DALLAS — For nearly two years now, the southern half of Dallas has seen demolition and investment, fueled by Mayor Mike Rawling's Grow South campaign.
There’s still more work to be done, but some people are optimistic.
A few years ago, people didn't think Southwest Center Mall would survive. The enclosed shopping center at the corner of Interstate 20 and Highway 67 was only 42 percent occupied.
Today, occupancy is up to 84 percent... just one example of how some people believe efforts to grow southern Dallas are working.
For years, the talk surrounding the mall — perhaps more familiar to many by its original name, Red Bird Mall — had little to do with shopping or sales. People talked about gangs, crime and major retailers leaving in droves.
Edna Pemberton was well aware of those factors when she began trying to save Southwest Center Mall.
“When we started organizing, people kept saying, 'Oh Pemberton, that's not going to work. You're a joke. You're a laugh.' I was talked about. I was ridiculed,” she said.
Pemberton served on the mayor's task force for economic development in the southern sector. She now works in the mall office, and has been trying to motivate people to embrace the Grow South initiative for economic development by encouraging people to set up shop in the mall and at nearby Red Bird Square.
"I'm talking to developers every day. I'm beating them down, because I'm telling them, 'You need to come and see what we are doing now... not what has happened,'" Pemberton said.
Outside developers from New York saw something in the mall that locals didn't. Pemberton said now it's efficient, more secure, and poised for more growth now that its occupancy level has more than doubled.
Hundreds of buildings were demolished at the start of Grow South. Now new buildings are popping up in spots.
The city gave the owner of Rudy's Chicken $890,000 to help it relocate in the community. Other small business owners are making active decisions not to leave South Dallas for what many consider greener pastures in other parts of the city.
Lawrence Doughty Jr. owns Hollywood Janitorial Supplies, a growing business located at 3107 West Camp Wisdom Road. He leased a spot in Redbird Square partially because of the work he sees being done as a result of Grow South.
“Yes, I had the opportunity to go to North Dallas," he said. "I turned it down."
While progress is slow, Doughty said it is inevitable.
“The day will come when this will all be filled up, and there will be nowhere to lease again,” he said. “But the best thing to do is be the first one to come.”