown. He took off down the highway, eventually flipping the car while traveling 110 mph in a 45 mph zone. His blood alcohol content was .18, twice the legal limit. A jury in a civil trial awarded Brown’s family $25 million, ordering the club, Beamers, to pay half. Brent must pay the other half.

Dallas Got Some Hoax Bomb Threats Yesterday, Too. The rogue threats went out in cities across the nation, requesting payment in bitcoin. Dallas apparently got about 20 reports yesterday. Only one office building was evacuated. Police quickly recognized that they were hoaxes. 

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Commercial Real Estate

Dallas’ HQ2 Super-Site Could Lure Other Big Tenant

| 1 day ago

Last night at HKS Inc.’s downtown office, firm executives welcomed Mayor Mike Rawlings, Dallas Regional Chamber chief Dale Petroskey, and an intimate crowd of industry players for an HQ2 post-mortem. It was less about licking wounds and more about marveling at new opportunities.

In partnership with local developers, Dallas was able to amass a 28 million-square-foot “Super Site” of potential office space in its bid for Amazon’s HQ2—more than three times the square footage the e-commerce giant asked for in its request for proposals. The conglomeration of space from three different landholders—Hunt Consolidated, Matthews Southwest, and the KDC/Mike Hoque partnership­—spans the southern and southeastern boundaries of downtown Dallas and is still very much in play for other corporate relocations.

The Super Site features a massive new deck park over Interstate 30, the gateway to Dallas overlooking the Trinity River, and a host of other office and residential buildings. (Click through the attached slideshow for renderings of all proposed sites.)

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Local News

Life Sentence Upheld on Appeal For Christopher Duntsch, aka Dr. Death

| 1 day ago

Neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch, the first doctor to be convicted for aggravated assault related to the care provided in his operating room, lost his appeal this week. His conviction was affirmed by Justices Douglas Lang and Robert Filmore in the Fifth District Court of Appeals. Justice David Schenck dissented.

The affirmation means that Duntsch’s life sentence will more than likely stand; he had 15 days after the Monday ruling to appeal further. You probably know him as Dr. Death, a nickname we came up with for our cover story in November of 2016. Wondery then took that moniker and ran with it, producing a popular Podcast earlier this year about Duntsch and his victims under the same name.

Duntsch’s case is a depressing and frustrating one. It’s also salacious. By the time he found himself in court, charged with five counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of injury to an elderly individual, prosecutors had identified nearly three dozen people who had been harmed under his knife. They ranged from Kellie Martin, who bled to death after a relatively common procedure called a laminectomy. He sliced Floella Brown’s vertebral artery, causing massive bleeding and fueling a stroke that later killed her. Others suffered severe nerve damage after Duntsch procedures. Some can barely walk years after their operations.

Duntsch was charged with those six counts, but tried on only one: the charge of injuring an elderly patient. Mary Efurd, then 53, was to have two vertebrae fused, linked by a metal plate. She woke up screaming and in severe pain. Another neurosurgeon who was called in for corrective surgery would testify that the spinal fusion hardware had been left in her muscle. The nerve root had been severed. Her spine was pockmarked with screw holes, and a screw had been lodged in another nerve root near the bottom of her spine.

The deadly weapon were his hands and surgical tools and a pedicle screw. Generally, the state would only be allowed to enter in evidence pertaining to that one case. But prosecutors argued that evidence was admissible—they’d have to prove that Duntsch intentionally and knowingly caused this harm, and they could only do so by showing the totality of what he has been charged with. In lawyer speak, it’s called pattern of conduct, and the judge ruled during pre-trial that the evidence from those other cases was indeed admissible.

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Local News

Not a Typo: To Lure Amazon, DFW Airport Had a Plan to Offer Nearly $23 Billion Over 99 Years

| 1 day ago

DFW International Airport submitted a pair of bids to Amazon for its second headquarters—working in one case with the cities of Irving and Euless and in the other with Grapevine—that would have each topped $20 billion in tax breaks over the next century.

At more than double the highest incentive offer revealed since Amazon made its choices last month, the attempts set a new standard for the lengths cities were willing to go in an effort to snag the $5 billion capital investment and 50,000 well-paid employees. The airport provided us its bid documents in response to an open records request.

Under the respective deals, airport-controlled land would’ve been leased to Amazon over 99 years, meaning the tax incentive would’ve spanned about two and a half times the longest tax abatement period ever, according to Good Jobs First, which tracks subsidies. A Dell plant in Tennessee, the previous leader, is about halfway through its 40-year abatement.

“Offering a 99-year incentive is madness,” says Nate Jensen, a professor of government at the University of Texas in Austin who specializes in the area.

Under one of the plans, officials proposed that Amazon build HQ2 at Passport Park, a new business development on the south side of the airport. The proposal would’ve put the headquarters within the city boundaries of Irving and Euless, on about 250 acres of developable land. Amazon was to benefit from a tax incentive valued at $22.7 billion within Passport Park through “entering into a 99-year ground lease and assigning the improvement’s ownership interest to DFW Airport,” according to a pitch document compiled by the airport. Arlington had additionally agreed to spend $50 million to connect the development to the TRE Centreport Station, bringing the HQ to Dallas and Fort Worth via rail.

A package of $22.7 billion would’ve easily marked the priciest incentive deal in U.S. history. The state of Washington put together an $8.7 billion package for Boeing in 2013.

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Architecture & Design

We’re Still Trying to Understand Why New Apartments Are So Ugly

| 1 day ago

Curbed takes up a topic we’ve batted around these parts before: why are new apartments in American cities so ugly? Calling it the bland, boxy apartment boom, the website wonders why so many U.S. cities are being reshaped by the same kind of mishmash-y housing that has come to define the many Dallas inner city neighborhoods that have been the beneficiaries of new investment and development over the past decade or so. Architects and urbanists have struggled to put a name on it, coming up with “Simcityism,” “SketchUp contemporary,” “Minecraftsman,” or “Revittecture.”

In their attempts to find out why this style of building has come to define new construction in American cities, Curbed encountered many of the same fundamental forces shaping design that I wrote about in this article last year. These days, aesthetics, architectural ideas, and regional sensitivity take a back seat to the more practical considerations of the development market, such as building code, construction costs, and a trend in the industry to cut expenses by bypassing architects all together. Builders defend the practice by pointing to the practical necessities of turning a profit while providing much needed new housing. 

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In Quest to Defend His Kid, an ESD Parent Reaches for State Supreme Court

| 2 days ago

As a father of two, I was curious when I read about a case that had gone all the way to the Supreme Court of Texas. At it’s core was a high school-aged kid who’d (maybe) gotten busted smoking pot during school hours. How far do you go, as a parent, to defend your children? When do you stay out of it and just let them take their licks and learn?

Those were some of the questions that got me interested in a story about ESD that we published in our December issue. It just went online today.

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