President's Column: See you in September . . . at the Belo.
In case you have not heard, the Belo Mansion and Pavilion will be closed for the entire month of August for renovation. I know it is hard to believe but the Pavilion is celebrating its 10th anniversary this summer. It is time for a face lift for both the Pavilion and the Belo Mansion to ensure that the DBA continues to have outstanding meeting space for our members, as well as to serve as a leading event venue for the City of Dallas.
In the process of raising funds for the renovation, it became clear that many of our members, especially the younger members, are unfamiliar with the history of the Belo Mansion and the Pavilion and its importance to the Dallas Bar. So I want to dedicate this President’s Column to the Mansion/Pavilion, the renovation and to those who have made both possible.
Today everyone knows that the Dallas Bar headquarters is located at the Mansion/Pavilion. However, that has not always been the case. The DBA did not have an office separate from the office of its President until 1937. Between 1919 and 1922 CLE meetings took place in court rooms (usually the 14th and 44th) and in 1923 luncheon meetings (i.e., Saturday CLE’s) were inaugurated at the Oriental Hotel (later the Baker Hotel) located in downtown Dallas. The first administrative office of the DBA, a 15-foot cubicle, opened under the stairs of the Old Red Courthouse in 1937. Then in 1955 the Dallas Bar leased offices, dining and meeting facilities on the lobby level of the Adolphus Hotel. The DBA held its few CLE programs in a small room at the hotel and lunch was catered from across the street at the Metropolitan Club. In 1976 the offices moved to the Adolphus Tower but the demands of the DBA membership were fast outgrowing that space.
In 1977, a group of Dallas Bar leaders discovered the A.H. Belo Mansion which was sitting vacant on Ross Avenue. The home was built for the A.H. Belo family in approximately 1900 and was occupied by them until 1922. In 1926 Loudermilk-Sparkman Funeral Home negotiated a 50-year lease with the Belo family and operated it as a funeral home until 1968. Even though the building was dilapidated when Dallas Bar leaders found it and in great need of maintenance and repair, the group envisioned how the old house could be transformed into a home for the DBA. Many of the DBA members, however, disagreed with this idea. In fact, some of the leadership thought it was a crazy idea to purchase the rundown, former funeral home on the other side of downtown adjacent to used car lots and warehouses. But the visionaries prevailed and on August 1, 1979 the DBA moved its offices to the Belo Mansion after spending $1.8 million to purchase and restore the building. While some of the members were excited about the 60 space parking lot behind the building and additional space to offer CLE programs to its growing membership, all DBA members were still not convinced that purchasing the Belo Mansion was the right thing to do. Some even quit in protest. Of course now, with the Belo sitting squarely in the midst of the Dallas Arts District, those who championed the purchase of the Belo seem like geniuses!
In 2001, to meet the ever increasing needs of its growing membership, the DBA embarked on a campaign to raise funds to build an addition to the Belo Mansion. The leadership raised over $14 million to build the Pavilion and the parking garage, which opened in 2003. Today the DBA has almost 11,000 members who enjoy the Mansion/Pavilion which can accommodate over 1,000 guests and features a 281 car parking garage. No other metropolitan bar association in the country has a facility anywhere near the size and quality enjoyed by our association.
So what makes the Mansion/Pavilion so important to the DBA? Ownership of the Mansion/Pavilion, which is actually owned by the Dallas Bar Foundation, allows the DBA to keep our membership dues at a level lower than most major metropolitan bar associations in the country. Our highest dues level is $175 which compares to dues of $383 for the Philadelphia Bar Association, $275 for the Los Angeles County Bar and $420 for the Boston Bar Association, just to name a few. We have been able to keep our dues low because of the income received from the Mansion/Pavilion from community events. The fact that we do not have to pay high rental rates for the use of the facilities, not just for our staff but also for the members, allows us to offer over 400 CLE programs annually for free. Additionally, committee and section meetings are held at the Mansion/Pavilion throughout the year without charge. Most other bar associations charge their members $25 or more per credit hour for CLE programs and they must pay for meeting space.
The monetary benefit of the Mansion/Pavilion to all of our membership is obvious, but is it necessary to renovate the Mansion/Pavilion now? The answer is “yes.” It is essential to maintain the Mansion/Pavilion as “Class A” space for our members and in order to generate income from its use by the community. The annual cost to maintain the Mansion/Pavilion, the garage and grounds is approximately $1 million per year. We are able to pay much of these costs from rental fees and royalties from Culinaire International, which provides catering and manages and coordinates some of the most extravagant functions in the City of Dallas at the Mansion/Pavilion. If our space is not competitive with other properties like the Ritz or the Crescent, it would not continue to be such a highly sought after venue.
It should come as no surprise to DBA members to learn that the wear and tear on the building is enormous. The DBA alone has 29 sections and 38 committees, most of which meet monthly in the Mansion/Pavilion. Add to that meetings of other law-related groups, weddings and corporate functions, and it is projected that over a five-year period an estimated 375,000 people come through the Mansion/Pavilion. Due to this high volume of traffic, the facilities need to be renovated periodically. The renovation is not only important to maintain the facility as a leading event venue in the City, but also to preserve and protect the historic Belo Mansion and Belo Hall (built in 1936).
In order to remain competitive in the market, the Mansion/Pavilion must be renovated every five years. Some of you may remember that the Mansion/Pavilion was closed for three weeks in August of 2008 for its first renovation. The 10-year renovation taking place this year will be far more extensive and, therefore, the Mansion/Pavilion will be closed for approximately five weeks in August. This renovation will include replacing the carpet, replacing all wall coverings, painting, replacing the banquet chairs and upgrading the sound system that serves both the Mansion and the Pavilion. A competitive bidding process for the renovation began over a year ago and the total cost of the renovation is projected to be approximately $600,000. The renovation is being paid for primarily through the generosity of all of the sections of the Dallas Bar who contributed to the renovation. Every section, from the newest and smallest sections to the largest and oldest sections, contributed to the renovation. Additionally, Culinaire International, the Dallas Bar Foundation, the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers and the sister bars made generous contributions to the renovation. The remaining cost is being paid out of reserves established by the DBA to pay for extraordinary (not day-to-day) maintenance and repairs of the building.
I would like to extend a huge “THANK YOU” to everyone who has contributed to the renovation project. You have helped to ensure that the DBA will continue to have the finest facilities of any bar association in the country available to its members for many years to come. Each of us benefits from the Mansion/Pavilion as a result of free CLE offered almost daily, low membership fees and the privilege of having a place to come together as a bar to share our professional experiences. Thank you to all who continue to make this possible.
Even though the Mansion/Pavilion will be closed in August, do not forget that Law Jam 4 will be held at the Granada Theater on Lower Greenville on August 17. Law Jam will give you an opportunity to get together in August with your professional friends and family to enjoy the amazing talent of six lawyer bands—Black Dirt Tango, Blue Collar Crime, Big Wheel, The Catdaddies, Noah Snark and Random Blue. Not only will you be amazed by the talent in these groups, but it will give you an opportunity to come out and support my favorite group, the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program. All proceeds from Law Jam go to support DVAP. Please check out the Law Jam 4 website at www.DBALawJam.org for more details. I hope to see you all on August 17th at Law Jam 4 at the Granada Theater.