Dallas 2014 State of the City Address

Below is the 2014 State of the City Address read by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on Dec. 2, 2014. It appears as sent, unedited.

Thank you Dale, it is a pleasure to be here today and to work with the Greater Dallas Chamber at making our city better. The transformation the Chamber has made in the last few years under Ambassador Oberwetter’s and your leadership is remarkable. So much of that is due to the great volunteer Board that continues to lead on important issues that we face. Thank you to you all.

To begin with I want to share with you the news that I will be seeking re-election for a second term as mayor of Dallas. I’d like to thank my family and especially Micki for their support. She and I have had long conversations about this decision and we both feel it is the right thing to do. Dallas is poised for continued greatness for the coming years and it is an honor for us to be the servants of the citizens of Dallas on that important journey.

One of the reasons we are excited about continuing this great adventure is that Dallas is quickly becoming one of the best places to live in America. We have small and big business, culture, arts, parks, entertainment and we are a great sports town that sometimes wins football games! There’s much to be excited about and I’m happy to report that the state of our city is stronger than it was 1 year ago, and is growing stronger by the day. There are three measurements that are important to me as mayor (1) Are people safer today than they were last year? (2) Is our economy growing faster today then it was last year? (3) Are citizens happier in Dallas than in other cities across America? The first job that I have as mayor, and we all have as city council people, is to make our city safe. (Introduce city council members) Our city is safer than it’s ever been.

The crime rate continues to fall year over year and this year will be the 11th year in a row that crime is down, 45%. It marks an unprecedented decline in the overall crime rate for violent crimes, property crimes and homicides. If fact, we have the lowest murder rate in our city since the 1950’s. Crime has decreased in our hot spots, in 27 of them by over 11% this year. I’d like to thank Chief Brown and all our great police officers for their commitment to keeping Dallas safe. But it’s not just about keeping us safe it’s making sure citizens abide by the law while their civil rights are protected.

With the unrest we saw in Ferguson this last week I am reminded that we are ever so close to the potential of that happening in Dallas and that is why it’s not just about enforcing our laws but building up our city where we provide hope to the disenfranchised not disparity because race continues to be an issue in Dallas as well as across the country.

It’s amazing when I realize that my son, because he is white, is 3 times less likely to be in poverty, 10 times less likely to be arrested and 21 times less likely to be killed by a police officer in America.

Just by being white.

We will never be truly safe until we get beyond our differences and move our city towards full equality, inclusion and dignity for everyone. But safety is not just about crime it’s also about health, and, we had quite a scare with Ebola. We were the first city in the U.S. to have it transmitted. And, I’m proud of the way the City and County of Dallas were able to contain the virus through our commitment to early detection and proper monitoring. The citizens of Dallas learned the facts about this crisis and stayed calm as well.

I’m especially proud of the brave healthcare workers who put their lives on the line to help others. They faced incredible challenges through the crisis. Nina Pham and Amber Vinson are local heroes and deserve our gratitude. It was great seeing the special Courage in Public Service Award given to The Texas Health Resources Presbyterian Hospital team. And, I also want to give a shout out and a big thank you to Clay Jenkins for being my partner. In terms of economic growth, the state of the city is downright vibrant. Dallas has enjoyed 48 months of economic growth, and as a result, we’ve added jobs at an impressive rate. Unemployment has dropped from 6.9% a year ago to 5.4% today.

Our active working citizens are higher than the rest of the nation, by 5 percentage points. Taxable sales grew 5.7% – This is damn good! Property tax values have increased 4.3% over 2013. Construction is booming, with nearly 5 million square feet of industrial space under construction and another 1.6 million square feet of office space being built. Our retail vacancy rate is down to 6.7 percent— the lowest rate since 2006. And, according to a recent Forbes study we’re the fourth fastest growing city. Corporations continue to move their headquarters to Dallas. With all this economic growth, there’s plenty of reason to be happy in Dallas. In fact, we survey the citizens of Dallas every 2 years and this is what we found this last year. Overall satisfaction with city services is 15% higher than the national average for large U.S. cities. And, Dallas is rated significantly above the national average in the 6 key areas: quality of life, appearance, image, quality of service provided, value received in tax dollars, direction the city is going. All above the national average! Congratulations to our City Manager, AC Gonzales and our city staff for these results. And another survey, the Harris Poll Happiness Index, confirms this that American’s in our area are more likely than in any other top market to qualify as “very happy”.

There are a lot of reasons for this but I think it’s unhealthy to pat ourselves too much on the back because there’s still much work to be done in the pursuit of happiness for all of our citizens.

Our citizens are critical as well, when we listen to them they have real issues with our mobility, and they are stuck in too many traffic jams. The condition of our roads and streets are below the standards they want.  And they perceive that our public schools need a lot of work. All those things are true but the key fear that I have is that while many Dallas residents are prospering too many of our citizens are on the other end of our economic system. They don’t have good jobs and it’s a miracle for them to make ends meet.

And this may be the real reason that I’m running again, that there is much work to be done and that I believe my 4 point agenda that I’ve been working on is the right one.

Let me review that agenda and give you an update on it. It’s an agenda for growth. I challenge myself as a leader to change things. Many things are working but what needs to change is what I focus on. First, let’s look at how we can build true economic equality.

We must (1) Grow Southern Dallas, and (2) provide the best urban education system in America.

In its 3rd year, our Southern Dallas initiative, GrowSouth, is seeing momentum. We are at the very beginning of real progress and need continued persistence to reach our goals. We have for the first time grown new construction property value in Southern Dallas at a faster rate than North Dallas.

In North Dallas, new construction rose 25%, and Southern Dallas rose a whopping 132%. I’d like to take a whole lot of time and tell you what’s happening in GrowSouth, a 10-point program, but we don’t have time today. But I will give you some headlines. Our neighborhoods are improving with the help of block leaders and outside non-profits like WINS, EPIC and VISTA. These organizations are providing a catalytic relationship to help residents help themselves. Our city staff is working on a new strategy for Dallas neighborhoods called Neighborhoods Plus and that will help a lot.

Southern Dallas is a cleaner part of the city too. Over the last 4 years we’ve torn down nearly 850 unoccupied, unsafe homes.

This opens up real estate opportunities and cuts down crime. A Private Investment Fund anchored by some of our top investors in Dallas has been created and a feasibility study tells us that Southern Dallas is capable of supporting over $75 million in investments from this fund. In southern parts of town we continue to grow retail and housing. Starting in downtown and moving south down Lamar over to Jefferson Boulevard and Lancaster Blvd, and our education corridor in southeast Dallas is being re-energized as well. And we have laid the groundwork to create significant progress at Fair Park. A Task Force has recommended unifying the Park’s operations under private, nonprofit management and the parks board and the city council are aligned with that strategy. And as I look south of downtown there has historically always been a dividing line, that of the Trinity River.

I continue to believe that the Trinity River Corridor Project is going to be the most transformative capital project for Southern Dallas as well as all of Dallas in the 21st century.

Done correctly – this project of bridges, trails, roadways, lakes and water features - will re-imagine our city. But an important subject continues to be discussed and that is the Trinity Parkway, even though citizens have approved this initiative twice and the majority of City Council supports this enthusiastically. I think it’s important to point out to all of us that our citizens have said that mobility is one of the big strategic issues we are facing as a city. If we don’t take action in the downtown corridor on this issue we will face big problems, our growth will stagnate and Southern Dallas will never reach its potential.

The Parkway will provide 9 miles of congestion relief along the worst of I-35 and I-30. The Trinity Parkway will increase lane capacity by 50% and will provide much needed congestion relief. Highways are not the answer to everything and we cannot treat them as such. The Trinity Corridor must be a garden for economic growth not just on and off ramps!  The Trinity Corridor must become one of the greatest green spaces in America not just a corridor for cars. We need it all and we are working hard to make all of this happen.

But we must be intellectually honest, either we are going to face this mobility issue and do something about it or believe, as some people believe, gridlock is inherently a good thing.

While I honor different points of view, I don’t really understand or agree with that line of logic. I believe, we must tie the population of Southern Dallas and Northern Dallas better together for us to realize the economic growth we all want. Dallas has always had big goals and aspirations, and sometimes we’ve had big fights. That’s not all bad, it shows we care.

Now another subject we seem to be fighting about these days is education because it’s one of the cornerstones of pivotal change. Southern Dallas needs a great public education system to continue its growth. As does East, North and West Dallas.

As a community we need to demand excellence and transformation in education not more of the same and that’s the key to this struggle. At the Mayor’s office, we are focused on the summer months when kids are not in school. We have up and running several of the most successful programs in our city’s history; The Mayor’s Summer Reading Club, The Mayor’s Youth Fitness Initiative, Mayor’s Back to School Fair, and The Mayors Intern Fellows Program (sign up) and now Dallas City of Learning, a new way for kids to learn in the city throughout the summer. I have high expectations for the transformation of our school system. This issue is bigger than any individual; it should be about all of us collectively coming together.

To transform our schools the Board of Trustees and Superintendent Miles have a great plan in place. (recognize them) Their focus of putting effective teachers and principals in every school is right on target. I am hopeful that we should see implementation results this next year and faster movement within the 2 to 3 years following that. I believe we need to take politics out of our decision-making and start focusing on performance at every level of our system. The plan is in place, but the proof will be in the pudding. But we need to talk about an important issue that will impact our chances for success. We have got to focus on Early Childhood education within Dallas. Research is very clear on this subject: The sooner children begin learning; the better that child does later in life.

And, at some point the taxpayers are going to have to decide how much we want to invest in these children for our future.

But one other hurdle for us to overcome is the fact that we don’t have enough teachers in Dallas for the pre K children.

Folks at the DCCCD are working on this problem as we speak and are presenting to their Board today for approval a plan to become a pipeline generator for those early childhood teachers that we need.

Thank you to Joe May and the DCCCD. It is essential that we make quality education a reality for every child from cradle to career, regardless of their economic circumstance. So GrowSouth and education are key to the future of our economic, education and expectation gap this city lives with. The other side of the coin is on the upside.

How do we grow faster than we have before?

Which brings me to my 2 other agenda items (3) continue our emergence as a world class arts and culture center and (4) take our rightful stage on the international landscape.

The arts in Dallas continue to flourish and have a meaningful impact on the community, its economy, and its ability to draw tourists, new residents and new businesses.

It has been and will be a major catalyst for growth.

Our Arts District is truly unique and will continue to need our businesses support of these important establishments.

There are too many of you out there today who do not support the arts in Dallas.

We need you support and there’s a lot happening to support.

Next fall, the free bi-annual AURORA Dallas will again unfold across the Arts District with light, video and other contemporary art events staged by local, national and international artists. And in May, next year, the first annual SOLUNA: an International Music & Arts Festival will take place in the District as well.

But it doesn’t stop there; I’m excited about the plans in 2016 for ArtPrize Dallas, an international art competition with up to $500,000 in prizes and grants. ArtPrize Dallas will take art to downtown and will ignite grassroots artists throughout the southwest. Finally, let’s talk about where Dallas is on the global stage. I believe our economic growth in the future decade will be determined by how well we grow our international business.

It may seem far away in a distant country but it will impact our city in a major way. The large businesses that are our backbone are all reaching out to the international market for growth and we must as well. Let’s start with who we are, I believe Dallas is just one neighborhood in a much bigger city called DFW. DFW is the 4th largest city/market in the country. And we are the fastest growing. People are taking notice of us around the world and want to share in our prosperity.

In DFW, we are not confined to the political boundaries of any one city, suburb or town. The future of the region relies on Dallas teaming up with other cities, pooling resources, brainstorming ideas and marketing ourselves together.

My partner, Mayor Betsy Price of Fort Worth believes this deeply as well.  And I want to applaud her for her courage and vision about what DFW can become. What Mayor Price and I have learned is we can compete very effectively with any market because of our location our infrastructure, our airport. But people don’t know what we have to offer.

Even with that low awareness we have had strong growth over the past 3 years with nearly 20 new international routes plus the introduction of A380 service to Australia and UAE. We have new non-stops to Hong Kong, Shanghai and to Beijing next year. Chinese visitors to DFW have grown by 60% in the last 5 years and continue to rapidly grow. 1.3 million international visitors grew by 10% vs last year.

But this is a market share game. We are competing with other markets for this growth.

An example while we have seen destinations grow by 50% Atlanta has seen a 20% decrease. But we could lose these flights as easy as we got them and that’s why it’s imperative to ensure all the new international flights are successful.

That’s why Mayor Price and I have asked our Chambers and our convention and tourism marketing arms and others to help develop a true marketing effort focused on international which you will see more of in the future. This is a good time to live in Dallas but if we don’t continue to change our city we will slow up and lose the momentum we have.

We must grow our economy south of the Trinity, we must change the education trajectory of our next generation, we must attract a creative generation to our city that make and live for the arts and we must reach out around the globe and welcome all comers to our city of opportunity. That’s why I decided to run again.

So many people ask how can I help? It’s easy. Visit Southern Dallas, spread jobs there.

Hire a Dallas intern fellow for the summer, volunteer to teach reading in our schools, get involved in an art organization. I have no doubt if each of us did one of these things we would meet our goals and we would be able to celebrate in 2020 what we together had accomplished in this phenomenal decade. Thank you.

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