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1611 Main Street, R.I.P.

Sunday afternoon, while the Cowboys were losing to the Rams, I heard a loud bang and went to investigate. It was the sound of a wrecking ball hitting the 129-year-old building next door to ours. I walked out to Main Street and saw people standing in front of Neiman’s, their phones pointed toward 1611 Main Street. I had missed the first few swings of the crane, but I got there just in time to see the top portion of the building crumble to the ground.

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Starbucks Giving Up on Seattle’s Best Coffee Stores Here

Sixteen months after plunging into the North Texas market with 10 drive-through Seattle’s Best Coffee locations, Starbucks Corp. has decided to shutter most of the stores. Eight of the drive-throughs should be closed by next month, the company says, while two locations—in Rockwall and Fort Worth—were converted this summer to Starbucks outlets.

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Tod Robberson Puts Pressure on District Attorney To Do His Job

Editorial writer Tod Robberson has a bylined op-ed in today’s paper that you should read. Essentially it says: “What the heck, people? I did a bunch of really solid reporting on a slumlord in southern Dallas who has been breaking the law for years and bragging about it. DA Craig Watkins? U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldaña? Are you guys paying attention?”

Here’s the first story Robberson did, a serious bit of reporting into the operations of Douglas T. “Chase” Fonteno, a self-described “real estate cat burglar” who takes poor people’s houses and then resells them. I know, right? It sounds insane. It sounds like something that authorities should put a stop to. Robberson wrote a series of stories about Fonteno back in May. Then he brought his findings to the authorities. But as Mayor Mike Rawlings told Robberson, there isn’t much the city can do besides slap Fonteno on his wrist. So:

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Former Parkland CEO Ron Anderson, RIP

The longtime Parkland CEO died yesterday of cancer at age 68. Read much more on D Healthcare Daily. The hospital system’s release about the man who ran the place for almost 30 years is below:

Ron J. Anderson, MD, a national spokesperson for public health issues and a champion for the poor and medically underserved, died Sept. 11, 2014 of cancer. He was 68 years old. Services are pending.

A native of Chickasha, OK, Dr. Anderson was President and CEO of Parkland Health & Hospital System for 29 years, a job he assumed in 1982 at the age of 35 after serving for two years as Medical Director of Parkland’s Emergency Room and Outpatient Clinic and Head of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s Division of Internal Medicine. He retired in 2011. In his final years at Parkland he led the successful bond campaign that secured public financing for the new $1.3 billion Parkland hospital due to open in mid-2015.

On Sept. 10, the Parkland Board of Managers unanimously endorsed a plan led by Parkland Foundation to place a commemorative statue in the new hospital and to name Parkland’s new medical/surgical outpatient clinic after Dr. Anderson. In the 1980s, Dr. Anderson suggested setting up health clinics in Dallas’ poorest neighborhoods, convincing skeptical Board members and local officials of the need. Parkland now operates a dozen Community Oriented Primary Care clinics throughout the county, making primary and preventive health care more accessible.

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RadioShack On the Verge of Bankruptcy

Despite trying to rebrand itself as The Shack and hiring a bunch of has-beens to be in its ads and whatever else, the formerly useful electronics store now says it can’t stay afloat “beyond the very near term.” (As of August 2, it had $30.5 million in cash, or $6,800 for each of its 4,485 stores.) Yeesh. If it goes under, I don’t know where I’m going to get my, uh, hmm, my, let’s see here, my, um, uh — yeah.

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Billionaire Bites Back: Judge All But Tosses Dallas Art Collector’s Lawsuit

The tawdry tale of a multimillion dollar work of art, a widowed patroness, a powerful Mexican billionaire, and the little, red faced museum stuck in the middle of all of it took yet another turn in its four-year-long court battle. Dallas mega-collector Marguerite Hoffman’s lawyers convinced a jury late last year that debt baron David Martinez broke a confidential agreement when he sold at public auction a painting by Marc Rothko, which was sold to him by Hoffman in a hush-hush deal. Now, a judge ruled Friday that Martinez did not violate any agreement.

To recap:

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Are Your Cell Phone Calls Being Intercepted?

A corner-office-dwelling FrontBurnervian passes along this Popular Science story in which Les Goldsmith, the CEO of a company that makes a hyper-secure $3,500 mobile phone, says his team has located at least 17 phony cell towers across the United States. The accompanying map places one of those in or near Dallas.

The fake towers are known as “interceptors,” basically equipment used to (not surprisingly) intercept the calls and data coming out of passing phones. Who’s responsible for this? It’s a mystery:

What we find suspicious is that a lot of these interceptors are right on top of U.S. military bases.  So we begin to wonder – are some of them U.S. government interceptors?  Or are some of them Chinese interceptors?” says Goldsmith.  “Whose interceptor is it?  Who are they, that’s listening to calls around military bases?  Is it just the U.S. military, or are they foreign governments doing it?  The point is: we don’t really know whose they are.”

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Leading Off (8/29/14)

Judge Rules School Finance System Unconstitutional. It’s the second time in 18 months that State District Judge John Dietz of Austin has decided in favor of the 600 local school districts that sued the state. Dietz ruled that, even after increasing school funding by $3.4 billion during the most recent session, the legislature has still left education statewide underfunded. He also cited inequities in the way state funds are distributed. The state (namely attorney general and GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott) will appeal.

Dallas County Not Properly Tracking HIV. A state report found 209 adult cases and 139 pediatric cases went “unreported” by the county health department from 2009 to 2012. That’s the largest number of unreported cases in Texas. Failure to follow up to collect information makes it difficult to determine whether a patient’s contacts may have also been affected and means the department can miss out on federal funding to treat patients.

Cowboys Winless in Preseason. They fell to the Denver Broncos, 27-3, last night. It’s the fifth time in franchise history the team hasn’t bothered to win any of its meaningless practice games.

Bitcoin ATMs Open in Dallas. In case you want to exchange your money that’s backed by the full faith and credit of the United States for a crypto-currency backed by the self-assurance of libertarian utopians worldwide. Right now one Bitcoin will cost you about $507.

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How an Office Romance Went Off the Rails and Brought Down the NCPA’s John Goodman

Back in June, when the National Center for Policy Analysis fired its CEO for alleged “sexual misconduct and breach of fiduciary duty,” the free-market think tank had more than a dozen directors on its board. Chief executive John C. Goodman denied the charges at the time, you might recall, and said his dismissal was based on trivialities. Today the NCPA board is down to just five directors—and insiders say the Dallas nonprofit is struggling to survive.

So, what happened to bring all this about? The apparent implosion has come as the result of an office romance between Goodman and a staffer that went way off the rails, leading to an unusual “job promotion” that backfired badly:

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Hunt Oil Building Gives a Shout Out to Wick Allison

Our 40th anniversary issue will arrive in subscribers’ mailboxes this week and hit newsstands this weekend. You’ll hear more about it on FrontBurner in the coming days and about a related photography exhibit that we installed at Klyde Warren Park yesterday. Right now, I just wanted to share the below video taken last night. Several of the buildings downtown turned red last night to celebrate our anniversary. Thanks to everyone who flipped their LEDs for us. But a special thanks to the Hunt Oil building, which really did it up right:

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Leading Off (8/22/14)

Another Shooting by a Dallas Cop. It’s the fourth involving the city’s police force in the last two weeks. Dallas officers have shot 10 people so far this year, and seven have died — one of those was unarmed. (Compare that number to 12 in all of 2013.) Thursday night’s incident took place near the Dallas VA Medical Center. The man who was shot reportedly had himself shot a woman in the jaw.

State Allows Waste Control Specialists to Bury More Radioactive Waste. Dallas’ most evil genius may no longer be in charge of the company, but his vision for bringing byproducts of nuclear power plants to a site in West Texas lives on. The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality has approved changes that will allow WCS to accept triple the amount they could previously.

TCEQ Cites XTO For Stealing Water. The state agency says the company, which is owned by Exxon Mobil, took almost 1.4 million gallons of water to which it was not entitled, which it used for fracking.

Cowboys Linebacker Suffers Career-Ending Injury. DeVonte Holloman left Saturday’s preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens with a spinal injury, and doctors are advising that he never again play football.

Cowboys to Break Ground on Frisco HQ. Construction will kick off Friday, and the team expects to officially move from Valley Ranch to its new home for the 2016 season.

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Can Texas Support a Privately Funded Bullet Train?

The Texas Tribune today has a piece about the proposed bullet train from Dallas to Houston, which we’ve mentioned before. The big question, of course, is whether the money for the privately funded project will materialize:

Richard Arena, a transportation and infrastructure consultant who sits on the board of the U.S. High Speed Rail Association, said he believes Texas Central’s project could become the first truly high-speed rail system in the country, but he has concerns about the project’s financing. In particular, he’s not clear how the Dallas-Houston line will manage to earn enough revenue to pay off the interest on the billions of dollars’ worth of bonds that will likely have to be issued to fund the construction. Such financial challenges are why some public subsidies are the norm for public rail systems, he said.

“I still have skepticism of where the funding is going to come long-term,” Arena said.

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Museum Tower Shows Strong Uptick in Sales

Last night, I was leaving downtown shortly before 10 o’clock when I espied Museum Tower and what appeared to be about six of its residents still awake and with their lights on. “Either that tower is still very empty,” I thought, “or the folks who live there turn in early.” So, once again, I combed through the numbers in DCAD.

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John Oliver vs. Ace Cash Express and Other Payday Lenders

Last night on his HBO show, John Oliver did a 16-minute segment on predatory payday lenders, including Irving-based Ace Cash Express. Oliver rightly went on the attack against an industry that legally gets away with charging usurious interest rates and (as we’ve mentioned before) trains its employees in how to catch customers in a vicious cycle of borrowing.

He played clips from this explanatory video produced by Ace, which features a pleasant woman pleasantly describing how the company “will work with you” if you can’t get a loan paid back on time.

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