Jan 14, 2022 - Business

New Dallas convention center would benefit wealthy developers with public funds

The former Dallas Morning News building

Developer Ray Washburne hopes the city's new convention center will help him turn the former Dallas Morning News building into an entertainment district. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

If Dallas follows through with plans to build a new convention center, the most direct beneficiaries will be some of the richest men in North Texas.

Why it matters: The proposed new convention center would be the focus of a redevelopment plan for the southwest corner of downtown that could cost a reported $4.5 billion of public money, according to a recent feature in D Magazine.

What’s happening: As some council members have pointed out, the proposed plans for a new convention center that stretches across I-30 would greatly increase the value of all the land nearby.

  • Public records show that much of that land is owned by some of the wealthiest people in Dallas.
  • Last month council member Cara Mendelsohn called the project a "land grab."

Details: Ray Washburne owns the former Dallas Morning News building, which he hopes to turn into an entertainment district.

Jack Matthews is a longtime real estate developer who owns much of the land east of the proposed convention center.

  • He and his companies own several parcels of land that would benefit greatly from an infusion of public funds both in that part of downtown and around Fair Park.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban owns some of the land on the other side of I-30, per the recent D story.

  • Advocates for the new convention center have floated the idea of Cuban building a new facility for the Mavericks near the redeveloped space. (Cuban hasn’t said that himself.)

Developer Mike Hoque, CEO of Hoque Global, owns much of the land around the Farmer’s Market and behind City Hall.

  • His company also owns several restaurants downtown, including Dallas Chop House and Wild Salsa, both of which are currently closed until further notice.

Between the lines: The economic models showing big returns to the city are foggy at best.

  • UTSA professor Heywood Sanders wrote an entire book about the dubious promises cities make in order to secure public funding.

The intrigue: Former Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze noticed developers purchasing nearby land more than two years ago, though he wasn’t sure at the time why.

  • The new convention center is only the latest in a long string of proposed publicly funded projects that would raise property values in that corner of downtown, including the now-defunct Trinity Toll Road, the Omni Hotel and Harold Simmons Park.

Of note: A decade after the city-owned Omni Hotel opened, the convention center and hotel are still hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, according to the DMN.

Go deeper: D Magazine’s Peter Simek recently published a feature that explains why this redevelopment might be a terrible idea — before also endorsing it.


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