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Dissent grows over GrowSouth

MIKE MCGEE | 7/22/2016, 11:09 a.m.
“It’s like we have a weird uncle living in the attic and no one wants to talk about the weird ...
Marvin Earle talks about the GrowSouth project during a briefing at City Hall. Earle, who once sat on the GrowSouth committee, now criticizes the plan. Marvin Earle

The Dallas Examiner

“It’s like we have a weird uncle living in the attic and no one wants to talk about the weird uncle living in the attic,” said Marvin Earle about the methodology used in implementing aspects of the mayor’s GrowSouth plan and the lack of critical examination into how business development goals of the initiative are being accomplished.

GrowSouth, the project that launched four years ago to create improved and sustainable living to the southern parts of the city, has been credited with bringing about positive changes in crime rates, home ownership, employment, and new business within eight targeted regions. Yet Earle, a real estate investor and a former volunteer on the mayor’s advisory council on GrowSouth for the UNT/Redbird Corridor, expressed that he grew disillusioned with the process he was witnessing from his insider’s position.

“One of my challenges as I became uniquely involved with this was that many of the projects that GrowSouth had identified as some of their successes – they were actually projects that had been already completed, and already up and running, and had already been developed in West Dallas.”

Earle claimed the Trinity Groves area was one example of “a disingenuous trend” where GrowSouth was credited for successful revitalization of an area that predated the initial plan.

“They were being developed and realized from a construction standpoint well before the GrowSouth initiative.”

Another assertion from the former volunteer is that the money for economic development has come mostly from North Dallas, or granted by the federal government. The development has been south of the Trinity River, and the end consumer are the people of the Southern Sectors, yet those citizens hardly participate in the growth, he contended.

“There was a compelling theme that I had identified: African American, Hispanic and, if you want, the LGBT community. These three demographics were being either accidentally or purposefully not allowed to become contractors, subcontractors, or participate in any way of the development other than with the developer as an employee that was cleaning up and emptying trash. They served that capacity.”

Earle noted that, upon reviewing data collected about the plan, he resigned from the mayor’s advisory council after failing to convince more of the council to reassess the manner of expanding GrowSouth.

He is not alone in his judgement of how the economic development has rolled out. Oak Cliff resident Charles O’Neal insisted the plan is inherently flawed based upon a path that business growth has historically always taken for African Americans to the South.

“I will say, the idea of GrowSouth makes sense if it focuses attention on the reality of economic development,” he shared, and agreed that the plan would work for all if part of the new business creation included putting to use the financial potential already in the neighborhoods and an equitable partnership with the citizens of those regions.

He cautioned that an ever-present bias will be its undoing, however.

“If the residents of Southern Dallas are going to be treated expressly as consumers of the business services that will be made possible through the insertion of new players into the marketplace, then it’s a failed exercise. It will not be economic development; it will be economic exploitation.”