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Seven lost years and 4.4 million lost dollars later, Dallas tries again across from VA Center

This fenced-off vacant lot was supposed to be Patriots Crossing. Now it will have to be something else. (File photo)

This fenced-off vacant lot was supposed to be Patriots Crossing. Now it will have to be something else. (File Photo)

More than seven years after the city starting peeling off millions of dollars for a mixed-use project that was never built across from the Dallas VA Medical Center, Dallas is trying again.

The city’s Office of Economic Development is now looking for “an experienced developer” to build a mixed-use project on a giant swath of city-owned land along Lancaster Road. Per the request for competitive sealed proposals issued on Tuesday, the city’s open to just about any idea —  multifamily housing, a movie theater, office buildings, parks, you name it — across from the VA and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit light-rail station.

“It could be a whole mixture of uses,” said Karl Zavitkovsky, head of the Office of Economic Development, during an interview Friday. “We’re letting people come back to us with a variety of proposals and feel like the site itself is very well-positioned, being at the transit stop and across the street from one of the biggest employers in the city. I feel like there’s a real potential for something very good to happen.”

Then, the city’s long felt that way — which is why, beginning in 2009, it started giving Yigal Lelah and his Sapphire Road Development LLC millions in “forgivable” loans to develop what was supposed to become Patriots Crossing.

Nothing became of that project, save for an expanse of empty, overgrown land for which the taxpayers wound up paying $4.4 million via Chapter 380 economic development loans approved by the City Council between April 2009 and February 2012. And when the state turned down  Lelah’s low-income housing tax credit application, the council also approved federal funds for $1.35 million in gap funding.

Lelah scraped the property clean of existing houses and buildings, and, according to his deal with City Hall, was supposed to begin construction on Patriots Crossing by 2016. Instead, last June the city foreclosed on the property, and Lelah filed for bankruptcy.

What Patriots Crossing was supposed to look like.

What Patriots Crossing was supposed to look like.

Even now he remains entangled in a legal battle with the city, insisting the city illegally foreclosed on the land. A federal bankruptcy judge dismissed his complaint with prejudice earlier this month, but this week his attorney, Kevin Wiley Sr., filed a notice of appeal.

Wiley was not available for comment, according to his son, who’s also an attorney.

Over Lelah’s objections, and with the court’s approval, the city picked up the property in a foreclosure sale last November. Dallas was the lone bidder, city manager A.C. Gonzalez told the council at the time. Council member Lee Kleinman told The Dallas Morning News the city didn’t pay any additional money for the 33 lots that made up the would-be Patriots Crossing development.

Zavitkovsky said it had taken several months to issue a request for proposals because council member Carolyn King Arnold held a series of town halls during which she asked District 4 residents what they wanted to see across from the VA. Economic Development staff attended those forums, and Zavitkovsky said the responses weren’t at all surprising: “sit-down restaurants, some retail that could be accessible to the neighborhood, the normal things people in a neighborhood would like to see in a location like this.”

Arnold’s office said Friday she didn’t want to talk about the latest attempt at developing the property. Also, her assistant Franklin Meredith said, “She is not prepared to release a statement.”

But her predecessor has plenty to say about it.

Dwaine Caraway , in case you don't remember

Dwaine Caraway, in case you don’t remember

“It will not be just anything,” said former council member Dwaine Caraway, who made redeveloping the Lancaster Corridor one of his priorities during his time on the council. Caraway said he wants the new development to be a kind of extension of the Lancaster Urban Village, the $30 million publicly funded collection of apartments, retail and offices that sits across Mentor Avenue from the vacant lot. It was Caraway who paved the way for the development after he got two crime-ridden, hot-sheet motels, including the Southern Comfort, bulldozed.

The new development, he said Friday, “will be what our plan has wanted it to be, and I would hope that folks will understand I will remain involved. People need quality housing. Look at what we’re doing downtown, at the Farmers Market, in Uptown. It should be no different in the southern part of Dallas. That is what’s going to work on the corridor. That’s what we want to see.”

Proposals are due by the end of June, long after Lelah was supposed to have cut the ribbon at Patriots Crossing.

“We have a clean slate, an ability to start over,” Zavitkovsky said. “Nobody’s happy the process has taken this long, but we have the ability to do this the right way. Everyone’s frustrated — the neighborhood, the city. We’d all like to see a good outcome.”

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