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Nobody shops at Valley View Center, because, except for a bodega selling Mexican soft drinks and sweets, there are no open stores left in the mall that should have been demolished more than a year ago. But people do live in the dead mall. Or they did up until a few weeks ago, amid the rubble and rebar jutting out of what remains of the old Sanger-Harris and a half-heartedly demolished parking garage.
During a recent crawl through the ruins of the mall that promised "the best of everything" upon its opening in July 1973, city attorneys and code inspectors said they found evidence of homeless encampments — graffiti, trash, food. They say they saw wide-open holes in the chain-link and gaping wounds in the concrete that allowed for easy access to the hollowed-out guts of the slowly decomposing mall that refuses to go down. They found dozens of code violations, some massive and others trivial when you consider that Valley View — or "Vast Variety," said this newspaper 45 years ago — has looked like a bomb fell on it for many months.
"It looks pretty bad," said Chhunny Chhean, who was recently made Chief of Community Prosecution in the city attorney’s office. "You could see people had been there."
A few weeks ago Chhean told Scott Beck, who owns the mall, and Rich Enthoven, who possesses what’s left of the old Macy’s, to clean up their messes or pay up — $1,000 per violation per day. Long demand letters were sent to both men, ordering them to secure and clean the eyesore that mocks the enormous, pricey piece of real estate at Preston Road and LBJ Freeway. About time.
Chhean wrote to both parties that Valley View, as it barely stands now, creates "a substantial danger of injury or adverse health impacts to the public."
The shopping mall of my youth
Enthoven sent me a brief statement saying he’s ready to be done with the 300,000-square-foot Macy’s, which is slated to become apartments, a hotel and office towers built by Ross Perot Jr.’s Hillwood Urban. The old Sangers, which opened before the mall, only remains standing because Beck filed a lawsuit last year over damage he says the department store’s demolition caused to Valley View, where an AMC multiplex remains the lone attraction.
"We believe we are now in full compliance with the city of Dallas directives," Enthoven said. He wouldn’t comment on the Becks’ ongoing lawsuit, saying only, "We have resumed demolition under our permit and intend to complete the job over the next few weeks."
On the other side of the dead mall, the shuttered, gutted Sears looks ready for its farewell; a sign along LBJ promises a coming-soon 25-acre mixed-use development.
Which leaves the sad mess in the middle — the godforsaken husk of a shopping mall, my childhood haunt that I have now spent the better part of a decade mourning. By now we should have already seen at least some hint of the promised new billion-dollar cityscape atop the cracked concrete — high-rises and hotels, offices and apartments, stores and and a grand park, the latter funded in part with $6 million in match funds approved by voters during last year’s bond election.
A torn-down Valley View was supposed to kick-start development in one more part of this city that has grown stagnant, stale. Instead, Valley View remains an ignominious heap — that laundry list of code violations about which residents and nearby businesses call City Hall (and email me) to complain every week.
"Scott has been working with his team expeditiously to get everything resolved," Beck’s zoning attorney Angela Hunt, the former Dallas City Council member, told me last week. "And the city has been very helpful working with us. The Becks are ready to demolish the mall — and have been ready for the last couple of years."
Sure doesn’t feel like it: Beck forfeited $36 million in tax incentives when he failed to demolish the mall by its tear-down date of Dec. 31, 2016. He blamed City Hall for the hold-up, despite the fact this city spent many years and much money rewriting its rules to expedite the makeover of this expanse of ugly and useless that was to stretch from Preston back to the Galleria. A city official told me five years ago the so-called Midtown do-over was "the most exciting thing I’ve ever been involved in,"’ because "this is doable, it’s achievable, and all the stars are aligned."
But now Beck is back at City Hall asking for even more money than he sought before — upwards of $50 million, say city officials wary of committing a penny to this oft-broken promise.
"There’s always a new hurdle," says council member Lee Kleinman, whose district includes the zombie mall. "Every time they make up some new hurdle."
Or perhaps this delay is intentional. I went to Valley View Saturday — something I used to do almost every Saturday as a kid. Took my son for his first-ever driving lesson in the wide-open parking lot, where we espied some Dallas firefighters training in a tucked-away corner near the old JCPenny.
At which point my son pointed out what appeared to be a newly hung sign above a boarded-off entrance. It read, "Desert Fortune Casino."
I knew it.
Ah-HA! (Harry Wilonsky/Special contributor)