DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – Dallas City Hall is helping a flavorful favorite to expand.  Two Podners Barbeque and Seafood has found success at its South Dallas location and now the city is helping the owners to grow that success.

In its 33-years, Two Podners has become a household name all over Southern Dallas.

“It’s exciting for us because we have taken a product and made it a brand,” says Fred Conwright — who along with James Runnells — founded the eatery, which also has three restaurants housed in DFW Airport terminals.

On Thursday, ground was broken on the owners’ dream of turning their Fair Park property into a two-story, 11-thousand square foot development.   It calls for an expanded restaurant and even some competing chains, like Del Taco and Subway, according to Dallas City Hall memos.  It’s a $1.8 million project.   The biggest chunk comes from a $1 million loan from the Spirit of Texas Bank.  A loan of up to 100 thousand dollars from the South Dallas Fair Park Trust Fund.   Another 275-thousand came from a “forgivable” economic development loan from Dallas City Hall.

“There’s a program the city has designed for the entire city and all businesses, in fact we’re not the first ones to have capitalized on it,” Conwright says of the forgivable loan adding, “It’s a good program and with us being able to tie in and capitalize on it, it just means is fair for everybody.”

If the project is built on time and provides its estimated full time 40-50 jobs, the loan essentially becomes a grant.

The Podners argue the city money is not a gift, it’s more an investment; the financing from the $1.8 million came from traditional means: a bank and a lot of their own money.

“We want everybody to know it’s not a ‘sweetheart deal’ because 20% of this project comes out of our own pocket,” Conwright told CBS 11 News.

But Economics and Finance Professor Mike Davis of SMU’s Cox School of Business is no fan of this kind of gap funding.

“Frankly, you have to be suspicious every time the city just gives money to some specific business people.  But that said, the Two Podners guys are great.”

Davis continued, “It’s certainly not a conventional loan, let’s say that. Whether you choose to call it an investment or a handout—you choose the language you prefer on that.  It’s interesting that apparently the bank drew the line and they said the most risk we could take in this project is right at that million dollar level.  So it’s a big concern they couldn’t finance the entire project privately.”

Forgivable loans are designed for economically underdeveloped areas.

“We felt that was very important because it’s right across from a DART line, across from Fair Park, that’s an investment we’re making,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told CBS 11 News.  He added, “When the economy is going up but half of the citizens aren’t participating in it, this is a way to give those folks that lift up. And that’s why we do it.”

The councilmember for the Two Podners district agrees.

“Economic development grows, and it grows and it brings in new investment, it provides employment for people in this neighborhood.  It’ll help bring in other long-term development in this neighborhood. ” said Carolyn Davis.  It’s no different than a TIF or a tax exempt district. It’s no different,” Davis claimed.  “I wish they would have asked for more because we’ve done more in areas like this.”

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