Kill the Inland Port Master Plan Idea. Kill It Dead.

Today the Dallas Morning News came out in favor of forcing a master plan on the International Inland Port.

If planned and executed properly, this public-private partnership should swell the tax base for a part of the county that sorely needs swelling. It only makes sense that something this complex — in effect, an international “port” at the nexus of rail lines, highways and, importantly, developable land — should have a comprehensive plan for the needed infrastructure, specifically roads, water and sewer.

Allow me to retort.

Dallas County, Hutchins, and Wilmer oppose the idea. Only the city of Dallas, which constitutes a quarter of the inland port’s acreage, and Lancaster, which has its own problems, support the creation of a whole new layer of bureaucracy, red tape, meddling, and disincentives.

So those against must seem crazy right? The inland port is some 75,000 acres, it’s complex, and it’s multi-jurisdictional. How can you not have a master plan?

Well, for starters, the Inland International Port of Dallas exists solely on paper. It’s an idea.

The area is roughly bounded by Interstate 20 to the north, Interstate 45 to the east, Interstate 35-E to the west, and the proposed Loop 9 alignment to the south. Within these uneven borders lie two major north-south rail lines, a Union Pacific intermodal facility that performs about 300,000 lifts a year, Lancaster Executive Airport, and plots with triple freeport inventory tax exemption (city, county, and school business inventory taxes for inventory held less than 175 days). The area also has pending designation as a foreign trade zone, part of the NAFTA trade corridor, and as a Texas enterprise zone. (This last bit is exactly what government should be doing if they want development — getting out of the way.)

The only part of the inland port it that’s real is The Allen Group’s portion of it. The Allen Group is the development company that’s been working for more than two years and has spent $6 million creating a comprehensive plan.

The Allen Group plans to develop at least 60 million square feet of space for what it calls the Dallas Logistics Hub, a major component of the inland port concept. The Hub will be roughly divided up into 65 percent for industrial and transportation development, with the balance going for office, logistics, retail, and other development. The developer hopes the existing UP intermodal yard, which currently handles 360,000 lifts a year but has a maximum capacity of 600,000, can be matched with the construction of a BNSF facility, which talk about town says could be double that capacity. In other words, a million lifts a year. A single lift represents about a $500 benefit to the area. Chew on that.

So the Allen Group? They have skin in the game. They’ve done the hard work. And despite what some people might think, people who invest that kind of money do, indeed, take the long view. (The Allen Group’s capital comes from immediate Allen family members, not far-flung investors, and it’s the majority of the company’s investment.)

The Allen Group stepped into a place long neglected by government, put their money where their mouth is, and put into motion a plan that will create jobs and better the community. Government has done almost exactly jack and squat, and now it wants to latch on like a parasite.

Think about how excited other potential investors will be when they find out that a company like Allen Group can work for years in good faith and spend millions to get through existing red tape, only to find out the controlling municipalities have exactly no problem saddling them with more on a whim, after the fact.

It’s not like the city of Dallas and the rest of the towns haven’t known what the Allen Group was up to. I wrote about the inland port and the Allen Group almost two years ago. And now, from almost out of nowhere, there comes demand for a multi-jurisdictional master plan? This late in the process, when it’s too late for Allen Group to pull out? Doesn’t seem at all strange to you?

What’s more, the area in question already has zoning, so we’re not talking about chaotic, haphazard development happening. There’s even a loose agreement among the municipalities on how the area should be developed. And developers take a longer view than politicians — they have long-term profits; politicians think of the next election.

The DMN concludes by insulting one of the few men who made a difference in South Dallas.

(CEO Richard) Allen has a lot riding on the success of his Dallas Logistics Hub, so it’s not hard to understand his desire to be left alone. Harder to grasp is his significant trust issue with everyone at every level of government who wants to make sure sound public policy supports private enterprise.

Are you kidding? Look, this is not government wanting to make sure sound public policy supports private anything. This is about johnny-come-lately elected officials looking to create a new layer of hurdles developers have to negotiate, which gives those in government more power, influence, and — make no mistake about it — more opportunities to squeeze companies at every turn

Mr. Allen might see enemies behind every tree, but it’s time he realized that the city of Dallas, among others, already has invested significant public funds in the inland port. It would make no sense now to injure a major private investor and blow that investment.

No, it’s never a good idea to seriously injure your host organism. You just latch on, and bleed it a little at a time.

I’m sorry, but a case has not been made for a master plan. We should never work from the baseline assumption that we need a “five year plan” or whatever from government for something to work. In fact, a top-down, all-seeing, rigid master plan will serve only to stifle development, slow development, and make developers kowtow before elected or appointed politicians who all want a taste of the action.

The inland port needs to be allowed to grow organically and naturally. It’s called spontaneous order, and it happens all the time. The place for government here is to ensure that utilities are generally coordinated, and then get out of the way. When you lock in grand, top-down designs, you lock out innovation and ideas that you haven’t thought of. You lock out evolving technologies and business models. You prevent investors and developers from working out their own solutions to problems you couldn’t possibly foresee.

With existing zoning and cooperation, development can be coordinated as it happens — not years and possibly decades before dirt is turned — and it can be flexible enough to adjust to what’s happening on the ground and in the market. Locked in is locked out.

Remember, only 6,000 acres of the 75,000 of the inland port have any kind of serious plan or money invested at all. The rest of it is rough ideas on paper. The demand for a government master plan is asking for someone who has no money at risk to come in, cleave to the competing wishes of politicians, and commit the whole thing to ink, when it’s still a pencil sketch.

Let it go, Dallas, Lancaster, and NTCOG. Leave them alone.

Comments

  1. Amy S says:

    I find parallels between this and the convention center hotel. Doing some research recently on Mixed Beverage Tax receipts, I noticed how much the current hotels pay (just) in gross receipts tax – in August ’07 the Anatole paid over $115,000 (the city/county receives over $16,000 of that). I couldn’t help thinking how the city was basically going to say “Thank you for generating that money for us all these years but we’ll be taking away your business now”.

  2. Nathan says:

    While I’m sure at this point Allen Group truly desires little to no government interference with their project, I’d be shocked if they don’t come around with their hands stretched out and their palms open in the next few years.

    Allen Group made a sizable campaign contribution in favor of building a grossly expensive highway in the Trinity Flood Way. To be honest, they will reap the benefits of this new highway which will divert their trucks from I45 around DT Dallas while drivers on PGB and DNT foot the bill.

    I’m also certain that when more infrastructure is needed in South East Dallas County, that Allen Group will come a beggin for the tax purse. Our Mayor will be their to promote the wonders of public private partnership, ect., ect, blah, blah, blah.

  3. I can’t see Dallas’ play here and I still haven’t seen anything from the two DMN editorials to say why the Inland port master plan is a good. idea. The Allen Group has worked extensively with these municipalities. Dallas should be thanking the Allen Group for their investment -same with Jack Matthews and the Southside project-, but that doesn’t happen here.

  4. The Allen Group came to Texas with their idea. Every time someone came with an idea for the Area it got knock down by Dallas Politics, remember the Texas Speedway, now in Fort Worth, the cargo Airport now called Alliance and on and on we go.
    The new Master Plan was about control of the development, the water. It’s all about the power over the Allen Group. If you have a new plan in control of the water and other essentials needed for development, the Allen Group will be
    at their mercy.

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