A few thoughts on awarding public incentives for the Alamo Manhattan project in Oak Cliff:
- The risk of developing property in North Oak Cliff is less now than it has been in decades.
- The scale of real estate development should take its signals from the marketplace.
- Public monetary incentives for developers can distort the marketplace and inflate expectations for future growth.
- Public incentives impact every project built after the one that gets public money.
- Public incentives can be helpful when they focus on direct improvements to common spaces and infrastructure, and support community values.
- We must look closely at how public incentive deals are structured and enforce the outcomes promised by the developer.
The City of Dallas uses a variety of public financial incentives to promote real estate development in areas of town considered risky. Neighborhoods and commercial corridors in North Oak Cliff, for the most part, have benefited from these past incentives. Active shops, restaurants and homes along Bishop Avenue, West Davis Street, Beckley Avenue and Jefferson Boulevard are leading the way as destinations for residents and visitors. Buzz in these areas gives us all confidence that these changes are part of a success story. There are clear signs of enthusiasm for investing in North Oak Cliff. So, we must ask ourselves is it still too risky for private developers to invest in North Oak Cliff without incentives to achieve community growth goals?
Alamo Manhattan’s proposal for its project in North Oak Cliff is designed on a grand, contemporary footprint. It makes us wonder if there is a point when incentives can lead to inappropriately large development projects. The Alamo Manhattan development vision gives us an idea of what is possible with access to $11 million in public incentives. In reviewing this proposal, we should compare it to what a project might look like with public funds half of this amount, or with just enough public funds to repair the sidewalks and replace the sewer lines, or with no public funds at all. We need to see and think about how much the incentive package is influencing Alamo Manhattan’s proposal.
Giving public incentives to developers for a project elevates development expectations in the entire community. The price of land will increase, and will increase based on elevated and distorted market conditions provided by the public funds, not based on true market conditions. The result will be an environment and market that is more difficult for smaller-scale, local development. Case-in-point today is how many small-scale development projects are now found in Uptown?
Public incentives can be helpful to make development attractive in less desireable communities. Is North Oak Cliff having difficulty attracting development today? Over the last 20 years, North Oak Cliff evolved organically with cornerstone public investment in utilities and infrastructure, and smaller developers using mostly existing structures along Davis, Bishop Arts, and Beckley without public incentives.
Many residents want to see the momentum continue, but we also must think about what happens when we exhaust the supply of legacy structures. It is important to recognize that our future will require new and updated infrastructure and a greater supply of housing to support our new streetcar line and an urban, walkable core where people of all ages can work and enjoy a nice quality of life.
We have a tool chest to help with improvements and they should focus on water, sewage, streetscape and utility improvements, as well as reflect our community’s values like LEED certification, transit oriented design, and better building materials.
Finally, we must look closely at how public incentive deals are structured and enforce the outcomes promised by the developers. Public/private partnerships get complicated by the ways real estate developers and financiers structure partnerships and payouts. Public incentives should not be bundled into aggressive management fees and quick exit strategies that primarily benefit developers and bankers.
We can welcome a new generation of residents in North Oak Cliff. The area offers plenty of space and a deep zoning framework for different types of dwellings and commercial structures. Public incentives are a great tool for sparking growth and promoting community values, and we must stand strong to guard our values and tax resources. We must be courageous enough to walk away to protect our long-term goals.
Posted by Michael & Beverly Mendoza