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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

You don’t need a demographer to see that Dallas isn’t sharing in the rapid growth of its northern suburbs. This reality is beginning to settle in at City Hall, where, in discussions around land use and other policy decisions, planners wrestle with how to encourage more people to move, and afford to stay, in the region’s largest city.

The trend affects transportation decisions, too. Dallas is now staring at a future where it no longer controls a majority of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board, whose seats are appointed based on the population share of Dallas and the transportation agency’s 12 suburban partners.

DART and the City Council’s transportation and infrastructure committee held a dual meeting on Monday to explore the region’s changing demographics. The population trends show the board makeup flipping as soon as 2025, the next time apportionment gets reviewed, and almost certainly by 2030. (The makeup of board seats is adjusted every five years based on how many people are living in DART’s service area.)

Why is this important? The state statute that created DART tipped the scales to allow the region’s largest city to have a critical eighth seat on the body that sets policy. But since 2010, Dallas’ population has increased by only 9 percent while the surrounding service area has jumped by 40 percent. By 2030, projections show that most of DART’s service population will live outside the city of Dallas for the first time in the agency’s existence.

“I’ve been on the board, at the pleasure of the City Council, for almost three and a half years,” said Trustee Rodney Schlosser, a Dallas appointee who put the report together. “In those three and a half years, I have picked up on what I think is obvious for any of us who are watchful of what’s going on in the region, which is there are differences of opinion between what someone in Dallas might consider to be a priority and what someone in a suburb might consider to be a priority.”

Rev. Frederick Haynes Resigns as CEO of Rainbow PUSH Coalition. Three months after the Rev. Jesse Jackson selected him to succeed him as head of the important civil rights organization, Haynes announced he would be resigning. In a statement to WFAA, the Friendship-West Baptist Church pastor did not detail a reason for his exit but said “[r]est assured that my work in the fight for liberation and freedom continues.”

Sexual Assault Lawsuit Dropped Against Dak Prescott. Attorneys for a woman who sued the Cowboys quarterback for an alleged 2017 sexual assault in the XTC Cabaret parking lot asked the judge to dismiss the case. Prescott has denied the allegations, but the woman can still refile the case later.

Dallas ISD Trustee Speaks After School Walkout. Students at Wilmer-Hutchins High School staged a walkout on Monday, two days after a fellow student snuck a gun past the school’s metal detectors. Ja’Kerian Rhodes-Ewing, 17, shot another student with a .38 revolver in the leg. The district’s trustee, Maxie Johnson, held a community event to question how the incident occurred. Dallas ISD isn’t commenting, pending the ongoing investigation.

Arts & Entertainment

In Denton, New Life for an Old Theater

Austin Zook
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Denton's Fine Arts Theater, which recently received $1.6 million in tax incentives to bring it back to life. Yohan Ko

In 1935, when the Texas Theater replaced a furniture store in what is now downtown Denton, the city’s town square consisted of a two-story brick courthouse, a row of storefronts, and little else. The theater’s building predates the city’s existing courthouse by five years, and eventually rebranded as the Fine Arts Theatre in 1957.

Since its closure in 1981—and a fire the following year—the structure has essentially sat empty as Denton’s downtown square has grown up around it with shops and restaurants and bars. Used only sporadically for church services or meetings, a critical piece of the city’s history has sat derelict for over four decades. Earlier this month, the Denton City Council approved $1.6 million in tax breaks to help turn the lights back on, bringing back a redevelopment effort from 2018 that cratered under the immense amount of money it would take to fix up the space. 

“If you Google Denton, the Fine Arts Theater is going to come up. It’s a kind of cultural, iconic building,” says Assistant City Manager Christine Taylor. “It’s sitting with a low tax base for the city. It’s not activated.”

One of the partners involved in reopening the theater has been in this situation before, just 40 miles south in Dallas. Jason Reimer was a founding partner with Aviation Cinemas, the entity that turned the similarly-derelict Texas Theatre—built by the same architect, W. Scott Dunne—on Jefferson Boulevard in Oak Cliff into a cultural institution. Denton-based NorthBridge Realty Holdings bought the Fine Arts property in 2018 and engaged Reimer to handle its programming and operations. The building is in rough shape, and the money didn’t pencil until the City Council came to the table with tax incentives.

“Whenever it was raining outside, it was raining inside,” says Brad Andrus, a principal at NorthBridge. Post-COVID, the costs of the repairs soared even higher, says Reimer, which made the challenge “insurmountable” for a time. 

Local News

Leading Off (4/16/24)

Tim Rogers
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More Grumbling Over City Manager Payout. Mayor Eric Johnson doesn’t like that City Manager T.C. Broadnax is getting a year’s salary, $423,246, as he heads to Austin to be their city manager. Johnson wants state lawmakers to ban such payouts. But City Councilmember Adam Bazaldua said the mayor has a “whining tone,” and Councilmember Jaime Resendez said part of the reason Broadnax is leaving is the mayor’s “consistent dishonesty and self-serving agenda.” So it seems like everything is going fine.

Inwood Tavern Gets Pub Thanks to Scheffler. I think we are the last outlet in town to mention that the night Scottie Scheffler won the Masters, he flew back to Dallas and went to the Inwood Tavern. This photo on the bar’s Instagram has been everywhere. Good for the bar. And good for Ryan, who wrote “pee pee poo poo” on the wall behind Scheffler.

Andy Reid Comments on Rashee Rice Hit-and-Run. But he didn’t really say anything. The Chiefs head coach said, “As far as Rashee Rice goes, his situation, I’m leaving that, like we’ve done with most of these, for the law enforcement part of it to take place and then we’ll go from there with that.”

Giraffe Born at Dallas Zoo. The birth happened April 1, but the Zoo officially announced the news yesterday. The baby boy doesn’t have a name yet. My suggestion: T.C. Broadnax.

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Dallas’ update to its land use plan, which includes reexamining the city’s predominantly single-family zoning, has been met with significant pushback among vocal residents. But if some conservative state policymakers have their way, the debate could become moot. Lt. Dan Patrick has indicated a desire to at least discuss zoning as it relates to housing affordability in the next legislative session. Some conservative groups have also indicated their support for this legislation.

ForwardDallas, the city’s not-yet-adopted plan, would only inform the city’s land use and zoning in the future. A great deal of concern around single-family neighborhoods centers on where and how to allow for more density—specifically middle or “gentle” density like triplexes, duplexes, and the like. In our April issue, Matt Goodman wrote about how Dallas needs density to survive, and about just how nasty the fight over density has become. 

At a public information session at Samuell Grand Recreation Center recently, a mostly hostile audience took turns at the microphone, reiterating their distaste for the idea of eliminating what they felt protected “the character” of their neighborhoods: single-family zoning. 

There are very real questions about how and where to introduce middle density. But state Rep. John Bryant, D-Dallas, issued a warning before the discussion began: the harsh reality is that Dallas might not have the final say in its zoning updates. Bryant warned that there is an effort to change zoning “at the state level,” too. He couched this as another way Austin would wrest local control from cities and counties.

“The Legislature passed over the vigorous opposition of myself and others in this last session a bill that began the process of limiting the ability of cities to deal with a large number of matters that relate to us as local citizens,” he said. Bryant was referring to House Bill 2127, the so-called “Death Star” bill that limits city’s abilities to create ordinances that are more strict than state law.

While urbanists and historians have long pointed to the racist history of exclusionary zoning, removing lot size minimums has long been considered somewhat of a “liberal” idea. In fact, four years ago conservative policy analyst Stanley Kurtz warned in the National Review that then Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden planned to “abolish the suburbs” by eliminating single family zoning.

“It will mean the end of local control, the end of a style of living that many people prefer to the city, and therefore the end of meaningful choice in how Americans can live,” he warned.

Publications

How D Magazine Definitely Led the Cowboys to Super Bowl Victory

S. Holland Murphy
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Editorial assistant Eric Celeste hung out with Troy Aikman almost a dozen times to write this 1992 cover story. Anita Moti

D Magazine’s new editor-in-chief wanted to make a splash in 1992. She wanted a celebrity cover, and the Dallas Cowboys’ dashing new quarterback, Troy Aikman, was her No. 1 pick. While the editorial staff knocked around some possible freelance sportswriters to take on the story, Eric Celeste, a 24-year-old editorial assistant, shook his head. “This is the story I’ve been put here to write,” he said. 

Now, an editorial assistant is just a squeak above intern on a magazine’s masthead, and they don’t typically get cover stories, let alone the year’s juiciest assignment. But growing up in Oklahoma, Celeste went to school with one of the top two quarterbacks in the state. The state’s other top quarterback was Aikman. “I was invested,” Celeste says. He told the magazine’s new editor that he would give the story time and energy that no one else would. This was much the same argument he gave Aikman’s team. “I basically challenged him,” Celeste says. “Don’t do this if you just want to half-ass it. I want to actually give a full picture of who you are.”

Over the course of Aikman’s three-month off-season, Celeste met with the athlete on about a dozen occasions, a level of access unimaginable today. Celeste sat in on Aikman’s business meetings, and then they hit up Jason’s Deli. He joined the quarterback at a barbecue that turned into a dance party. (Thus the cover line “Troy Aikman Won’t Dance.”) Sometimes Aikman would pick up the young journalist, and they’d just drive around. 

The 8,000-word story was as in-depth and revealing a portrait as one could write of a celebrity who guarded his nice-guy image like Aikman did. Except for one detail. 

Local News

Leading Off (4/15/24)

Zac Crain
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Scottie Scheffler Wins Masters. That makes two Green Jackets already for the 27-year-old Highland Park grad. Pretty decent. Scottie, quit ducking us and come on EarBurner.

Wings Pick No. 5 in Tonight’s WNBA Draft. Consensus of the various mocks I’ve looked at suggests UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards will be the choice here. (The Wings also have the No. 9 pick in the first round.) Aaliyah, quit ducking us and come on EarBurner.

Mark Cuban Reveals Tax Bill. He said he would wire $288 million to the IRS today, which is obviously tax day, as well as my nephew Jonah’s birthday and the day that Joey Ramone died. Mark, quit ducking us and come back on EarBurner.

Mavs’ Lose Big. They rested their entire playoff rotation in the regular-season finale, so the 49-point loss, the second-biggest in franchise history, should have an asterisk. (Their first-round series against the Clippers tips off Sunday.) Anyway, Brandon Williams had a season-high 22. Brandon, quit earing us and come on DuckBurner.

Verne Lundquist Retires. The veteran broadcaster, who got his start in Dallas, signed off for the last time at the Masters yesterday. Here is a great story about how he met his wife at Arthur’s. Verne, enjoy your retirement. But also come on EarBurner and show Tim how to stop interrupting guests.

Dallas History

D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: The Explosion that Forever Changed West, Texas

Zac Crain
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The remains of West Fertilizer Co., in 2013. Elizabeth Lavin

I lived in West, Texas—the comma always pronounced or else it gets really confusing really fast—until I was 20 and moved to Austin to go to UT. It’s a tiny town that hugs I-35, built mostly by Czech immigrants like my great-grandparents. My dad was a schoolteacher, then an administrator, spending the last part of his career as the superintendent of West ISD. My sister was salutatorian of her class. My brother was an All-State pitcher who dueled future major-leaguer Arthur Rhodes at the diamond two blocks from where we lived. I read a lot. 

But that version of West went away, or started to, anyway, on the evening of April 17, 2013. Wednesday will mark 11 years since.

The house I grew up in is gone, and so is the one across the street where I spent the first few years of my life, where we grew green beans in the backyard and where my first pet, a fluffy cat named Chewbacca, died. The park where I played basketball and football and once got into an epic fight with some other kids that seemed like the most important thing that would ever happen to me—gone. So is the apartment complex where those kids lived, and the rest home across the street where my great-grandmother, my mom’s grandma, spent her 90s. The water tank at the end of Reagan Street, all my friends’ houses, my old middle school. There is a lot more, but you get the idea.  

The only tangible remnant of my first two decades is an oak tree in what used to be my front yard, small enough that we once were able to hop over it with a running start, now looming over a property I can’t recognize. “You can’t go home again” is beyond shopworn now and was never meant to be taken literally. But sometimes it’s the only thing you can say. 

The beginning of the end happened when an ammonium nitrate explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed 15 people, injured 200 others, and resulted in the eventual destruction of more than 300 homes. Some people never rebuilt. It took others a few years to move on, even when what they had lost was replaced. I was lucky. I just lost a few memories. 

But I did gain something. In reporting and writing about the explosion and its immediate aftermath, I was able to reconnect with a lot of old friends, and I still talk to one of them, Mike Lednicky, pretty regularly, usually late at night when the kids have gone to bed. So I guess I did get my home back in a way. 

“Love and Loss in a Small Texas Town” ran in June 2013, two months after the explosion. It is one of the 50 greatest stories we’ve ever published, and you can read it here.

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Media

Has Monty Bennett Hoisted Himself on His Own Petard?

Tim Rogers
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Photo by Tim Rogers

A lawsuit was filed yesterday against Monty Bennett and certain members of the board that oversees his hotel company. It concerns a proxy fight and an out-of-state guy named Jason Aintabi who, through a company called Blackwells, owns shares in Bennett’s hotel operation and would like to have other shareholders vote on board members he has nominated. Unless you’re Robert Ritchie or K. Virginia Burke DeBeer, the two local Vinson & Elkins lawyers who represent Aintabi, most of this lawsuit is pretty dry stuff—even if the named defendants include Bennett allies and board members Candy Evans, of Candy’s Dirt fame; Stefani Carter, the former Texas state rep who currently suckles at Bennett’s REIT; and Matt Rinaldi, whose name has been tied to White supremacists.

Boring stuff.

But then there’s the part in the lawsuit about how Bennett—a Capitol riot conspiracist and noted wearer of ill-fitting suits—allegedly used his nonprofit media outlet, the Dallas Express, to influence shareholders in this fight. As in:

[Bennett’s company] has unlawfully failed to disclose to the SEC and the public that an undisclosed participant in its proxy campaign is a “newspaper” called The Dallas Express. Mr. Bennett finances and publishes The Dallas Express. Actual journalists have characterized The Dallas Express as a “propaganda site.” From November 2023 to January 2024, The Dallas Express ran a series of five articles about Blackwells and Jason Aintabi, who is Blackwells’ Chief Investment Officer. Those articles included a number of false and misleading claims about Blackwells and Mr. Aintabi, and were clearly published at Mr. Bennett’s behest with the intent of influencing the Company’s shareholders and directors with respect to a proxy contest that Mr. Bennett knew was impending. Mr. Bennett’s efforts to leverage The Dallas Express as his personal mouthpiece during the proxy fight are consistent with his long-running pattern of engaging in “pay-to-play” journalism, which was previously the subject of a 2020 article in The New York Times. The Company’s failure to disclose The Dallas Express as a proxy participant is a plain violation of the Exchange Act, as are The Dallas Express’s numerous false and misleading statements in the hit pieces it published against Mr. Aintabi. 

Which of course makes one wonder what the plaintiff means when he says Bennett finances the Dallas Express. The lawsuit clarifies:

On information and belief, The Dallas Express is an unprofitable enterprise that is being propped up by Mr. Bennett. In 2022, The Dallas Express had advertising revenues of approximately $24,000 and expenses of approximately $3 million. In the last two years, Mr. Bennett has made over $3.4 million in “donations” to The Dallas Express

So all of that is interesting, no? Did Bennett launch a media outlet with the stated ideals of being unbiased and fair and fact based, but then did he break SEC rules as he used it to slag his enemies? That would be something.

Before I let you go, I feel compelled to mention that after Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson received favorable coverage from the Dallas Express, he hired one of its writers to be a communications and policy coordinator.

Transportation

Megan Kimble Explains Why Texas Is So Dumb

Tim Rogers
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Kimble at Interabang. Her book, which you should read, is titled City Limits.

Quick story: Megan Kimble was writing a book about highways and their deleterious effects on American cities. Without knowing what she was looking for, she went to the Eisenhower Library and started combing through old handwritten notes of meetings with the president who launched our national highway system. You know what she stumbled across that was amazing?

You’ll have to listen to this podcast to find out. And/or read her new book, City Limits: Infrastructure, Inequality, and the Future of America’s Highways. We talked a lot about I-345 and its history, which Kimble dug up only after she learned how to use microfiche. But we also touched on Houston highways and the insanity of the Texas Transportation Commission and Kimble’s unimpressive high school basketball career. There’s something here for everyone.

Use the player below or download EarBurner with your favorite podcatcher. If you would, please rate and review the podcast. It makes Zac happy.

Local News

Dallas Summers Are Hot. In These Neighborhoods, It’s Even Hotter

Bethany Erickson
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The City of Dallas and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration partnered to map a third of the city's heat Islands last summer. The rest of the city will be mapped this summer. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

New data released by the city of Dallas and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals that the summer heat is far worse in some pockets of the city, exacerbated by concrete and a lack of shade that can make it feel up to 10 degrees warmer than what the thermometer says.

Last summer was brutally hot. North Texas recorded 47 days of triple-digit temperatures. Dallas ISD warned parents that school buses couldn’t cool down fast enough for their young riders. School districts moved football practices and games around to avoid the heat. Postal worker Eugene Gates died of heat illness in Lakewood while delivering mail.

“I think we had three consecutive days where we hit 109 last summer,” says NBC DFW chief meteorologist Rick Mitchell. “It was just ridiculous, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting old, but last summer was just nuts. I started to be the cranky old man.”

Mitchell says we’re paying the price for all the attendant concrete and asphalt that goes with living in a city. 

“If you’re in an urban environment, that concrete, all that stuff just absorbs the heat and then gives it back off at night,” he says. “And that’s the whole thing of the urban heat island effect—it manufactures heat from all that stored heat within the concrete and those other surfaces.” 

Last summer, the city and the NOAA gathered data to map the city’s heat islands—areas where pavement is more plentiful than trees, which traps the heat. Urban heat islands can be up to 20 degrees hotter than parts of town with more trees and grass. (Dallas was one of 18 cities participating in the 2023 Urban Island Mapping Campaign.)

Dallas County Heritage Society Defends Sale of Old City Park Items. Before the society hands off control of the city’s oldest park to the Parks and Recreation Department, it is selling off over 22,000 items that reside inside the homes, other buildings, and a warehouse. Its CEO says the most valuable and historic items have already been off-loaded to other museums, and selling the rest of the items is the best chance at preserving them.

Duncanville Neighborhood Evacuated after Man Finds ‘Live Artillery Shell.’ Very Texas, this one. A man was doing yard work in his backyard in the 1300 block of Circle Drive when he found a “missile-shaped object” and called the police. Dallas PD’s bomb squad confirmed that the item was live artillery, shut down the block, and took the bomb away. A veteran lived in the house before the present homeowner and likely buried it. For some reason.

Chiefs WR Rashee Rice Surrenders in Glenn Heights. Rice faces one count of aggravated assault, another of collision involving serious bodily injury, and six counts of collision involving injury following a race-related wreck on Central Expressway last month. He bonded out shortly after turning himself in. SMU suspended sophomore cornerback Theodore “Teddy” Knox after learning that he was charged, too.

Sunny Weekend Ahead. Expect highs in the low 80s and some consistent breeze. It should be gorgeous.

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