The first story I wrote about the big plan from Jeff Beck and sons Scott and Jarrod Beck to redo Valley View Center ran on April 23, 2012. Crews had just started to widen what would become the so-called LBJ Express in front of the North Dallas mall of my childhood. The first Avengers movie was still weeks from being released. And Mitt Romney was the Republican nominee for president.
That's the piece in which the Becks promised that Valley View Center would one day be demolished and replaced by ... let me check my notes ... oh, yes, "1.5 million square feet of retail storefronts, restaurants, residential units, office towers and even a high-rise hotel with condo towers," along with a giant park. Scott Beck talked about building "an urban village" upon the ashes of the dead mall. And Mayor Mike Rawlings saw, in the not-too-far-off future, "an important linkage in the redevelopment extending west to the tollway."
More than six years later, though, the mall still stands -- a rotten, cracked husk topped by an AMC theater now showing 1977's Smokey and the Bandit for $3.99, for those in the mood to remember when. I, for one, am now grateful for Valley View's continued existence -- my son is learning to drive in the same sprawling parking lot where I took my first left turn.
But nearby residents are fed-up with the bombed-out eyesore; the city, too.
On Wednesday Dallas City Hall took the extraordinary step of suing the owners of Valley View Mall -- TX Dallas Midtown LP, the Becks' long-ago proposed rebranding for the site at Preston Road and LBJ. Extraordinary, because not so long ago the city and the Becks were partners in the redevelopment.
The city worked with the Becks to rezone their 430 acres, holding numerous town halls and countless meetings to flesh out an area master plan. The city lined up $36 million in tax incentives to redevelop the property. And the city included in its 2017 bond program $6 million in matching funds for a Midtown Park that I am starting to believe I will never see in my lifetime.
And now the city is claiming, in papers filed in Dallas County court this week, that Valley View is a giant code violation. There are, the city says, businesses operating with certificate of occupancy. The building is full of "collapse hazards." And the air-conditioning doesn't always work.
Same goes the fire suppression system, which the city says it wants to inspect but hasn't been able to. A city attorney said Wednesday the mall was recently under fire watch, meaning personnel from Dallas Fire-Rescue had to be onsite to detect what the city calls "early signs of unwanted fire" should one break out. The Becks were responsible for covering that cost.
"The fact we haven't been able to get in there and conduct a complete inspection is troublesome, because we need access to do that," said Chhunny Chhean, the executive assistant city attorney who filed the suit. "If the first responders have to go out there, they need to know what they will encounter."
Former council member Angela Hunt, the attorney repping the ghost of Valley View, didn't return messages asking for comment. Beck said Thursday he had no comment.
Chhean's also going after the old Sanger-Harris or Macy's or however you remember that pile of half-demolished rubble attached to Valley View. Because of "sharp protrusions" and "high weeds" and "accumulating waste" that can "emit noxious or offensive odors." That part of the mall is owned by EF Properties, which happens to be involved in litigation with the Becks over -- yeah, I know, the irony -- a hole the demolition company put in Valley View when they started to tear down the old Macy's last year.
"EF Properties pulled another demo permit," Chhean said, "and let it expire without finishing."
I asked EF's owmer Rich Enthoven for a comment, too, and haven't heard back.
Which I kind of understand, because at this point, what's left to say? And what's left to believe? This mall was supposed to be gone years ago. But it's not. The first phase of Midtown was supposed to open next year. But it won't. The Midtown Park, presented to Park Board two Septembers ago, is still just another rendering that might as well be a fairy tail.
Beck used to blame the city for zoning hold-ups. Enthoven blamed Beck. Then Beck sued Enthoven. And the city, which already sent clean-up-or-else demand letters to the Becks and EF back in May, is blaming everyone. Again.
This whole thing is an accursed mess -- "a substantial danger," too, in the words of Chhunny Chhean, "because the temporary fencing out there will not keep a determined person out of there." It's also a promise broken, hope squandered.
The lawsuits, city council member Lee Kleinman said Wednesday, "are a good step toward getting a resolution over there and moving that mall towards demolition and redevelopment."
He said there haven't been substantial talks about the mall's fate in months. And those that did take place, with the mayor and other parties, weren't "fruitful." Well, yeah.
Said Kleinman, with the shrug of exasperation, "I am disappointed."
Valley View is not a dead mall. Because Valley View cannot be killed.