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Hurst Community Services Development in action Robert Bryce DATELINE TEXAS Eminent Disdain BY ROBERT BRYCE Hurst The first blow was almost gentle The giant backhoe bit into the shingles on the roof and quickly peeled them away. The next blow was harder. It knocked a hole in the roof-decking, sending pieces of shattered wood toward the ground Within minutes, the front bedroom of the three-bedroom house was open to the sky. Forty-five minutes later, what had been a home in the comfortable middle-class Richland Park East neighborhood was reduced to rubble Leonard and Donna Prohs watched with a mixture of horror and fascination as the home across the street from theirs was demolished. “It takes two or three months to build a house, and less than an hour to tear it down,” said Leonard wistfully, as he watched the workmen go about their business. Standing in his driveway, Leonard, a baggage handler at American Eagle, talked about wanting to retire in the house where he and his wife raised their three children. Behind him was an orange and black “No Trespassing” sign that was tacked just below their house number. Hand lettered signs on their garage door read, “Go Away Vultures!! Body still warm,” and “Boycott North East MallThey’ve destroyed our neighborhood.” . Then, leaning on the hood of his gray pickup truck, he turned his attention to the trucks and front end loaders clearing the rubble across the street. “This is so ridiculous,” he said. “I don’t see how they are getting away with it.” The Prohs have lived in their home on Bering Avenue for twenty-seveh years; their mortgage is almost paid off. But their yellow brick-clad home will soon face the the same backhoe that destroyed the house across the street. The Prohs are among a group of ten homeowners who refused to sell their homes to the city of Hurst, which wants their land in order to allow the expansion of the North East Mall, Hurst’s biggest taxpayer. So the city condemned all ten homes. And on May 22, Tarrant County District Court Judge Fred Davis sided with the city, and ordered the Prohs and the other homeowners who were fighting the condemnation in court, to leave their homes by June 6. It is the first time a Texas city has used its power of eminent domain to take land for a shopping mall. More than a dozen homes near the Prohs’ home have already been demolished. Dozens of others sit vacant and forlorn, their windows, doors and other salvageable items stripped for reuse by Habitat for Humanity. The three-decade-old neighborhood now looks more like a battleground. Lawns are overgrown, trees and shrubs are unkempt. For Hurst, a city of 36,000 located a dozen miles northeast of downtown Fort Worth, the $220 million expansion of the North East Mall means increased tax revenues. Built in 1971, the North East Mall, owned by the Indianapolis-based Simon DeBartolo Group, is Hurst’s biggest taxpayer. Assistant city manager Allan Weegar says that by doubling the size of the mall to more than two million square feet, the city will increase sales tax revenue by $11 million a year. “We see the North East Mall as one of the backbones of our business community,” said Weegar, “and we want to make sure that it remains a viable contributor.” Weegar added that a small part of the land in Richland Park East will be used for the mall itself; the rest will be used for streets and utilities to service the mall. One of some 1,800 enclosed regional malls in the U.S., the North East Mall could be located in Hurst or Honolulu. Its logo has a vaguely nautical theme, but its interior is indistinguishable from hundreds of other shopping malls. The stores are familiar: Sears, J.C. Penney, Foot Locker, Waldenbooks. In all, 113 stores and a movie theater call the North East Mall home. Simon DeBartolo wants to expand the mall, says spokeswoman Billie Scott, because “with real estate today, you have to reinvest in it to make it a success. We have a good asset there that does substantially support the community and we want the city to protect that asset and to keep it as a 18 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 6, 1997