If we’re going to commit $500 million of taxpayer money on someone’s vision to make Dallas a better place to live and work, who’s to say we need to spend it all Downtown on a taxpayer-owned convention center hotel?

Mind you, this is a question rather than a statement — the answer is far more difficult to divine than the 450 words allowed for this column. It’s a legitimate question, I think, and it’s one that we’ll have a say on May 9, when we’ll elect new city council representatives and vote on the convention center hotel referendum.

And it’s the impetus behind this month’s cover story: Suppose we took that $500 million the city council has already voted to spend solely on the hotel and, instead, spent it in the five neighborhoods the Advocate covers throughout our city?

What kind of property-value and revenue-boosting multiplier impact would that expenditure have on the city as a whole? And how would it change the neighborhoods where we live?

We asked neighborhood architects and planners to take a look at a specific intersection in our neighborhood, and we asked them what they would do with $100 million in revenue-bond money? (Revenue bonds, as explained in the story, require construction of a project that will earn enough income to pay back the bondholders who loan the money to the city.)

Could the architects and planners take the money and turn a tired corner into a vibrant neighborhood gathering place? Could they follow current city urban planning mandates and leverage this theoretical $100 million investment into close-in housing and walkable retail and neighborhood office space?

Could they turn the funds into a neighborhood town center we actually would enjoy spending time in?

That was the challenge, and what you’ll find in the story is an answer: Yes.

There’s no question the convention center would be better off with a hotel next door — I agree with Mayor Tom Leppert on that idea. But taxpayers don’t need to build and pay for the hotel ourselves — we don’t need to be in the business of competing with taxpaying business owners.

The point of this story is to offer an alternative: If the council is hell-bent on becoming a real estate developer and blowing through tax dollars, shouldn’t we at least explore the other places in town that would benefit from that money?

A $100 million investment in five separate Dallas neighborhoods would obviously have a huge multiplier effect on our city, maybe even one as big as a convention center hotel downtown. Spending our tax dollars where we live and work and shop can’t help but make Dallas a better place.

This isn’t a sexy idea. It’s not one that will help elect Leppert or anyone else on the council to higher office.
It’s just something the council should have seriously considered before putting the entire $500 million on red and spinning the roulette wheel.