Why Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings warns against any ‘grand finale’ for GrowSouth

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As Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings launches the final year of his administration’s GrowSouth economic development efforts, our assessment is this:

Things are booming in many southern Dallas neighborhoods, at least partly because of Rawlings’ more than six years of hard work. But so many areas, from south Oak Cliff to Pleasant Grove, still need investment and opportunity.

Rawlings and GrowSouth director Vana Hammond know they’ve only scratched the surface. So don’t expect to hear any talk of a grand finale during Thursday’s kickoff of year seven.

Just as, more than 10 years ago, this newspaper recognized that genuine and lasting equity around economic and quality of life issues in southern Dallas would require generations-long work, Rawlings sees GrowSouth as part of a similar marathon.

The mayor’s promise: "We will just keep running across all the initiatives until my last day in office. Even seven years of work is only a start."

GrowSouth oversaw victories large and small in the past year — from recruiting more than 150 parents in the Urbandale and Parkdale neighborhoods of southeast Dallas to joining DISD parent-teacher organizations to luring Texas Capital to open the first bank in West Dallas.

The number of market-value single-family houses continues to creep upward and the stray dog numbers continue to fall. The logjam was finally broken in an interminable delay in infrastructure improvements in the Education Corridor near the University of North Texas at Dallas. And Trinity Forest Golf Club, where Thursday’s GrowSouth event will take place, just hosted its first-ever AT&T Byron Nelson tournament.

Many of the good-news headlines generated in southern Dallas these days are not specifically the work of GrowSouth. For instance, earlier this month, a foundation announced plans to build the city’s largest senior center in the Red Bird neighborhood through a partnership with the Park and Recreation Department.

How many successes similar to the $1.4 million senior facility would have occurred without the energy and attention generated by GrowSouth? Far, far fewer. After all, at its heart, GrowSouth is a sustained marketing campaign.

Just as Jefferson Boulevard surged in the past year, Rawlings predicts hot spots of success for Red Bird, Executive Airport and Pleasant Grove in 2018. He’s equally enthused about the converging energy of South Dallas’ Forest Theater complex and The Cedars and Exposition Avenue developments.

Much of Rawlings’ optimism going into the final year of his mayoral term springs from what he assesses as across-the-board buy-in — not just at City Hall but from everyone who operates in the public space — for continued concentrated efforts in southern Dallas.

"The thing that I’m most pleased with in this year is that, not GrowSouth, but southern Dallas as a region is getting internalized in institutions across the city," he told us.

Many key markers in southern Dallas are trending in the right direction, from per capita income to real estate tax value; however, in the past year, violent crime has inched up almost 3 percent and public school enrollment dropped by almost 9 percent. (Both statistics reflect citywide trends.)

In his preview of the Thursday event, Rawlings emphasized that beyond the economic development efforts of GrowSouth, he is increasingly concerned about how best to move forward on the vexing issue of poverty, which threatens both individual residents and the city as a whole. The mayor seems more committed than ever to finding a model to more effectively address this challenge.

And like this newspaper, Rawlings wants to see policy discussion around southern Dallas’ future highlighted in the 2019 mayoral race. "It’s likely," Rawlings said Monday, that the next mayoral candidates will have "even simpler or cooler ideas than mine on how to do it."

But for now, Rawlings is much more focused on what GrowSouth can accomplish in its last official year than he is in turning over the keys to the next mayor.

We look forward to seeing what the next 12 months bring. Making long-term commitments — and seeing them through — on behalf of southern Dallas residents must remain Rawlings’ top priority.

Among the victories Mayor Mike Rawlings and his team cite from year six:

— More than 6,800 single-family rental homes have been inspected out of approximately 15,000 citywide. While this program extends to all of Dallas, a large percentage of substandard rentals are in southern Dallas.

— Progress continues on creation of a large integrated health clinic, potentially in the Lancaster-Camp Wisdom neighborhood.

— 15 new GrowSouth Challenge Grant projects were announced.

— Pleasant Grove Now initiative launched, with an initial focus on creating a town center-type hub.

— The GrowSouth Advisory Council increasingly serves as ambassadors to real estate agents and has overseen efforts to document available commercial real estate.

— Education initiatives that operate out of Rawlings’ office, including the summer reading program and interns effort, for the first time enrolled more than half their participants from southern Dallas.

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