The Dream Stealers

April 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Twenty years before the Supreme Court’s egregious decision in the Kelo v. City of New London case, The Southland Corporation (parent company of the 7-Eleven convenience stores) embarked upon a grand plan to redevelop multiple acres of property on the northeast corner of downtown Dallas.  They called it Cityplace.  It centered around two 43-story office buildings that were to be surrounded by further office, retail, and residential development.  The firm kept its agenda secret by using proxies to buy up as much land as possible before folks realized what was happening.  Once the plan became known, people raised the prices of their homes making it more expensive for the company to acquire all of the property it wanted.  Many people declined selling to Southland regardless of what it offered because they simply wanted to continue living where they were.

Among those who rejected Southland’s offer was a sculptor.  He told me that, when he was younger, he had traveled extensively throughout Europe.  Towards the end of his trip, he began thinking about returning home to Dallas.  One night, he had a vivid dream about a room that was the perfect space for creating his art.  He arrived in Dallas a couple of months later with the dream long forgotten and engaged a real estate agent to help him find a place to live.  She showed him several houses before she took him to a small building that had once been a church.  When they walked into the sanctuary, he was jolted by a sense of deja vu–it was the same room he had seen in his dream.  So he bought the church and made it his home.  And the sanctuary became his creative space.

When Southland started on their development plans, it made the artist a series of escalating offers he kept spurning that culminated in the incredibly generous bid of $2.8 million.  That was a lot more money then than it is now and well over ten times what the property was worth in the marketplace at that time.  He told me that he would not have taken their offer even if it had been $10 million.  When I asked him why he replied, “What price can you put on a dream?”

Southland had a lot of political pull. Since the company promised to revitalize the surrounding areas, had the Kelo decision occurred before the company started trying to build Cityplace, the City of Dallas would have readily obliged it by condemning the homes of owners who refused to sell.  Under the threat of condemnation, most owners would have sold out at a much lower price than they could have received otherwise.  The city’s actions would have made it far easier for the company to get what it wanted and to pay disgracefully lower prices.

The sculptor would never have seen that $2.8M offer.  His dream would have been stolen at “fair market value.”  One must ask, fair to whom?  He would have been left with

no church,

no home,

no sanctuary.

No sanctuary.  This is now the position of every man, woman, and child in the United States of America because the Kelo decision empowers local governments to take anyone’s church or home at any time for any reason.  There is no such thing as private property in this country anymore.

The United States Supreme Court has legalized the stealing of the American dream.

[This editorial was written right after the Kelo decision was announced, but I could not find a publisher.  As noted press critic A. J. Liebling wrote, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”]