03 May 2016

Dallas Mayor Pleased With Grow South Initiative’s Progress

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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It is report card time for Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ Grow South initiative and while he wouldn’t call it “straight A’s”, the mayor is clearly pleased with the progress.

During a briefing with reporters Tuesday, the Mayor insisted once again that Grow South is an economic development opportunity—not charity. “It’s not where poor people live, it’s where I can go make moneyand people are coming in, and now investing and they’re seeing their assets grow,” said Mayor Rawlings.

The economic development initiative focusing on the city’s southern sector launched in 2012 with a 10-point goal that focused on people, investments and locations. However, even the effort’s biggest supporters acknowledge that bringing new economic energy to South Dallas is a massive undertaking. Geographically, it’s roughly the size of Atlanta, Georgia. And according to Mayor Rawlings, some 55 percent of Dallas’ land mass lies in the southern sector. Nevertheless, those neighborhoods represent just 15 percent of the tax base. The goal of Grow South is to see that change—while also improving the quality of life for residents.

The Mayor points to the recent sale of Southwest Center Mall, near Interstate 20 and Hwy 67, as another example of how the initiative will do both. Once a popular and thriving shopping center, the mall has fallen victim to decades of decline. Still, the neighborhood ties run deep.

“It’s close to my house,” says shopper Marco Villarreal, “very convenient…I just wish we had more options.” Villarreal remembers when the mall was the jewel of the area and just can’t seem to abandon it fully—even as other middle class shoppers flee to surrounding suburbs with their available cash. “It’s a shame, because it’s a part of Oak Cliff and it was the heart of Oak Cliff when I used to come here.”

But, changes are coming. The mall’s new owners have promised to invest millions in redevelopment—and community advocates can’t wait.

“This is not about a mall,” says Edna Pemberton, “this is about a community.” Miss “P” as she’s called– is a tireless neighborhood advocate. She even volunteers at the mall to, in her words, help manage the “human” assets—entrepreneurs looking for places to launch. She and other supporters believe that the mall redevelopment is just part of a bigger mission to bring new life to the entire Camp Wisdom corridor. But, she’s also warning the community to be patient.

“This mall is 40 years old,” says Pemberton, “and because of the 20 years of decline, it’ll take 10 years to get things how we want it. But, it won’t take that long to see changes, that’ll start right away,” she insists. Pemberton also says that supporters want to give middle class families a reason to return to the center: so they also have to work at dispelling misconceptions.

“That’s the biggest myth,” says developer Terrence Maiden, Corinth Properties, “they think people don’t have money down south.” Maiden is a product of Oak Cliff and has been instrumental in turning the former dumping ground on W. Ledbetter into a thriving retail center.

A neighborhood that a few years back didn’t have a grocery store nearby was thrilled to welcome a WalMart Supercenter, and now millions of dollars have been invested in other retail nearby. And while Southwest Center Mall will have its own redevelopment path, many are anxious for the transformation to get underway.

“It’s beyond just the economic development impact, says Maiden, “it’s also seeing a community coming together and being in an environment where they have something to be proud of.”

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