City manager George Schrader met oil scion Ray Hunt at 7 am at a Denny’s in 1973 to set the ground rules. Dallas had acquired Union Station, but it had little value. Hunt had purchased adjacent junkyards and lots out of bankruptcy, but it was an awkward parcel, and a previous owner had already failed to realize a planned development. “What would you think about doing something that’s never been done in America?” Schrader asked Hunt.
The idea: a public-private partnership. The city wanted space for a sports arena, to preserve and find an operator for Union Station, and to extend Young Street under the railroad tracks behind the station. The partnership would offer Hunt greater leverage for his hotel and other high-rise developments. But he would have to fund the planning and consulting.
Schrader’s term as city manager had a tremendous impact on shaping downtown Dallas. Among other infrastructure changes, he was responsible for issuing a stop order forcing Woodall Rodgers Freeway to be built below grade—paving the way for the eventual Klyde Warren Park—as well as bringing in city planner Vincent Ponte, who pushed for moving pedestrian traffic underground. But Reunion was perhaps his boldest and riskiest idea.
“I said, ‘Ray, it is just a controversy waiting to happen,’ ” Schrader says. He was right. When the pair finally presented their plans to the Council, members were furious. District Attorney Henry Wade and the IRS both opened investigations. But the city manager had been meticulous about keeping things on the up and up, even making sure they each got separate checks at Denny’s.
The deal finally went through. Dallas got its sports arena, and Hunt developed a hotel and the most iconic building in the Dallas skyline, Reunion Tower. It also set a new development model for realizing large, civic-minded projects in Dallas—a model that has spawned the Arts District, Klyde Warren Park, the Convention Center Hotel, and many other high-profile developments.