‘Big' Economic Development Deal Brewing at Dallas City Hall

While Project Wall E is a mystery, council members say a "big" announcement is coming

Dallas City Council members held a closed door meeting Monday morning to discuss an economic development deal code named "Project Wall E" on the public agenda.

Spectators were cleared from the room at the council’s Economic Development Committee meeting to conduct a private executive session as allowed by the Texas Open Meetings Act.

"When you do deals, you do due diligence and sometimes it’s very confidential, what you need to do, and what you say. And sometimes you might mess a deal up with public information," said Councilman Tennell Atkins, chairman of the committee.

The cryptic name of "Project Wall E" has sparked wild speculation ranging from a Disney connection, due to the animated character "Wall-E," to some sort of e-commerce deal to a company name with the first letter "E."

Dallas Economic Development Director Karl Zavitkovsky told the Dallas Observer to "focus on the E" as a clue.

In the past several years Dallas has successfully lured big corporate headquarters from other cities including AT&T from San Antonio and Comerica Bank from Detroit.

In return for tax breaks offered to the companies, Dallas gains hundreds of well paid headquarters employees with families that spend money locally.

Officials say vendors that call on the corporate executives also fill Dallas hotel rooms and sometimes open new local offices of their own to be close to the corporate headquarters.

To attract relocations, Dallas boosters promote a low cost of living, the lack of a state income tax and airports located in the middle of the country that allow shorter travel times than cities on the east or west coasts.

Atkins said Dallas is getting more aggressive in selling these advantages.

"It's very important that economic development change and think out of the box. We are going to be a deal maker. We’re going to be doing deals the next four or five years," he said.

Other Central US locations can also be targets for luring away major corporate headquarters.

Sears Holdings Corporation, the owner of Sears and K-Mart retails stores, has been widely reported to be considering a new corporate headquarters location with tax breaks set to expire in 2012 at its current location in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates.

Earlier this month Sears representatives reportedly visited Austin, Texas and Columbus, Ohio.

Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and the Virginia suburbs near Washington, DC have also courted Sears, according to other reports.

And Sears is attractive to economic development people in North Texas.

"We have talked to Sears," said John Crawford, President of Downtown Dallas Inc, the Dallas Central Business District advocacy group.

But Crawford and experts elsewhere question the expense of relocating some 6 thousand Sears workers.

And Crawford said Illinois has been working hard to keep Sears from leaving.

Crawford said he does not know what party is connected to Project Wall E, but "I’m sure it’s not Sears," he said.

So "Project Wall E" remains a mystery.

Atkins and Zavitkovsky would not answer questions about it Monday but did say a "big" announcement would come when and if the deal goes through.

And their desire for economic development is no secret.

"We’re trying to grow our revenue base. The only way we’ll grow our revenue base is bring more business in. If we had the Texas Rangers in the City of Dallas instead of Arlington, that’s a good deal for the City of Dallas," Atkins said.

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