Plowing in Vain?
To: City Manager Dale Fisseler
Dear Dale, Since my retirement, I have received disturbing information about an initiative we began in the mid-1980s – the revitalization of the Evans and Rosedale Business and Cultural District. We plowed in hope that we might reap in due season. But now it seems our plowing might have been in vain.
So what’s happening with this controversy between Fort Worth’s housing department and HUD, involving the allegation of land banking and the Near Southeast Community Development Corp.? I read Betty Brink and Eric Griffey’s story in Fort Worth Weekly (“Falling Down, Getting Back Up,” Oct. 21, 2009) and wish to convey to you and the city some concerns that others may also have.
I have devoted 25 years to bringing this neighborhood back to life. When I began serving as a volunteer with the city, I came as a representative of the Evans & Rosedale Business Association, bringing with me the dreams and aspirations of the residents and businesses in the neighborhood. At the time, you may recall, Nell Weber represented our district on the city council, and Kay Granger was mayor.
We recognized from the beginning that this was a long-range project with a vast area of vacant houses and blighted properties to be addressed. The late Lee Pinkston began a cleanup campaign in 1984 and organized the Evans & Rosedale Business Association. To date, Pinkston’s Funeral Home, which anchors the corner of Evans and Terrell avenues, remains vacant – a symbol of the frustration of revitalization.
John Posey, then president of the Black Chamber of Commerce, saw the need for a redevelopment plan. The 25-year plan called for replacing aged and decaying civil infrastructure and transforming Lucille’s Restaurant into a viable business site. It also made clear the need for new infill housing, a grocery store, and other new business ventures. But we were faced with the challenge of finding old property owners, their surviving heirs, and out-of-state owners, all of whom contributed to the blight in this inner-city area.
The so-called land banking began with code enforcement and a series of foreclosures. Here I distinctly remember being cautioned against calling the buyouts a “land bank,” because it was illegal for the city to buy and hold land for resale. I never understood the ambiguous structure under which the vacant land was purchased, but we understood that private capital was needed for the infill development and that the process should follow some uniformity, according to our master plan. So, piece by piece, lot by lot, the land was redeemed with good intentions.
After I retired from the civil engineering firm of McDonald & Associates, I operated a community-based computer school on the corner of Evans and Rosedale, where I monitored the new construction on a daily basis. I watched new sewer lines go in, large enough to accommodate new commercial development. I saw the new streetscape being put in, a new plaza and a new library getting built, and finally the widening of Rosedale from I-35 to MLK Freeway.
All of this has taken time. But with the passage of time came a loss of continuity in vision. New leadership and a new set of priorities deferred our dreams. And though Ms. Weber fought valiantly to include our neighborhood in the first tax increment financing (TIF) district, we could not accommodate commercial traffic along the corridor until Rosedale was widened, a project that sat on the shelf for almost 10 years after being designed.
After the demise of our business association, we felt confident with the Near Southeast CDC taking the oversight role in seeing this project through. They have remained the anchor in the neighborhood. Their Weed & Seed program has taken at-risk kids living in this midst of this blight and poverty and sent them on to college and trained them to be productive, clean, law-abiding citizens. The schools in the community remain under their watchful shadow even today.
That nonprofit organization is the principal champion of rehabilitating and building housing in the area. Their loss would be a tremendous setback to a community that has invested so much for so long in bringing this area back to life.
Needless to say, it is simple enough to follow government regulations and reporting procedures when contractors have competent technical assistance. My entire career has been based on building accounting systems that meet government reporting requirements. It is unfortunate that I was not able to contribute my expertise in this area as the business association’s president. It is unfortunate that the city had to repay money to HUD.
However, it would be more unfortunate to unravel the social infrastructure and institutions that we established over the past 25 years.
Please consider how we might save what we have built so far.
Eddie Griffin is a local blogger and activist.