Family business may face condemnation for refusing to settle over I-35E expansion

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on April 17, 2014 at 11:06 PM

CARROLLTON -- To call it "just" a hobby shop is an insult.

"We're more like an entertainment center," said Mike Darnell, proudly. He's the owner of Mike's Hobby Shop. "There's not a lot of places like this in the world."

You can race, buy, build and fly remote-controlled cars and airplanes. You can find just about any part to anything you need.

Thursday night, remote controlled car enthusiasts lined the walls of the indoor race track. Countless boy scout troops and youth groups have been through their doors in the 28 years they've been in business.

But Darnell doesn't know what this year will hold.

"They're cutting right through our building," he said, describing the plans for the 35 Express project, a much-needed expansion to a congested stretch of Interstate 35E.

"The project for the highway I have no problem with at all," he said. "I understand progress. The problem we have is with the way the state has made the offer."

Darnell said the contractors building the road for TxDOT made him an offer of $2.484 million for a third of his building and about half his land. He said he countered with $7.8 million, which is what he says it will take to fix up the building they're taking part of and buy comparable land and a comparable building elsewhere.

He will then try to turn it into the landmark facility he's so well known for now.

"Their offer was supposed to be a fair and equitable offer," he said, "but they've offered us money that puts us out of business."

"It makes it to where I cannot do business in this location any more," he said. "It cuts our store down by about a third, cuts our race tracks in half, and we lose about half our parking, so it kills our business."

Darnell said he is already taking a hit, losing about $2,700 per month in money he made from renters. He still owns his building, but said contractors have negotiated relocation packages with seven of his tenants.

"They've moved five people out so far, and they don't own the property. We don't even have an agreement yet, but they have the power to move our tenants from the building," he said.

Neither the contractors building the road nor TxDOT will discuss active land acquisitions with the media. But Darnell said the contractors rejected his counter offer and told him their initial offer stood. They said they will begin the condemnation process soon.

But fans of the store Mike started with his father are on his side. They've started an online petition to try to demand a better offer.

"I feel bad for Mike, for what he's going through," said loyal customer Paul Howell. "Mike's a good man."

Darnell wants to stay in business, but said he can't at the rate the contractors are offering.

"Make me whole again," he said. "I need fair compensation to be able to go duplicate this in another location."

He's canceled competitions and said he's losing out on big money because of that, too.

"I hope and pray it doesn't happen," Howell said. "When it happens, if it happens, don't know where I'm gonna go and what I'm gonna do."

Mike doesn't know either, beyond fighting as long as he can.

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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