By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner
Progress in Dallas County has historically been slower in the South than the North, according to Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price of District 3. The Southern Sector is often known for its food deserts, lack of updated broadband and lack of businesses moving to the area.
“We recently completed – under the Affordable Care Act – the Community Needs Assessment, which talks about the needs in this community in ZIP codes in this area,” Price said. “One thing that came out of that report is that if you live North of I-30 vs. South, you live 23 years longer because you live North of I-30.”
In order to tackle these issues and help residents in Southern Dallas County with improved services, the Dallas County Commissioner’s Court unveiled its newest public facility, the South Dallas Government Center. Price led the effort to bring the center to the Southern community. It’s the county’s first construction in the Southern Sector in over 50 years.
The center was unveiled during a ribbon cutting ceremony and grand opening July 29. The ceremony featured members of the Commissioner’s Court and County Judge Clay Jenkins, DeSoto Mayor Rachel Proctor, Balch Springs Mayor Carrie Gordon, Hutchins Texas Mayor Mario Vasquez, Sheriff Marian Brown, Constable Tracey Gulley, Judge Thomas G. Jones and Judge Valencia Nash, Dallas County Administrator Darryl Martin and James Henderson with Veteran Affairs. Dallas City Council member Carolyn King Arnold of District 4 was also present.
The 73,000-square-foot facility was built on a 12-acre campus located on the corners of West Wheatland Road and Polk Street. It is the home of the Justice of the Peace Courts, Constable’s office in District One, the Dallas County Sheriff Patrol, the Dallas County Tax office, and Dallas County Veteran Services and the Dallas County Training Academy.
The center features art, history and the culture of South Dallas depicted in paintings, murals and pictures. It also pays tribute to court officials and law enforcement officers through artifact displays and exhibits.
Dallas Public Library partnered on the project to showcase artwork and pictures inside the building. Artifacts and exhibits highlight court officials and law enforcement officers who were pioneers in Dallas County as the first African Americans in their positions. It also had photographs that showcased the challenges Black people faced in the area.
“When you go to the second floor, you see Pan African Resource Center, you see African art, you see our people, and that bricks and mortar must have conscience,” Price said. “When you walk into this facility, I want you to be able to feel the pride and understand that we have been major investors in this community. It’s about a $48 million facility.”
Price is also getting ready to construct another facility in Mesquite.
“I feel good about the projects and I hope the community gets that sense of feel and pride when they enter that facility,” he said. “We’re going to have to be informed and engaged with issues that impact our community and we cannot look for somebody else. In the Book of Lamentations 4:17, it says, “We looked, and we looked, and we looked to a nation that could not save us. Even the Bible says we have got to go about it ourselves. And so that’s what I mean. I may be the longest serving elected official in Dallas County history, serving 36 years as County Commissioner. I want them to look around and say that he did something when he passed this way.”
Martin said it took a collaborative effort to bring Price’s vision alive.
“I want to thank our commissioners and Judge Jenkins because this would not have happened if it wasn’t for their vision and for their support, these wild ideas me and my staff had,” Martin expressed. “Our communities deserve this and deserve better. Our last South Dallas Government Center was in Lancaster built in the 1960s until we moved into this building. And it still looked like it was the 1960s when you walked into that building. We started construction of this building in May of 2019.”
He went on to say that Price made it clear that the project needed to have primarily minority participants.
“So as part of our borrowing we went to a minority finance firm that is 100% minority and that is Serra Capital,” he said. “We went to a design firm which is 90% minority in KAI. We went for construction which is 50% minority, Source and S&P.”
Martin also revealed that the building had a special painting of Price who has served Dallas County for 51 years, 36 of those serving as a commissioner.
Price was honored by the gift but said serving the residents has been his priority.
“While at the end of the day, one of the challenges of government is not to make the taxpayers so indebted that they cannot plan future envisions,” Price said. “We were able to embark upon a $250 million capital program of building and not asking the taxpayer for another single red cent. And the South Dallas Government Center is long overdue.”
Price went on to say that the building will make it easier for residents to receive many government services under one roof.
“What that meant was that while all the offices that now occupy that facility were operating, we were operating in facilities that had basically been reconditioned, refurbished – and so the tax office was out in Duncanville, Judge Nash was in Lancaster in a little building, Judge Jones and Constable Gulley were up the street, the sheriff’s patrol and veteran services were operating just out of the Health and Human Services Building on Stemmons Expressway,” Price said.
“Now, all of those units have a new home, 73,000 square feet of a new building for the government center and 27,000 square feet of a new sheriff’s academy. The sheriff’s academy was located down next to my road and bridge district on Langdon Road and has been for the past probably 40 plus years and we could not maintain that facility. It was poorly constructed; it’s in the floodway. And so as a result, Dallas County made the acquisition of almost 12 acres of land. Now you have a 73,000 foot government center, which houses a tax office and the tax office is the second largest tax office in Dallas County.”
Price said the tax office does your vehicle registrations, transfer title and handicap stickers. It is also home to veteran’s services.
“The veterans office has become the busiest veteran’s office in Dallas County, and it’s located in a matter that is easy, accessible and the synergy of where an underserved veteran’s population resides,” he said.
“The sheriff’s department freeway management is out of that building because they manage the freeways in order that local law enforcement agencies can return to quote community policing. What it meant was the community got a chance to not only get a new structure, but that I got an opportunity to say that this courthouse shouldn’t look like other courthouses that we should be talking about legacy. The people are from which we receive the baton to go forward. We should be talking about pride and comfort.”
Price also plans to have his town hall meetings in the new facility.
“Within the next three weeks I will have an American Rescue Plan town meeting in the lobby of the South Dallas Government Center,” he said. “This is going to be a meeting of the community whereby they tell us, and we get input on what we should do with some of this American Rescue money.”
Another area Price addressed at the ribbon cutting was the difference in broadband in South Dallas compared to North Dallas.
“There is a difference in broadband and the difference in the impact South of I-30 versus North of I-30,” Price said. “As a result of presentations before the Commissioner’s Court and COVID impact that revealed a number, another desert in our community. We talk about the food deserts, we talk about the housing deserts, we talk about all the other debt. Well, during this pandemic, we have discovered we have another designation that entails broadband and so telecommuting is a challenge. For young people, learning for them was a challenge.
“Dallas County has now bought into the broadband infrastructure with some other collaborations. That’s what we’re going to do within the next couple of three weeks and have a meeting and talk about some of the other issues that Dallas County is brought into.”
When it comes to broadband and internet issues, Price said they figured out that the South is over a decade behind.
“The Commissioners Court decided that we are going to invest in the Southern sector in broadband for about $300 million,” he said. “I was telling those ministers, if you wonder why during COVID, your church was not able to live stream without rebuffering, it is because the broadband South of I-30 is over 10 years in arrearage compared to North of I- 30. They’re all quality-of-life issues. We are in a modality now that we’re trying to catch up. It’s not enough to have the land. You’ve got to deploy those issues that talk about quality of life.”
Price exprssed his appreciation toward the community as he reflected on the painting of him.
“I appreciate the honor,” he concluded. “But the honor is not in a picture. The honor is in me serving this community for nine terms, you’re having faith and confidence in me, for me to be able to see some of the results of the struggle of this community. My struggle is this community’s struggle. This community has been extremely good to me and they need to be able to see this kind of South Dallas Government Center. They need to see the kind of community health needs assessment being implemented and on the ground.”
Proctor, who grew up in the area, explained the inportance of the new center meant to her community.
“I think it is wonderful to be able to bring the resources that our people need to them instead of them having to go to the resources,” Proctor said. “I am super excited especially for the constituents of DeSoto because we are right here at the border, and it makes those things much more easier and accessible for them.”