Online Exclusive: Wednesday, June 25, 2008
It’s Not Nice to Fool the Taxpayers


It was apparently the best-kept secret in town. The Tarrant County College District announced yesterday that it has bought the RadioShack compound for $238 million for its downtown campus, suddenly abandoning more than half of its grandiose and controversial plans to build what one critic had called a "Taj Mahal on the Trinity" east of the Tarrant County courthouse, near the site where Fort Worth was founded. But college spokeswoman Donna Darovich said the RadioShack purchase has been under consideration since 2006 and actually in negotiations since October 2007. Still, during that same period, and amid roiling controversy, a huge swath of the historic bluff was excavated and construction of four buildings was begun on the south side of the river, enraging historians, causing concern for city planners and ruffling the feathers of downtown’s 800-pound gorilla, Ed Bass.
Even the Corps of Engineers, whose job it had been to make sure the district’s original plans to build on both sides of the river and on top of the levee would not cause environmental or cultural damage to the historic area, didn’t know that their role was about to come to an abrupt end. "We found out when you did, when we got the press release this morning," said Clay Church, public affairs officer for the Corps,
It appears to be a sweetheart deal for everyone - except the taxpayers. According to SEC filings for RadioShack, the sale contract allows the company to continue occupying a couple of buildings, rent-free, for three years and retain all of its economic development grants and property tax abatements handed out by the city in 2005 as an incentive to keep its corporate headquarters downtown. Dallas based real estate investors Jeffrey Swope and Stephen Modory took home $3 million for brokering the deal for TCC (not included in the purchase price announced yesterday) And the buildings under construction on the south side of the Trinity as part of the original plans for the downtown campus will be completed, keeping the contractors busy for a couple more years. The controversial bridge over the river, and the north-bank buildings that would have required sinking piers into the flood-control levees - the part that the college failed to apply for a Corps permit for until March - will be ditched. Even the school’sembattled chancellor, Leonardo de la Garza, upon whose watch the costs for the downtown campus spiraled out of control, ends up with a 10 percent salary increase to $325,000 and a three-year extended contract, given to him by his board the day the RadioShack purchase was announced.
According to TCC documents and interviews with Darovich, $77 million has been spent so far on the downtown campus construction, $40 million has gone for purchasing property for the project, $170 million is the projected cost for completing the buildings under construction on the bluff, and $80 million is needed for renovations at RadioShack. Add those costs to the purchase price and the brokers’ fee and the taxpayers are looking at a whooping $528 million outlay for a junior college. If TCC had continued the construction as planned, costs were expected to top out around $350 million. But Darovich said that the board decided the price was worth it, because now the college is looking at a "cost certainty," and no more surprises.
The 47 acres on the north bank of the river, as well as some of the downtown lots the school bought and leveled, likely will be put up for sale, Darovich said. TCC will use the four buildings it plans to complete on the downtown side for district administrators’ offices and possibly some continuing education classrooms, she said.
The decision angered some, pleased others, but was met mostly with shock and surprise. "I’m astounded -- all that big land grab for nothing," said Robert Geib, an attorney who sold his office on East Bluff Street to the district under the threat of losing it to eminent domain. Besides being angry over his property loss, he’s madder than hell, he said, over the "cannibalizing of the tax base." Millions of dollars worth of tax-producing properties from Pecan to Henderson Street were taken off the tax rolls for the "the campus to nowhere" he pointed out. "Now RadioShack’s tax dollars will be lost. And all that money spent on consulting fees, architects’ fees, contractors’ fees, down the drain. ... This is he poorest planning I’ve ever seen, and I wonder when the taxpayers are going to say ’enough’."
Larry Meeker, another long-time critic of the new campus, said that, if a downtown campus is needed, "the RadioShack complex is the much better choice." He was a leader more than 40 years ago in helping establish the college district and this year his money helped elect a new TCC trustee committed to stopping the construction of the campus. The college’s announcement that it would build administrative offices on the bluffside property is "unacceptable," he said. "They have purchased more than 900,000 square feet [from RadioShack] and they’re going to continue to build offices for the chancellor and other high officers? They’ve got to quit spending money [on that site] and sell it, and recoup some of those millions."
If they don’t, Meeker said, "I wouldn’t be surprised to see a recall election of [certain] trustees soon."

For more details on the TCC downtown campus controversy, read "Master’s Degree of a Mess" at

Email this Article...

Back to Top

Copyright 2002 to 2022 FW Weekly.
3311 Hamilton Ave. Fort Worth, TX 76107
Phone: (817) 321-9700 - Fax: (817) 335-9575 - Email Contact
Archive System by PrimeSite Web Solutions