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Who Is Harlan Crow, And Why Are People Saying All Those Mean Things About Him?

“We have come too far to let one man destroy our downtown,” was the headline written by Dupree Scovell, Ben Browder, and Brentt Shropshire when they launched R.I.P Dallas , the pro-convention hotel website, two weeks ago. That headline has since been replaced. Someone must have whispered an embarrassing fact in their ears.

The fact is this. With the possible exception of Ray Hunt, no living person has done more to build downtown Dallas than Harlan Crow. I mean that literally. He –not his father – built the Trammell Crow Building. He built the Chase Tower. He built 2100 McKinney. His family built and endowed the Margaret and Trammell Crow Museum of Asian Art. As the largest of several owners of the parcel, he negotiated with the smaller owners the siting of the Nasher Sculpture Center in the Arts District. 

Harlan and I have known each other for 30 years, and we have agreed and disagreed issue-to-issue, candidate-to-candidate, often with humor, sometimes with ferocity. From 1996 until 2003, when I bought him out, he was the lead investor in D Magazine. He knew it was a high-risk deal, and he knew he wouldn’t see a great return if it worked. I’m convinced he did it simply because he thought Dallas needed it. During that period, we continued our pattern of agreement and disagreement, and sometimes it spilled out into the public arena. You’ll pardon me if I have come to believe that editorial integrity is among the highest rungs on the ethical ladder. Never once during our partnership did Harlan Crow ever attempt to influence our editorial policy. He never so much as hinted at it. If he disagreed, he said so, sometimes laughingly, sometimes bitingly (“scurrilous” is an epithet that tends to stick in an editor’s mind, especially when it comes from one’s majority owner). But he always did it after the fact.

I regret that Tom Leppert chose to begin his campaign for the convention hotel by attacking Harlan Crow. If the hotel is a good idea, the mayor should have been able to argue its case on the merits. But as the campaign geared up in its final weeks, I am not surprised that others have followed in his footsteps. The merits are hard to argue. That’s because they are hard to find.

However, I am writing this lengthy post to tell you about the Harlan Crow I know. In my experience, which is long and intimate, he is a man of integrity and sincere devotion to this city. As one small example of his integrity, but one which counts to journalists, when Trey Garrison interviewed him last May for D CEO, the first thing Crow told him was that he had a financial interest in the Anatole and, therefore, in the convention hotel decision. He then proceeded to tell why his ownership gave him an unique insight into the hotel and convention business which had led him to believe this deal is bad for Dallas.

I happen to agree with him, if not necessarily for the same reasons. I believe Dallas needs a convention hotel, but I am dismayed by the city’s decision on how to finance it. The city could have put up $250 million in a public-private partnership, but Tom Leppert and Councilman Ron Natinksy chose not to. Instead, they decided that if the city was going to invest that much, it should invest it all and own the hotel. That was a mistake. I told the mayor to his face that it was a mistake. If Proposition 1 passes — which I hope it does — it will not be Harlan Crow’s fault. It is the  mayor and City Council’s fault for trying to ram through a badly conceived financial deal. Harlan Crow will not be the victor. The City of Dallas will be the victor. And, sad to say, Tom Leppert — who chose to personalize this debate from the start — will be the loser.