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DATELINE FORT WORTH Bringing Home the Bacon BY P.A. HUMPHREY llyy r hen Fort Worth Congresswoman Kay Granger announced in 1998 that she’d helped land millions in federal funds to complete a commuter rail line linking Fort Worth and Dallas and build a multi-user transportation hub in downtown Fort Worth, the local press greeted her with the fanfare traditionally reserved for members of Congress who bring home the bacon. Granger, a Republican member of the House Transportation Committee the committee that awards federal funding for transportation projects hasn’t been shy about parlaying her clout in Washington into pork for her hometown. She’s been a little less forthcoming, however, about her ownership of a 7,677 square-foot building purchased by Granger in March of 1998 that sits in a prime spot just across the street from the site of the nearly completed Intermodal Transportation Center. Purchased at a firesale price of just over $100,000, the oncedilapidated property, after renovations, is now valued on the tax rolls at $534,000. Sitting, as it does, in the middle of an area of massive revitalization, the value can only continue to grow. In the wake of the deal, few are likely to question Granger’s business acumen. Her ethics may be another story. The new center will host the commuter rail line, as well as Amtrak, Greyhound, city buses and possibly a “trolley” that makes the rounds of the city’s tourist spots. Trains between downtown and Dallas are scheduled to start running in October, 2001. Granger \(herself a former mayor of mayor’s subcommittee on the transportation center and was a leader in the debate over where to build it. She supported the Fort Worth Transportation Authority’s decision, made with the advice of the subcommittee, to build the hub at Ninth and Jones Streets, in what was then a dilapidated industrial area on the east side of downtown. As property values in the neighborhood began surging, Granger’s timely purchase made her first in line for the big payoff assuming the federal money for the project kept flowing and the city didn’t change its plans. Granger’s investment seemed in doubt as recently as April of 1999, however, when a group of urban planners recommended a change of course: placing the center near the old Texas and Pacific Railroad terminal, an historic train depot located at Throckmorton Street and Lancaster Avenue on the south end of downtown too far from Ninth and Jones to do Granger any good. Put on the spot she had yet to publicly reveal her investment, or even report it on her federal financial disclosure form Granger publicly supported taking another look at the plans. She may not have been too worried. With the design on the Jones Street site 70 percent complete, construction already underway, and funding for another design for another site in doubt, it was highly unlikely that the Jones Street site, which had already been approved by the city council, would be changed. It wasn’t. Still, Granger didn’t disclose during the debate that she owned property cattycorner to the Jones Street site. That news didn’t come out until a month later, in May 1999, after political rivals had learned of the deal. “Granger’s people leaked it as a pre-emptive strike,” rather than allow an opponent to break the story, one Fort Worth politico said. Granger, the darling of Fort Worth’s downtown business establishment, never denied her motive for buying up the shabby old building. “I bought the property knowing that the trains are going to be there, and the bus transfer center,” she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It was a great location.” The admission raised nary an eyebrow in Fort Worth, where the you-scratch my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours system is alive and well. Officials of the transportation authority and Kenneth Barr, Granger’s successor as mayor, declared themselves ignorant but unconcerned and expressed the belief that the Congresswoman would never do anything but “what’s best for Fort Worth.” Democrat Mark Greene, Granger’s opponent in the upcoming November election,, says he doesn’t know the details of when and where things happened but is dismayed by the city’s look-the-other-way attitude. “Congresswoman Granger’s involvement in the site location process and the fund allocation process have at least the appearance of potential impropriety,” he said. “Elected officials should do everything in their power to avoid even the appearance of anything that would betray the public’s trust. Without having all the facts, I’ve always been a little troubled about this deal.” Granger did not respond to several requests for an interview for this story. One thing is certain: With her prime spot on both the Transportation Committee in Washington and the site selection committee in Fort Worth, Granger was expertly positioned to shepherd the deal from cradle to grave. Such “vertically integrated” nest-lining is a sign of the times: Congress’ increasing preference for block grants means more and more specific funding decisions are made at the local level. In landmark legislation in 1991, Congress turned over most of the control of funds for transportation projects to state and local governments, while providing incentives like funding multi-use transportation hubs to encour .10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 20, 2000