23 Jan Shannon Wynne, who made Dallas hip, now just wants to make living here affordable
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Until Monday I hadn’t spent much quality one-on-one time with Shannon Wynne since we watched the Knack play "My Sharona" outside his late landmark bar-eatery 8.0 in The Quadrangle. So, yeah, it has been a while.
And that feels especially forever-ago considering Wynne wanted to talk this week about some decidedly modern problems: affordable housing, the homeless and historic preservation in the Cedars.
If you are new to this city, or not old enough to remember when the Taco Cabana on Lower Greenville was a placed called Tango, Wynne is the man "who gave Dallas hope that it could be hip," as this newspaper wrote in a 1989 High Profile. And 30 years on that’s probably still his legacy. You might have known his works when his eat-and-drink destinations had names like Nostromo, Rio Room, Rocco. Now they’re called the Meddlesome Moth, Mudhen, Rodeo Goat, the Flying Saucer, Flying Fish and, until recently, Lark on the Park at Klyde Warren.
I’ve never thought of Wynne as a real-estate developer — that was his old man Angus G. Wynne Jr, who gave us the Wynnewood neighborhood in Oak Cliff and, oh yeah, Six Flags Over Texas. Never thought of 67-year-old Shannon as a preservationist, either — that was his mother Joanne, among the first to move old houses to Dallas Heritage Village. And though he’s on the board at The Bridge Homeless Recovery Center, I never took him for a savior of rundown properties and maker of low-income housing.
That was before he told me how he’d made-over a dreary shopping strip along Sylvan Avenue, keeping all the original tenants. And how he is snapping up shuttered century-old homes and buildings in the Cedars, prepping them for redos so they can become habitable and affordable. And how he’s looking to build — without the city’s help — a complex filled with low-income residents and the formerly homeless ready and eager to transition from the streets to The World.
"What else am I going to do? I want to do things. I don’t want to leave this life not having done anything else," he said Monday, sitting in a renovated Harwood Street headquarters that used to house the Rosie Apartments, a Piggly Wiggly and an A&P. I had asked him why this, why now.
"A bar is fun for three days, then you realize you could have spent that money on something else," he said. "My value system is different. I guess this is the answer to your question: If I can do something that’s a restoration project, that will make money and help people at the same time, it’s a no-brainer. If you can stack those type of results into one effort, it just makes a lot of sense."
Over the weekend Wynne sent me a note detailing his latest doings — a restoration project two blocks from his 8.0 Management offices.
A century ago the 1900 block of S. Harwood was home to Lindley’s Grocery — Wynne has an old fragile matchbook pulled out of the wall to prove it. Downstairs are a handful of businesses, among them the florist Grey Gardens and a bar his son Sam is in the middle of remodeling called Mike’s Gemini Twin, named for the old drive-in theater on Northwest Highway. All very cool additions. But that’s not what he wanted to show me.
Wynne had read about the Bryan Song Apartments in Old East Dallas, where dozens of low-income tenants will be displaced for a high-end makeover. So he wanted to direct my attention upstairs, to four remodeled apartments above the short retail strip.
Wynne said the previous owners had rented out the four apartments for $500 a month, despite the fact "they were full of grease, grime and feces." Wynne seemed to shudder at the recollection. "I had not seen nasty until I’d seen those units."
Those units have since been gutted and renovated. Now, they go for $800 a month. And that’s what passes for affordable in a city where low-income housing is being mowed down by developers planting high-end product. It’s happening in West Dallas, Oak Cliff, East Dallas, Your Neighborhood Here. It’s especially rampant in the Cedars, too, where a giant swath of squat warehouses and storefronts and low-income apartments have been razed and replaced with pipes jutting out of the ground while awaiting the inevitable shapes and shades of greige that have devoured so much of Dallas of late.
Wynne said those rental units are just a start, and barely one at that. It’s certainly nothing at all like what he hopes to pull out of the ground — a city block of mixed-income housing in a southern Dallas neighborhood the city has written off as blighted and unworthy of attention. If he can pull it off, many of the residents, Wynne said, would likely come from the transitional housing at The Bridge.
"If nobody else will force developers in Dallas to make a portion of their developments affordable," Wynne said, "we’ll have to create our own."
Wynne has a co-conspirator, oil-and-gas man and fellow Cedars investor Casey McManemin, who owns the 115-year-old Hughes Brothers Candy Factory across from the Ambassador Hotel and Dallas Heritage Village. McManemin’s a fellow Bridge board member and sits on the Citizen Homeless Commission, and when I met him Monday afternoon to ask about their plans, he spoke of Dallas’ "surplus of apathy and deficit of advocacy" and of drinking from the "fire hose of frustration."
Restaurateur Shannon Wynne inside his offices on South Harwood, inside what used to be an apartment building and a Piggly Wiggly.
Because, you see, Dallas City Hall is sitting on $20 million in 2017 bond money meant to encourage developers to build permanent supportive housing units. But the bureaucracy tied to that money — not to mention federal funds — appears to be stalling development.
Meanwhile, developers building high and wide using city money only have to make 10 or 20 percent of their units affordable. And if they want a zoning change without money, maybe they’ll throw in some affordable units, too. Maybe.
So Wynne and McManemin are looking to go it alone, with their own resources at stake. They hired an architect outside of Philadelphia to design a template they can take to nonprofits and foundations who would throw in with private developers.
"We’ve been trying to come up with ways that can please everyone and avoid the city bureaucracy by conceiving and developing affordable housing that everyone can support," Wynne said. "There are so many naysayers in this city that want to find a weak link in somebody’s proposal. At some point we’ve just got to go ahead and do something. We want to find a way to improve these neighborhoods — and keep them affordable."
Says Shannon Wynne, who gave Dallas hope that it could help.