Plans and a vision for revitalizing a core area of southern Dallas received a rousing show of support Tuesday at Southwest Center Mall.
â€śGosh, this is exciting. Iâ€™ve been to a pep rally,â€ť Mayor Mike Rawlings said after an applause-punctuated update of efforts to redevelop the mall and revive a nearby stretch of Camp Wisdom Road.
He and others heard that the former Red Bird Mall is 80 percent occupied, after years of decline. They heard how police and apartment managers are making the area safer and how neighboring Concord Church is providing a foundation of stability.
They heard that leaders of Camp Wisdom Now want to increase retail, jobs and the property tax base by 15 percent along the corridor between U.S. Highway 67 and Westmoreland Road in two years.
They heard about the presence of schools and education support in the area and how Dallas hospitals want to provide health services there. They heard about plans for a community park near the mall and about a small-business incubator operation coming to the mall itself, along with a conference and events center.
The 100 or so people gathered heard Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins talk about hopes for a new landscaped â€śgatewayâ€ť to the target area at Camp Wisdom and Highway 67. They heard him say the areaâ€™s commercial success is intertwined with neighborhood strength and support.
â€śSouthwest Center Mall is all about the community. The community has got to be part of the business plan.â€ť
And now is the time to act, he said. â€śFor too long, weâ€™ve been too late,â€ť he said, referring to developments elsewhere that have drawn businesses away from the mall, fueling its decline and the neighborhoodâ€™s decay. â€śWeâ€™re going to pull all those businesses back and then pull all those people back.â€ť
Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce President Bob Stimson told the crowd that â€śOak Cliff is coming backâ€ť and the mallâ€™s turnaround is â€śthe latest and greatest story. What has happened here in the last few years is astounding.â€ť
Rawlings was all optimism as well. â€śDallas is hot, and I donâ€™t mean in August,â€ť he said, offering his oft-repeated praise that southern Dallas is a â€śgrowth opportunityâ€ť and Oak Cliff its â€śdriver.â€ť
The mayor praised the work of initiative organizers and mall advocates, such as Edna Pemberton. With the areaâ€™s public support, presence of schools, potential for health services, proposed park and additions to the mall, Rawlings said he was hopeful of changes.
â€śThis is a new model, a new idea,â€ť he said, with a base to build on. â€śWeâ€™ve got the bricks and mortar in place.â€ť
As for the mall parking lot, â€śweâ€™ve got to get serious about green space around here,â€ť the mayor said. The city must aggressively enforce building codes, and residents and businesses must keep the area clean and tidy, he said. â€śWe need to tell the world about this,â€ť adding he plans to meet with property owners about â€śhow they need to get on board.â€ť
Southwest Center Mall began changing for the better four years ago with its purchase by New York-based CityView Commercial, owner of all but the mallâ€™s anchor retail spaces.
The mall was half full in 2009. But CityView repaired the propertyâ€™s utility system and other fundamentals, attracted new tenants and held on to anchors Macyâ€™s, Sears and Burlington Coat Factory while demolishing a former J.C. Penney space.
Jack Friedler, CityView president, said after the Tuesday meeting that his company plans to continue upgrading the 38-year-old mall and is trying to purchase property there for a significant renovation. He declined to be specific.
â€śWe feel like weâ€™re headed in the right direction,â€ť he told the group. â€śI believe we can turn this into a tremendous destination.â€ť