Cedar Haven

Major changes coming to Mayor Rawlings’ GrowSouth initiative

Posted in: Cedar Haven

Major changes coming to Mayor Rawlings’ GrowSouth initiative

Todd Robberson
Editorial Writer
Opinion Blog
Published: Tuesday, April 28, 2015, at 1:36 p.m.

Mayor Mike Rawlings will deliver his third-anniversary assessment of GrowSouth late Tuesday, and from the briefing he gave me ahead of time, it looks like some major changes are in store for three struggling southern Dallas neighborhoods: Parkdale/Urbandale, the Lancaster Corridor, and the University of North Texas at Dallas.

Later this year, these areas will be getting their own general managers, sort of a “mini-mayor” who will not hold governmental authority but who will wield the ability to command rapid responses when conditions merit. If City Hall, the school district or healthcare facilities aren’t being responsive to the community’s needs, the general manager will have direct access to the top decision makers, who will be only a phone call away. The general manager also will have access to leaders of major non-profits and for-profits to put attention and resources where he or she deems necessary.

I suspect the mayor is more than a little frustrated that GrowSouth isn’t bringing the kinds of rapid, far-reaching changes he envisioned when he launched the initiative in 2012. Bureaucratic inertia, turf battles and just the overwhelming size of the southern Dallas challenge has led to slow progress and unfulfilled promises. There have been some fringe successes, but I think Rawlings wants people in some of the toughest areas to see that noteworthy change is coming to their neighborhoods as well.

Rawlings calls this new initiative the GrowSouth Collective Impact Model. The general manager’s job will be overseen by a board of directors drawn from the top managerial ranks of City Hall, Parkland, Dallas ISD and charter districts, major non-profits and heads of companies either doing business or contemplating operations in those areas. Rawlings himself also will serve on the board.

The general manager’s salary will be paid from foundation donations — not tax dollars, Rawlings says. The manager will be a “senior person,” he adds, someone who is respected by the community he or she serves but who also commands leadership respect among the board members overseeing that position.

Supplementing the general manager will be a neighborhood planning committee, whose job it’ll be to outline goals, priorities and strategies for the general manager to meet. When the same ol’ obstacles of bureaucratic inertia and turf battles start arising (and they will), the idea is that the general manager can pick up the phone, call the appropriate board member, and get the obstacle removed. Under the current system, if there’s a turf battle,say, among city council members or competing bureaucrats, nothing gets done and the end result winds up being unimpressive at best.

Why these three neighborhoods?

The area surrounding UNT-Dallas currently is bereft of infrastructure. A major developer has been purchasing large amounts of land, and a significant new development is definitely in the works, various sources have told me. Rawlings acknowledged big development plans are in store, but he declined to give specifics. Considering the amount of work that the city must complete in terms of installing infrastructure before the development can begin, it’s imperative that someone be on hand to make sure everything runs smoothly and that the developer’s needs are met.

The Lancaster Corridor, which surrounds the VA Hospital, has its share of small successes and major flops. The Lancaster Urban Village is up and running, with new, affordable apartments and lots of fast-food restaurants and retail. But it is an island in a sea of dilapidation and commercial disappointment. A block away, Patriots Crossing, a development that has a $5 million taxpayer investment, is going nowhere, and if that housing/retail/office project doesn’t obtain financing and break ground by June, the city will foreclose. The Oak Glen apartment complex across the street is a massive, burned-out eyesore.

Drive a few blocks east of Lancaster around Fordham Road, and there are scores of houses so dilapidated they are barely standing. This area clearly needs 24/7 attention, and none of the traditional GrowSouth programs can adequately address the ongoing, urgent challenges. That’s where a general manager can get things done.

Parkdale/Urbandale, the area east of South Dallas and west of Pleasant Grove, is one of those lower middle-class neighborhoods that always seems to stand on the cusp. If the right people with money discover it, the neighborhood could experience a boom in residential growth among young, middle class families looking for a bargain.

But if that doesn’t happen, it could go the other way and degrade as the number of abandoned houses grows and nobody pays attention to the crummy, unlicensed junkyard-style businesses and dumpsites that seem to crop up when no one is looking. A general manager can make the difference in making sure the tipping point leans toward the positive, not negative side.

Separately, Rawlings says he will be establishing a GrowSouth Advisory Council — a group of representatives from all over southern Dallas — who will meet with him quarterly and provide feedback directly to him. Rawlings needs to hear an unfiltered assessment of what’s going right and wrong with GrowSouth — from the people who are living in the area and best understand what the needs are.

Dallas GrowSouth

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