Home Front

A blog about the economy and the Sacramento-area real estate market.

May 7, 2008
Texas is big and brash

Dallas has 18 construction cranes downtown and the locals say almost all of them are for new residential high-rises, so look out Miami. Just before sunset a whole group of us from the National Association of Real Estate Editors were hauled up to the 19th or so floor of one that just opened for a view of this big, brash downtown that's all awitter about hosting the Super Bowl in 2011.

Ironically enough, the big point of it all was to look down on a nearby freeway where the locals aim to connect their arts district with thousands of new downtown residents via a park atop the freeway. This is exactly what is being talked about in downtown Sacramento: decking Interstate 5 to connect downtown with the river. Only Sacramento seems have shelved the idea for the time being for lack of money.

Not in Dallas. This five-acre park above a recessed portion of the freeway begins this September and plans are to have it opened by the time of the Super Bowl. It costs $67 million and Big D has the money nailed down: $20 million in state highway money, $20 million from a city parks bond and $27 million from THE PRIVATE SECTOR, says Linda Owen, a trustee of the Woodall Rogers Park Foundation. Rogers is a former Dallas mayor.

I asked Owen: What do you mean, $27 million from the private sector? She said 10 individual donors put up $1 million each, coporations threw in a few million and foundations did, too. The rest came from investors in nearby property who think it will push up their values.

People will be able to walk back and forth across the top of the freeway, sharing space with a childrens' garden, a restaurant and water foundtains.

Here is a view of the stretch being covered:

I recall a few years back going to a scoping session on Sacramento's plans to deck I-5. It was a beautiful concept and I've often wondered what specifically happeend to put it on the back burner. I mentioned this to a real estate editor from Miami: She said. What? You're the capital of California and you can't get the money? Guess not.

In other action today, we heard from the Steve O'Connor, chief lobbyist of the Mortgage Bankers Association. He said, like many before him have said, "We are clearly in extroardinary times. This is the greatest housing crisis in the country since the Great Depression."

He talked awhile about legislation expected to pass the U.S. House tomorrow to let the Federal Housing Administration help the thousands of people who owe more than their homes are worth. It would let them refinance into loans that would give them incentive to keep the house and not walk away. Lenders would have to eat some losses in the deal to make the loan based more on what the house is worth today rather than in 2005.

O'Connor said Bush intends to veto such an idea, but the whole thing will go to the Senate in attempts to work out a compromise Bush will sign and bring some new level of relief to homeowners. Interesting, even though the Federal Reserve recently offered a huge helping hand to investment banker Bear Stearns, O'Connor answered a question about relief for lenders by saying: "Nobody's going to bail out lenders. There is zero sympathy for lenders. I know because I go up there (to Capitol Hill) every day.

Finally, a quick report from a panel on how developers are salivating at the thought of millions of baby boomers moving into new digs when they retire.

A former economist at Southern California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory addressed us, having started a firm that digs up research for builders and regions trying to tap those restless boomers. That was E.H. Gene Warren Jr.
He said 91 million people will retire in the next 21 years and he thinks 20 percent of them - one in five - will relocate. He thinks home builders will need to build 500,000 new houses a year for them alone.

There was lots of other talk about how boomers are going to redefine senior housing like they've redefined everything else as a generation. Less golf, more swwimming and more Del Webb-like retirement communities in colder climates. Other panelists talked about building houses near campuses for boomers to buy and mix with younger people. Boomers filling downtowns, boomers kayaking and writing business plans for non-profits instead of having sewing circles like their parents.

I don't know. I'm 55 myself and don't get it sometimes that our generation is supposed to be so special and having to redefine everything. There is so much pressure to be different and engaging when all this generation is really going to do is slow down and get feeble like every generation has for 10,000 years. I could be wrong. But that's the news from Texas.

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