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Dallas OK's $43 million Palladium deal

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter: More than five hours of largely civil city hall debate capped months of wrangling - and angling - for an additional tax reimbursement for Palladium. Dozens of business people and citizens voiced their pro and con opinions, followed by council debate, and even Dallas Mayor Laura Miller's Top Ten Reasons to Vote Against Palladium.

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller: Lastly?my favorite. They'll be back, if we approve this today for the other 40 acres. And they say they will.

Zeeble: Miller said she sees Ross Perot Jr., Tom Hicks, and Palladium as one. She sums their total tax reimbursements so far, including money for the arena, at $234 million, the most in city history. Earlier, Palladium partner Ken Wong addressed the council with this distilled assessment of his opponents.

Ken Wong, Palladium company partner: I think it boils down to two issues. One, the concern about the impact of our project on the core downtown, and two, the concern this might not be a good deal for downtown Dallas.

Zeeble: Central Dallas Association Chair David Biegler argued the $43 million deal will be a win-win for Dallas, because of more jobs and more long-term tax revenues.

David Biegler, Chair, Central Dallas Association: It's essential we have the level of critical mass in our center city area, not the CBD, not just the loop, not just with Victory, but with as many projects as possible bringing critical mass, because that's what it takes to entice a person to spend the day in the center city of Dallas.

Zeeble: Biegler called the deal itself great for the city, because most of the financial risk falls to Palladium. The company won't recover any tax money until nearly $400 million worth of construction's on the ground. And it won't receive the full $43 million reimbursement the company wants until $600 million in construction is complete. Minority business representatives touted Palladium as a much needed job catalyst. But then opponents had their turn, including Trammel Crow Company's Pryor Blackwell, president of its National Development and Investment Group.

Pryor Blackwell, President, National Development and Investment Group, Trammel Crow: We should not invest further because to do so seriously undermines the city's existing tax base. We'll destroy the ability of existing adjacent downtown property owners to compete. Tenants will simply move from existing buildings to ones with lower rents with city subsidies.

Zeeble: In an impassioned speech, council member Alan Walne agreed with Blackwell that the market, not a tax deal, should decide the project.

Alan Walne, Dallas City Council Member: But that's not what the rules of the game are anymore. We quit doing that. We've got cities to our north giving out millions of dollars for people to come there. It's not news that we heard recently. Some conventions are going away cause there's not enough to do. We need to create something else downtown.

Zeeble: So Walne voted for Palladium, after expressing reservations in the past few weeks. That worried councilwoman and downtown preservation champion Veletta Lill.

Veletta Lill, Dallas City Council Member: When the new retailer comes to town to locate, I'll go where it won't be a struggle.

Zeeble: Palladium's Victory project will win, she says, hurting the older section just as it's begun to turn the corner. On the other hand, the council approved an additional $40 million in tax reimbursements for that part of town. Palladium's Ken Wong says he must now seek tenants, many of whom pulled out or changed their minds. He hopes to break ground within the year, and open Palladium in 2005. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.

To contact Bill Zeeble, please send emails to bzeeble@kera.org.