A View from the South Side

Midland Reporter-Telegram - August 10, 2003

A view from the South Side ...
Master plan could be key to developing South Side

By Stephanie Sparkman

Photo By Nathan Lambrecht ... Executive Director for the Midland Community Development Corporation David Diaz works on grant applications with his assistant Mayokia Walker,
in his office July 31.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of a five-part series that will take an in-depth look at Midland's South Side.

Ask any officials what they think of developing South Midland and they'll put it out there simply with a "I'm-for-it" attitude, but what it takes for developing the city may be an overall plan with a pressurized necessity for detail and extensive zoning and coding.

David Diaz, executive director of the Midland Community Development Corporation, is adamant about the need for a master plan specific to the South Side. It must, Diaz says, be developed before effective South Side revitalization can take place. "If we want to revitalize that area, different neighborhoods need to be identified," Diaz said. With such a storied history, coming into the area to revamp coding and zoning overnight will not effect change. And it won't happen with a quick fix.

In 1881, at what was then called the Midway Station, someone pushed a T & P Pullman car off the railroad tracks south of what is now Front Street, and Midland was born. As the community grew, it grew around those tracks -- around what is now referred to as the South Side. Yet, with time, growth moved north, then west. By the early 1990s, Midland's South Side had diminished to bare bones, a forgotten piece of history in a city whose residents prided themselves on being forward thinkers.

Far from being a mirror image of the northwest quadrant of the city, south and southeast Midland still have neighborhoods with dirt streets. Dilapidated houses dot the streets, many of which lack adequate lighting. South Side residents complain they don't have the tools they need to rebuild their quadrant of the city -- and the rest of Midland has forgotten them. And, to a certain extent, that may be true. In a city that is as philanthropically oriented as Midland, it's easy to be ignorant of the fact that not everyone experiences the same quality of life as those who live in the more heavily traveled segments of town. As generous as many Midlanders are, it's hard to realize that despite the efforts of many organizations, the South Side's image will not change until a concerted effort is made to change it.

But, why is South Side revitalization important to all Midlanders?

First, it's a matter of basic mathematics, say officials. South Side revitalization, as well as downtown revitalization and economic development in general, is important to all Midlanders from, if nothing else, a tax standpoint. Vacant lots and empty buildings mean zero taxes being paid. Zero taxes being paid in one area of town means more taxes being paid in the others.

According to David Wayland, building official for the city of Midland, the city tears down, on average, between 20 and 25 structures each year on the South Side. Few of them are rebuilt. As far as Diaz is concerned, that's non-tax producing land that could be added to the tax base. "The vacant land that is there now is producing zero property taxes, well almost nil," Diaz said. "They do produce some, but it's almost nil. You put 12 homes on one block, such as what we're doing right now, the property value of that particular lot could go from, say, $10,000 for an entire block to about $750,000. With 12 homes on there you can generate, probably, in excess of $20,000 of property taxes every year. Major difference."

When a viable population base is established on the South Side, said Diaz, the area also will become more attractive to potential businesses. Establishing successful businesses in the area would, in turn, generate additional tax dollars. To spur such development though, a concerted and organized strategy needs placement at the city and county levels. "Something like, 'All right, this area is best suited for manufacturing; this area is best suited for warehousing; this neighborhood is best suited for residential,' because the last thing we want is a pipe manufacturer sitting right next to a newly constructed home. "So, those areas need to be identified. So, we draw a line -- literally, boundaries -- as to the type of development we need to see in the different areas because, those areas need to be rezoned specific to what the best use for the particular land is."

The first steps to facilitating the kind of plan Diaz is calling for, according to Chuck Swallow, director of development services for the city of Midland, have to be taken by a contingent of citizens -- residents and business owners alike -- who are interested in South Side development. "What drives those kinds of issues is, usually, the landowner or the developer that makes the decision to use the land in a certain way," Swallow explained.

"So, how that would come forward would normally be through a request for a zoning change by a developer or landowner."

Swallow agrees with Diaz that a concerted effort needs to be made to revitalize South Side population numbers. "We've had a lot of houses that have left the area over the years that have not been replaced," said Swallow. "So it's important to re-establish those population bases that would support new retail locations and would support other business-type opportunities."

Diaz thinks this can be offset and aided with a plan. "The Council, many times, lets private development do the development and, on the Loop that's exactly what has happened," noted Diaz. "It's private dollars that are driving that development. On the South Side, that's not going to happen. If we're looking to get a major retailer in there right now -- whether it be a Wal-Mart or a H-E-B or something of that nature -- they're going to look at population density and, once they take a look at that, they're going to say, 'Why? Why do we want to locate here?'

"So it's a matter of, we need to have a master plan to show these retailers: 'Build it and they will come.'" Citing the efforts of previous City Council members to clean up and beautify the Rankin Highway/I-20 corridor entrance into the city, Swallow said initial rezoning of that area of the South Side had already commenced, with good results. "That has been done in the past and now it's up to the community, I think, to express their desire to further expand on that effort," Swallow said. "Maybe we look at the rest of the community, what it might provide in terms of housing development and maybe some retail opportunity associated with some of those areas. A lot of those areas, in the past, have been industrial-type areas and maybe it's time to look at those and see whether or not they still have that in them or need to be looked at with the possibility of an alternate use." Still, it all starts, according to Swallow, as a citizen effort.

Coming Monday: False perceptions; future retail possibilities; and new multi-purpose building.

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