A Daily Conversation About Dallas


The Real Story of How a Dallas Investor Bought The Weinstein Co.

| 2 weeks ago

Working from a shifting war room at the Montage Beverly Hills, Andy Mitchell edged achingly close to acquiring the bankrupt company of disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein and its trove of more than 250 films. An obscure private equity guy from Dallas, Mitchell then lobbed a stun grenade: His Lantern Capital Partners wanted a price reduction of tens of millions, saying it had been misled about financial claims against the studio. Both sides threatened lawsuits. Ninety-six objections to the sale were filed, with actor Bradley Cooper and director Quentin Tarantino declaring they would be cheated out of millions.

But that wasn’t where the drama began. Three months earlier, an investment group led by billionaire Ron Buckle made a $500 million, pre-bankruptcy run at The Weinstein Co. There was speculation that Lantern was involved. When that deal fell through, The Weinstein Co. connected directly with Lantern. After marathon talks, claims, and counter-claims—not to mention threats to abandon the sale and lawyer up—Lantern in July 2018 prevailed in acquiring the studio out of bankruptcy.

Everyone in Tinseltown wanted to know: Who was this intruder blazing in from Texas to buy The Weinstein Co.? It had been one of the most successful “mini-major” studios in North America, before more than 100 women stepped forward to accuse CEO Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment or assault, launching the #MeToo movement. 

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Architecture & Design

Fort Worth Grapples With the Future of a Former KKK Lodge

| 2 weeks ago

The peeling sign on the brick facade reads “Ellis Pecan Company,” but 1012 N. Main St. wasn’t built to be a warehouse. Nor was it built to be a professional wrestling arena, or the home of Fort Worth boxing team the Golden Gloves, or a hall for dance marathons—though it’s been all those things in its history. Instead, 1012 N. Main St. is thought to be the only building in the world still standing that was built by and for the Klu Klux Klan. 

The racist white supremacist group constructed it in 1921, rebuilt it even larger when it burned down in 1924, and used it as their headquarters in Fort Worth for about three years. It went through a few reincarnations before being sold to Ellis Pecan Company in 1946, which kept it as a warehouse until 1991. It’s been vacant, slowly crumbling ever since. Now, as the surrounding area undergoes major development for the Trinity River Vision Authority’s Panther Island Project, it’s time for 1012 N. Main St. to meet its fate—whether that be a wrecking ball or restoration. 

Sugarplum Holdings LP, which purchased the property as an investment in 2014, applied for a Certificate of Appropriateness to demolish the structure earlier this summer. At a public hearing on July 8, the owners were officially granted the COA–albeit with a 180 day delay. It’s a time to “continue the conversation” around the former KKK lodge, as the city put it. And, for some community members, it’s the last chance to save what they see as an important opportunity for the city to reckon with its past. 

“I’m thinking about what this building could do for Fort Worth in terms of reconciling our own history as a city, as well as reconciling our history as a country,” says Adam McKinney, co-director of DNAWORKS, an art organization at the forefront of the discussion. “We believe that it’s important not to be erased so that we can move through it together. I’m excited about the possibility of being part of a national conversation about healing race-based violence.” 

One of several groups interested in the space, DNAWORKS hopes to form a coalition with other organizations and use the building to create an international center for performing arts and community healing. DNAWORKS envisions spaces for performance art, workshops on restorative justice and liberation, and an educational wing that addresses the building’s history. Speaking at the July 8 public hearing, McKinney pondered the uniqueness of the situation.

“Never before in the history of the world, nor anywhere in the universe, ever, has a former KKK building been transformed in this way. Fort Worth, we have an exceptional opportunity to lead and model our commitment to equity through arts innovation.”

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Health & wellness

What Dallas Dentists Say About Mail-Order Orthodontics

| 3 weeks ago

Two years ago, I plopped down nearly five grand to have my teeth straightened with Invisalign. The orthodontic alternative to traditional metal or clear braces uses a series of removable custom aligners to move teeth into tidy rows. Everything about the process—from having a mouth full of plastic for 22 hours a day to monthly visits to my dentist—was annoying. I hated every second of it, but I am happy with the results.

I was likely a candidate for the much less expensive SmileDirectClub, but it was only after I began treatment that Facebook started serving me ads for the nascent direct-to-consumer orthodontia business. Founded in 2014 and based in Nashville, SmileDirectClub opened its first Dallas office downtown at WeWork in March 2017, only a few months before I began Invisalign treatment. Today, it has five freestanding SmileShops in North Texas. In June, the company unveiled locations inside four CVS pharmacies in Dallas, Plano, Bedford, and Fort Worth, with seven more planned for 2019. That has drawn frowns from some Dallas dentists.

SmileDirectClub bills itself as teledentistry meant to “democratize access to a straighter smile through an affordable and convenient direct-to-consumer platform.” It has spawned many imitators with camel-cased names that suggest gaps between words, like gaps between teeth, are ugly. They include SmileLove, ClearCorrect, and SnapCorrect. Some dentists and orthodontists are concerned about the potential for permanent damage from this lightly guided approach to teeth straightening. In April, the American Dental Association filed a citizen petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to shut down SmileDirectClub. The public has until October 22 to comment.

But is the pushback legit or merely outrage over a market disruption?

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Local News

Months After Muhlaysia Booker’s Murder, Black Trans Women Still Feel Unheard

| 3 weeks ago

Robyn “Pocahontas” Crowe met Muhlaysia Booker about seven years ago while ordering food at a combination Taco Bell and KFC in Oak Cliff. Muhlaysia was 16 at the time. She took her order from the drive-thru window.

“I heard a voice on the intercom and I had clocked that it was a gay boy,” Pocahontas, 34, said. “‘Yes, welcome to Taco Bell, can I take your order please.’ And I was like, ‘Excuse me, can you repeat that?’”

Muhlaysia was not yet out as a transgender woman. Pocahontas, a black trans woman herself, was already a leader in the community. She’s a “gay mother,” which means she has taken several young members of the LGBT community under her wing, “protecting them, making sure they stay out of trouble.” Muhlaysia was about to join them.

“When I got up [to the window, Muhlaysia] was like, ‘I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear your order, what did you order?’ And I was like, ‘baby, I put in my order like three times, you still didn’t get it?’”

The two got to talking. Muhlaysia had heard of Pocahontas and was friends with some of her “gay children.” The two exchanged numbers. Muhlaysia soon joined the family as one of Pocahontas’ “grandbabies.”

“She was beautiful,” Pocahontas said. “She was a good friend. Anything I have ever done, she has always supported me. If she walked in the door right now and saw your head down, she would be like, ‘ma’am, are you okay?’ She was really a good person.”

On April 12, Muhlaysia, then 23, was assaulted in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Oak Cliff. A video of her beating was posted to social media by one of her attackers. It went viral. Dallas officials, including former Mayor Mike Rawlings and members of the Dallas Police Department, condemned the attacks and promised to keep Muhlaysia safe.

On May 18, she was murdered in East Dallas. And the national media descended on Dallas.

Vice News, CNN, Buzzfeed, the Washington Post, and the New York Times all ran stories about her murder. They talked to her friends, including Pocahontas. They filmed her funeral. They ran the video of her assault over and over. Then, Dallas police made an arrest. The journalists left. Things got quiet again. But black trans women in Dallas say little has changed.

“I’m still looking over my shoulder,” Pocahontas said.

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How Philip Kingston Helped Eric Johnson Become Mayor

| 4 weeks ago

It was early 2017, and the progressive slate of Dallas City Council candidates was gathered at Philip Kingston’s Lower Greenville house for a campaign kickoff confab. Novice candidates Omar Narvaez, Dominique Torres, and Candy Evans talked policy and strategy with incumbents Mark Clayton and Adam Medrano (on speakerphone). Evans asked many questions: “What’s a clawback?” “So, what is the deal with the homeless thing?”

No surprise, but incumbent Scott Griggs offered the most detailed answers. He tried to keep his explanations simple: the city of Dallas pension crisis can be blamed on Richard Tettamant; the solution to the coming public safety crisis is more cops on the street. Inevitably, though, he would hop down a lawyerly rabbit hole and find himself explaining the Flynn compromise, the annuitization of DROP, unfunded accrued liabilities, how COLA is tied to CPI, and so forth.

If one wanted to fix the problems at hand, Griggs had the right tools, but his lengthy explanations didn’t translate easily to a campaign placard. A deep-dive discussion of DART’s budgetary woes, for example, didn’t exactly electrify the newcomers in the room, who just wanted a compelling narrative they could sell to voters.

Fortunately for the candidates, Kingston has always been a live wire. “I don’t say this lightly,” he began. “Mike Rawlings is a corrupt person. He has used the office for personal gain, and there is no f’ing doubt about it. Now, the good news about Mike Rawlings is, he’s the least competent mayor we’ve had. Otherwise, we’d be in real fucking trouble.”

That’s a verbatim quote from a recording of the meeting. The room’s pulse quickened.

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Real Estate

Everything You Need To Know About Dallas Real Estate

| 1 month ago

In the July issue of the magazine, we used a chunk of the feature well to explore Dallas real estate. We found that the market is still healthy, but it’s plateauing. The leaps and bounds we’ve seen in home values in the years after the Great Recession have turned into skips and hops, but that doesn’t mean the market is falling out. We’ve rolled these stories out one by one but are now grouping them all here with some takeaways. It’s everything you need to know about homes for sale in Dallas. So team up with some real estate agents and find yourself the nearest open house—or don’t.

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Real Estate

How to Argue Down the Value of Your Home

| 1 month ago

As everyone knows, the whole property tax protest exercise with the Dallas Central Appraisal District is a rigged system, thank God. Through repeated protests, I’ve successfully weaseled my home’s property value to about a third of what it would fetch if I listed it with Sotheby’s. Maybe less. It’s like the DCAD thinks I live in a canvas tent on a weed-choked vacant lot and can’t afford a rain fly. Obviously, I’m not proud of this. But it’s a respectable discount. I can at least hold my head high around the guys at the country club.

So imagine my surprise when I opened the letter from DCAD this year notifying me that my reappraised property value had gone up 69 percent! What the? Clearly, someone in my social circle had been reading my Twitter posts about leaving the Republican Party over Trump and figured that I didn’t deserve to cheat on my taxes if I was going to forsake the standard bearer.

Well, fine. I’ve talked down my fair share of DCAD employees with their computers and comps, and this would be no different. In fact, it had been more than three years since I had needed to file a protest, so I was actually looking forward to the challenge.

According to DCAD rules, there are three common bases under which you can protest the value of your property. First, DCAD has made some kind of mistake about the attributes of your property, like claiming you have a swimming pool when you don’t, or claiming that you have six full en suite baths and three powder baths when in fact you have only two powders, and the half-bath in the pool house doesn’t count.

The second is that the valuation is too high. Well, duh. Who conceivably is going to allege that with a straight face? Of course it’s not too high. That’s not the point. The point is, it’s not low enough—especially compared to the ridiculous valuation that your neighbor somehow foisted on DCAD.

And that brings us to the third basis for filing a protest: your property is valued unequally compared to like properties in your neighborhood. In other words, we’re not arguing that our property is not fairly valued (see above). We’re arguing that it’s not undervalued nearly enough compared to our neighbors. Modern Greeks can appreciate this one. It’s not that we’re not going to cheat on our taxes, but we’re damn sure not going to cheat on our taxes less than our neighbors are cheating on theirs. It’s a miracle that this dodge is enshrined in our property tax code.

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