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Mike Rawlings’ GrowSouth Plan Begins to Show Results

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by Eric Sheffield 

Following his election in 2011, the mayor revealed a plan to help rejuvenate South Dallas between 2012 and 2015.  Several months after it’s inception, results to eliminate the area’s ‘blight’ are beginning to show.

South Dallas is seldom seen in a glamorous light.  The images of boarded up houses and broken windows often come to mind when the words Oak Cliff or Fair Park are mentioned in conversation.  Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings wants this to change.

“Everybody knows that problems around here are one of the biggest issues in town,” said Oak Cliff resident Keith Lombard. “They keep saying they’ll do something about it, but they haven’t.  Now I’m seeing things happening.”

GrowSouth is Rawlings’ ongoing plan to reinvent South Dallas and remove the negative stigma that is associated with Oak Cliff and surrounding areas.  The plan began in February of this year, and will continue at least through 2015.

Grow South launch plan.

This plan came to fruition during the mayor’s 2011 election campaign.

“We knew that this was the best opportunity for ongoing improvement in South Dallas,” said Paula Blackmon, the mayor’s chief of staff.  “So many plans have been developed over the years, but we needed to find where the greatest opportunities were.

In order to accomplish this goal, the mayor’s office has teamed up with the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce to attempt to resolve issues that have plagued areas south of I-30 for decades.

“We know we can’t solve it all at one time,” said Bob Stimson, president of the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce. “What we need to do is specifically focus on certain parts of the plan that we know we can control.”

The parts of the plan that Stimson is referring to include renovating major landmarks and reconstructing neighborhoods that are less than stellar.

One area that is being focused on is Jefferson Boulevard, which Rawlings hopes can be groomed into the model for a possible Main Street that travels through the heart of South Dallas.

The City of Dallas is working with the local merchant association to learn how to best market the street. The official timeline of the plan has the Jefferson Boulevard project being completed by the middle of 2013.

“We’re not going to be able to wave a wand and have it finished,” said Blackmon.  “It’s going to be figuring out what the tenants want and giving it to them.”

Another area that is receiving attention though the GrowSouth plan is Southwest Center Mall, which has grown spectacularly in recent years.

According to the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, the usage rate of the mall has increased from 40 percent in 2007 to 80 percent in 2012.

This feat has been accomplished by placing affordable stores within the mall.

“We know it’s never going to be North Park, but that’s not what we want,” said Stimson. “We want to appeal to the communities of South Dallas, and if that means we have to tear down an Ann Taylor’s in the mall, then that’s what we’ll do.”

In addition to the renovation efforts, the GrowSouth plan involves the destruction of at least 750 houses over the next three years within neighborhoods of South Dallas.

The mayor’s office believes that there are aging homes around town that people would be willing to fix up and live in, but they aren’t willing to make the move because other houses close by are completely decayed.

“There are houses that are falling down, and those need to be gotten rid of in order to combat the blight,” said Simpson.

This blight that Rawlings and company is trying so hard to eliminate is the idea that many people don’t want to be associated with South Dallas, or property within South Dallas, because of the poor image that is ingrained into the culture of Dallas.

To combat this, GrowSouth is working to rebrand the entirety of South Dallas by hiring brand managers and making sure that constant benchmarks are being met.

Another important tenet of the plan is to invigorate the schools of South Dallas

“It’s horribly difficult to entice people to live in South Dallas if we aren’t able to offer a good education to their children,” said Stimson.

Rawlings himself has adopted four high schools: Zumwalt Middle School, Atwell Middle School, Lincoln High School and Adamson High School.  He has spoken to local celebrities such as Roger Staubach and Rev. T.D. Jakes and asked them to speak at these schools and help promote a positive culture for learning.

“It’s the little things,” said Blackmon. “We’re trying to collaborate with the DISD as much as possible while implementing the things that people might not always think about.

Transportation is also being considered within the plan.  GrowSouth is working with DART on a plan that will extend the blue line 2.6 miles towards the University of North Texas Dallas Campus.  If approved, this project will begin next spring and be completed by 2016.

The plan is also calling for an additional community development for retail and housing across from the Dallas Urban League.  This will help provide additional relief for the nearby Dallas Veteran’s Affair (VA) Medical Center.

“It’s about giving the people what they want, and what they need,” said Lombard.  “If they can do that, then we’re going to be just fine.”

  • Dana

    This is fabulous news. However, the groundbreaking for the housing and retail across from the DUL occurred last year. When will building begin?

  • Ben

    Here’s to the plans becoming reality. I personally am excited.

  • Mike H

    What’s wrong with having a NorthPark type mall in Southern Dallas? Has the SWC Mall braintrust been to NorthPark lately and seen the demographic that shops there? If NorthPark is a little too fancy for you then at least use the Town East or Parks at Arlington models. The surrounding cities of Duncanville, Desoto and Cedar Hill would fully support a mall with mainstream stores and not one saturated with athletic gear and urban wear. This is the kind of thinking that allowed low income housing to become the norm in Southern Dallas instead of the exception. A movie theater would also be nice. Seems like the bar is pretty low for Southwest Center Mall. I applaud the Mayor for putting forth the effort, but the level of expectation needs to be raised a little and there seems to be a disconnect between the plan and what Southern Dallas residents will support economically. And what about the Fair Park area? There’s two great schools there already (St. Philip’s and Irma Rangel) and MLK Jr. Blvd. is more suited to be the “Main St.” of South Dallas than Jefferson Blvd.

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