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Monday, October 24, 2016


   Cops. Guns. Dallas.
   In the wake of the horrific July 7 police massacre and smack dab in the middle of our open-carry state desperately fighting off attacks of the 2nd Amendment, you'd think that Lone Star trifecta would receive patriotic support, punctuated with a red-white-and-blue salute.
   You'd be wrong faster than a New York minute.
   Because someone far from here - in geography and apparently ideology - is indeed daring to Mess With Texas.
   "We're just a couple of friends trying to sell guns the right way," says Russel May, a veteran Sergeant in a DFW department who owns Front Sight Firearms with brother-in-blue partner Eric Wilson. "But these folks in New York are doing everything possible to kill our business. What's happening to us just isn't right."
   If you've kept up with my writing and ramblings through the years, you know I'm not exactly a gun advocate. But, in trumping that liberal leaning, I am a champion for what's fair. Right over wrong, regardless of the currency in play. And in the case of the policemen's gun store vs. their New York landlord, something seems fishy at best and down right discriminatory at worst.
   Frustrated by years of being subjected to a double-standard by Rochester-run First Allied Corporation, Front Sight is engaging in a dispute that's trending toward a lawsuit.
   "In hindsight it's clear they (the landlord) don't like guns," May says. "They didn't really want us there in the first place. But they sure wanted our money. Soon as we signed the lease we've been treated disproportionate and unfairly."
   By all accounts, they're good ol' boys with great intentions. May, a 48-year-old Sherman native, moved to McKinney 14 years ago after serving in the Grayson County Sheriff's Office; Wilson is a local law-enforcement officer whose current responsibilities require a lower profile. Their friendship included a shared love of firearms, and a business relationship blossomed.
   With Federal Firearms Licenses and all the secondary job paperwork filed with their appropriate law enforcement departments, Wilson and May began selling guns part-time out of their houses in the mid-2000s.
   "We knew we were on to something," May says. "Outgrew our garages in no time."
   In the Fall of 2013 their search for a brick-and-mortar space led them to Orchid Centre, a shopping center managed by First Allied and located on Eldorado Parkway in the northern Dallas suburb of McKinney. Far from perfect, the modest spot was next door to a karate studio and sat - blocked from the main street's view - directly behind a free-standing building anchored by a UPS store. And the monthly rent of $2,759 uncomfortably bulged their budget.
Before landlord demands; After landlord demands 
   At that price and with that obstructed view, no wonder the space sat vacant for four years. May and Wilson had the lease looked over by a realtor friend, who found nothing out of the ordinary in what he termed a "standard lease." On Oct. 10, 2013, with relatively minimal haggling, Front Sight had its location, McKinney had its first and only Class 3 firearms storefront and First Allied finally had a tenant.
   "At first, they wouldn't let us put in bollards to fortify the front entrance, but we did get them to eventually agree to those and to let us put in a steel hurricane door," according to May. "We wouldn't move in without it being safe. I wouldn't have been able to rest my head on my pillow without proper safety measures. (Upgrading the security) was a deal-breaker to us. Trust me, no one is more concerned about keeping guns away from the bad guys. That kind of goes without saying. Plus, we promised to take everything out when we moved out. No big deal."
   But May and Wilson, turns out, were just beginning a litany of  headaches.
   Blue-state agenda > #BlueLivesMatter?!
   About nine months after they opened for business in December 2013, a space became available next to UPS in the free-standing building close to Eldorado. Being a tenant with a long lease, high hopes and a perfect rent payment history, May inquired about moving into the much more visible space. Without any explanation, their request to relocate was denied. Inexplicably, he got the same answer 90 days later when the karate studio next to Front Sight up and moved out. That simple move next door would've doubled Front Sight's square footage and increased its visibility as a corner store.
   After being told to stay put, the adjacent space sat vacant for almost a year until Condom Sense moved in.
   "With us," says May, "it's been ugly from the get-go."

Guns, anyone?
   First Allied was founded in 1984 in Los Angeles by the late Malcolm Glazer, whom Forbes regularly ranked among the planet's 400 wealthiest humans. His real estate holding company, which also has management offices in New York, today owns and operates almost 7 million square feet of shopping centers across 20 states. When Glazer died in 2014, his family - including six children - was left to run his business empire including the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers and English Premier League soccer giant Manchester United. Talk about being born deep in life's Red Zone, sons Joel, Bryan and Edward were handed down First Allied.
   May says he has never spoken to a Glazer, instead left to communicate with First Allied's Rochester-based Operations Manager, Greg Burnham. He's treated Front Sight as a nuisance, like Hillary and those pesky emails or Trump and the raunchy remnants of a hot mic.
   Reached on the phone Monday morning with a repeated offer to tell his company's side of the story, he was as dismissive as advertised.
   Despite being informed that I was poised to publish a story detailing what appeared to be gross mismanagement by First Allied, Burnham simply said ...
   "We don't comment on anything in regard to relations with our tenants."
   Strangely, interviews with several Orchid Centre tenants revealed little or no other landlord problems.
   "It's good," characterized one owner who has conducted business in the shopping center for four years but wished to remain anonymous. "The place always looks good. Gets kept up nice. I haven't had many problems, but when I have they've addressed them pretty quick."
   With First Allied tight-lipped, we can only speculate at the reason for the uniquely strained relationship with Front Sight. New York, blue-state liberalism? Anti-guns? Anti-cops? Culture conundrum?
   Whichever, even before being roadblocked in their desire to change spaces Front Sight was handicapped from the start with an identity crisis.
   A couple weeks after moving in May and Wilson realized their Front Sight name did not - as expected - get placed alongside the other stores on Orchid Centre's monument sign at the high-traffic intersection of Eldorado-Orchid. Soon after, however, a First Allied "Now Leasing" slide-in sign on the monument vanished, leaving Front Sight to consider it an invitation.
   May had a friend at a sign company make a small slide-in panel and ...
   "Two weeks later we got a letter telling us to take it down or we'd be in default of our lease," says May. "So they needed a spot on their monument sign and a big, separate, double-sided sign for their company? But none for their new tenant? Sorry, but that's screwed up. So much for welcome to the neighborhood."
   May says he asked Burnham where they could put a sign and was told "You don't have a space."
   What. The. What?
   "Not only that, he accused me of stealing his sign," May says. "I told him, 'I'm a policeman. I've got a lot better things to do that go around stealing your $3 signs'. It's not like we're trying to move mountains or ask for a special favor. Just let us advertise our store. I mean, plain common sense says you have to have signage, to advertise in order to sell things. Letting people know we were there was a huge challenge from almost day one."
   During a complaint about his new store's lack of visibility, May claims to have had this exchange with Burnham:
   May: "I don't understand why you don't want your tenants to be happy? Don't you see that if we make more money, you'll make more money?"
   Burnham: "I'm not concerned with your success. I've already got your signature on a 60-month lease."
   "That," says May, "is when we really realized what we were up against."
   With customers slow to trickle in to the almost invisible location, Front Sight was forced to become innovative. They constructed a wooden sign, and put it in the back of  Wilson's parked pickup adjacent to Eldorado. Immediately, business boomed.
   Recalls May, "Yeah, we did okay. For about three months."

Front Sight's Only Sign Of Life
   Short-circuiting Front Sight's blip of prosperity, another letter arrived from First Allied's Burnham warning to move the truck ... or else. Same with a sandwich board sign out on the sidewalk, placed alongside the exact same type of sign that other tenants such as Pizza Hut were using. And same for a box truck the partners bought, wrapped in advertising and parked by the street.
   With each new attempt to attract customers, Front Sight was greeted with a "default on your lease" threat from the folks in New York who obviously failed Southern Hospitality 101.
   The box truck actually stayed - and worked - for 10 months. Until one morning when it didn't. Because it was, well, gone.
   "First Allied towed it," May says. "Even though I reminded Mr. Burnham that I know the city ordinances here better than him, and that there weren't any towing signs anywhere in that parking lot. I told him I wanted our truck back, but he just stumbled and mumbled and ... it's probably still sitting wherever they towed it."
   Undaunted, Front Sight resorted to Plan - oh, I've already lost count - and bought another box truck. But this time each night they moved it from the street to the back of their store in their designated parking spot. It didn't work. A towing company arrived one day, but May sternly warned the driver that there were no signs in the parking lot. The tow truck left, but it was merely a temporary stay of execution.
   A week later - now in early 2016 - May and Wilson arrived at the store only to find new "Towing Enforced" signs in the front, and nary a truck in the back.
   "We checked our security cams and, sure enough, First Allied hired a different towing company and they came at 2 in the morning so nobody was here to stop them," says May. "The transmission was ruined, the tires locked up and there were skid marks all around the back of our space."
   But when May says he demanded $2,000 for repairs on the towed truck, he was again met with indifference. Somehow still undeterred, last June Front Sight adorned its front windows with garish red, white and blue signage that included American and Texas flags that goosed business, before, of course, First Allied sent yet another demand letter to remove the flags. I mean, really, the most dickish of HOA's wouldn't even do that. An understated, flagless strip of that display remains, only because May reminded Burnham that Pizza Hut is allowed to have the exact same type of signage in its window.
   From JFK to J.R. Ewing, guns are an ingrained, important fixture in Dallas' culture and Texas' history. What First Allied is doing is akin to holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new Philadelphia restaurant, then promptly cutting off its supply of cheesesteak.
   At its peak doing six figures in revenue, Front Sight - mainly due to sketchy signage - has seen that number drastically evaporate.
   "We did half that in August. September was bad. And October looks worse," May says. "In this area, with what's going on around the world, and with what we provide, our business should be off the charts. But we're being choked and bled to death by our own landlord. If we try anything to spark business we get a letter threatening to 'comply' within 10 days or else we'll be accelerated into default and be facing $80,000 in legal fees just fight it. We know we're right, but we can't afford that. We're cops, for crying out loud."
   These days Front Sight parks the box truck - repaired out of their own pocket - by Eldorado a couple days a week. They have negotiated a deal with a neighboring store to park the truck inside a locked garage every night.
   In the meantime, May and Wilson are searching for a new home. With 24 months left on their lease, they can't yet afford to just pack up and leave. But can they really afford to stay?
   They plan to reach out to the National Rifle Association for help. Maybe a boycott of Orchid Centre will rattle First Allied's New York cages, just enough for the company to tear up the lease and allow Front Sight to skeedaddle.
   "At this point we just want to move," May says. "We're in Texas and we're legally, safely selling guns. There just has to be a friendlier place."
   Cops. Guns. Dallas.
   It's a shame those harmonious, home elements are being forced to play an unfair road game.

Friday, October 14, 2016


By Richie Whitt

   Fine, serendipitous structure. You win.
   I'm intrigued. Fascinated. On the verge of being mesmerized. I'm fully aware that we live in a scary, skittish world where terrorism has its own daily reality show from Orlando to France to Dallas to Baton Rouge to Germany. And that we exist in a warped culture where everything from Pokémon Go to Dak Prescott to Ken Bone can grip our nation.
   But you ... you temporarily have my undivided attention.
Rising mightily in, um, Fannin County
   So, c'mon, I've pulled over to the side of the road. Now spill your obscurely opulent beans. What-the-what is a big, ornate, marble statue doing perched high in the air smack dab in the middle of a tiny, unincorporated suburb of nowhere North Texas?
   I mean, when tootling along between the one-stoplight towns of Savoy and Ector on sleepy State Highway 56 on a sunny summer afternoon, the last sight I expected is the building of something fit more for Caesar's Palace than Fannin County.
   Rough, meet diamond.
   The thing is beginning to rise out of the nothingness, appearing as deliciously out of place as an ice-sculpture centerpiece at a farting contest between Larry The Cable Guy and Real Housewives of Dallas star Stephanie Hollman. The moment Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lays eyes upon the spectacular structure he'll crave another glitzy AT&T Stadium accessory.
   Seriously, it's ...
   "Sir, we're going to have to ask you to leave," says the apparent foreman of a 10-man construction crew feverishly working on the statue, plumbing for the accompanying fountain and what looks like some sort of expansive entrance. "Stop taking pictures, please. This is private property."
   "Yeah," I retort in retreat, "but what kind of private property?!"
   As I drive away, I'm flagged down by a local rubbernecker. After all, it's not every day a UFO that glitters like the Palace of Versailles lands - or, in this case, was set into place by a 90-ton crane - in this down-to-Earth rurality 15 minutes south of the Red River.
   "What'd he say to you?" asks a 60-something-ish man in his pickup while his female passenger cranes to hear my answer. "What the heck is that thing?"
   "Honestly, I dunno," I shrug, "Best guess though, it's going to be the entrance to something. Something pretty big."
   "Well," responds the man, "whatever it is ... I wanna be part of it."
   In my rear-view mirror I see two more vehicles slow from 65 mph to skid marks in order to size up the mammoth mystery. If you build it, they will come ... to at least gawk.
   After several shot-in-the-dark phone calls and two more empty trips over a couple of months, I finally get my answer. And an invitation.
   "It's Trident Lakes," says Paul Salfen, who identifies himself as a spokesman and Director of Celebrity Relations for the development. "Think of it as a 5-star playground, equipped with DEFCON 1 preparedness. Why don't you come on up?"
   Gulp. At first glance I think these guys building something so big in somewhere so small are out of their minds. But, no, as life as we knew it deteriorates into one of those Southwest Airlines' "Wanna Get Away?!" commercials, it quickly occurs to me that they're merely way ahead of the game.
   Fine, serendipitous structure. You win.

                                                       PROVOCATIVE PROJECT
   We grow up here learning everything is bigger in Texas, so we're a tad cynical when someone proclaims to be building "the next greatestbiggestbest thingamajig".
Closer to Paris, Texas than Paris, France
   Our statues aren't something out of Greek mythology, but rather born-'n-bred icons such as Tom Landry, Nolan Ryan, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Big Tex. And our epic construction projects include the world's largest football stadium, largest high-school football stadium, a retractable-roof ballpark for the Texas Rangers, 200,000-seat Texas Motor Speedway, The Omni Hotel, The Star in Frisco as the epicenter of the $5 Billion Mile, those two weird, white bridges near downtown Dallas and Trinity Forest Golf Course, a 400-acre, $50 million project in South Dallas aimed at hosting the U.S. Open. We've seen a giant chair promote the future of Nebraska Furniture Mart in Frisco and a huge beaver open the mega-truck stop Buc-ee's in Fort Worth.
   Shoot, we've even seen Dallas swing-and-miss at hosting The 2012 Summer Olympics, drag its feet for 10 years on the Trinity River Corridor Project, and something called the Superconducting Super Collider flop and fail in Waxahachie in the '90s. In other words, Trident Lakes better be considerably bigger than something along the lines of "McRib is back!"
   It is.
   "This," says Salfen, pointing to the base of a statue that will soon rise to over 50 feet, "is just the tip of the iceberg."
   When Trident Lakes is complete, it will be one of the most ambitious, grandiose and important developments in our state's history. Maybe our country's.
   The plans call for it to be part private resort/part safe haven. It will be both a lavish country-club community that features upscale amenities, and also a state-of-the-art secured fortress that boasts subterranean luxury condos able to withstand the shit's direct hit into our fan.
   In other words, Trident Lakes promises to be the ultimate retreat for people seeking shelter from a world gone mad. The more your imperfect news cycle is littered with Amber Alerts, domestic terrorism in Orlando, an attempted coup in Turkey, police shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge, trucks used as weapons in Nice and the stench of ISIS seemingly everywhere, the more this idea - unfortunately - makes perfect sense. America's FBI "Watch List" has grown to include more than a million names for crying out loud, and director James Coney recently admitted that there are ISIS members or sympathizers in all 50 states.
   Yeah, yikes.
   "We'll be one of America's most unique, most safe neighborhoods," says Salfen. "What we offer are world-class amenities combined with unprecedented civilian security. It's life assurance. Luxurious life assurance."
   A settlement worthy of, indeed, a serendipitous structure.
   The construction around Trident Lakes' majestic entrance is already gaudy enough to be a spin-off from Rome's Trevi Fountain. When finished, according to Salfen, the massive water feature will be the heart of one of the largest fountains in the world.
   In terms of square footage (55,000+) and length (longer than Bellagio's famed lake of dancing water in Las Vegas), few - if any - fountains on the planet will be bigger. The height of the structure that will spew water and anchor the property's elaborate entrance will also be dimensionally unprecedented. Not exactly a fountain of youth, but more so one aimed at ensuring old age.
   Design options call for this sundae's cherry to be a huge, gold Trident, perhaps even wielded by Poseidon himself.
   (UPDATE: The Poseidon statue was severely damaged by a Blossom-based Unruh Construction cement truck in July. Construction on the surrounding fountain continues, but work on the statue is on hold until a settlement is reached with Unruh's insurance company - Albuquerque-based Mountain States. A Trident Lakes source says the company is hopeful the claim will be resolved without litigation, but - despite Unruh accepting responsibility for the accident - describes Mountain States as "wholly uncooperative.")
   Fitting of its bedazzled beacon, Trident Lakes will surely become the crown jewel of northeast Texas. For now there's a website - - and social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (though with minimal activity and few followers). Salfen was tight-lipped on details surrounding specific security features and pinpoint costs. But after a 30-minute tour across the surprisingly lush and rolling property on an ATV, and discussions with security and real-estate experts, I can make some educated guesses on the particulars:
   Try 700 acres and $300 million. Commence eyeball-popping.
   The community is being developed by Dallas-based Vintuary Holdings Corp. which - hence the giant fountain and grand entrance - looks like they have the moxie to pull this off. I managed to get in touch with lead architect Charles Ralph, but he only wanted to talk about what everyone else was already talking about.
   Yep, the serendipitous structure and its vast waters.
   "We’re confident one of the largest fountains in the world sets the stage for a standard of quality that will bond the entire community,” said Ralph. “It’s a unique tone-setter for a place residents will enjoy, but also depend on.”
   Our proud history and state pride be damned, I'm pretty sure we've never seen a community adorned with enough bells, whistles, upgrades and foresight to keep survivors from becoming victims in the event North Texas deteriorates into an apocalyptic combination of The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and The Purge.
   "You can't predict catastrophes, but you can prepare for them," Robert Glasser, head of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, said in a recent speech. "The prudent people are taking steps to be ready the best they can for the worst that's likely to come."
   Says Salfen, "Live on a piece of paradise, get peace of mind. It's a win-win."
   Though Trident Lakes won't come alive with water through its veins until 2017, it's already casting a substantial shadow. Salfen says the early "trickle" of cars stopping with curiosity (guilty, party of one) has increased to a "steady stream" of visitors seeking answers, snapping photos or - in some cases - attempting to reserve a plot in the affluent-yet-anonymous neighborhood.
   Residence at Phase I - the first of three planned subdivisions - will be via invitation-only, complete with a waiting list. After successful beta testing, according to Salfen, engineering plans for Phase 2 have been accelerated and accompanied by a formal waiting list as well.
   Offered initially to movers and shakers throughout America, Trident Lakes' membership will likely parallel the hoity-toity exclusivity of Dallas National Golf Club, Washington D.C.'s Greenbrier Resort and that fantasy land beyond the armoire known as Narnia.
   Though the price tag will remain confidential until initial invitations are hand-delivered, seems reasonable to estimate the cost aligning with that of an affluent second home. That, of course, would preclude the community from becoming fertile ground for grass-roots, nut-job government separatists and keep it instead purely an oasis for the powerful and savvy.
   Make no mistake, Trident Lakes will be much more Elysium than Idiocracy.
   Though Salfen was adamant about maintaining the privacy of residents, rumors are that notable celebrities are already sniffing around the place. After all, swanky resorts exist from coast to coast, but not many - if any - include state-of-the-art security prepared to mitigate our planet's biggest threats.
   Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst. And, apparently, have a lot of fun in between.

                                                       5-STAR PLAYGROUND
   You would expect the DFW Metroplex's rich and famous to vacation in exclusive spots such as Aspen, Cabo or Maldives. But why in the world would they make the hour trek northeast to a previously unremarkable landscape?
   Easy. Because most well-to-do families also own lake homes, and Trident Lakes vows to both pamper and protect its residents while turning the trick of putting this lil' corner of Texas on the global map. It's going to transform nowhere, into somewhere. Somewhere special.
Today: Natural Texas landscape
Tomorrow: Nasty Trident 18th green
   It promises to be one of the world's best-appointed hiding places. After all, we need complex "what if" plans. But, in the meantime, we also need cool "what if not yet" playgrounds.
   During my tour I heard general plans for seemingly every toy imaginable including an 18-hole golf course, 15-acre blue lagoons with white-sand beaches, a 5-star spa, jogging trails, sports courts, kids' play areas and learning center, equestrian center, polo fields, zip lines, gun ranges, retail shops, restaurants, waterfront wedding venue and a row of helipads.
   Weaving throughout the planned development will be about 400 Earth-covered, terraced condos with three unique floor plans ranging in size from 900-3,600-square feet and all providing patio views of the site's lagoons.
   Barring the Apocalypse, Trident Lakes could simply maintain itself as one of the most exclusive, best accessorized country clubs in Texas, if not all of America. But if Hell and high water converge simultaneously, developers have a plan for that too.

                                                  DEFCON 1 PREPAREDNESS
   Trident Lakes promotes itself as more than just a pretty place. Its three-pronged purpose ensures "Plan", "Protect" and "Play." With terrorism tragedies spreading almost daily from Orlando to Turkey to Belgium to Joint Base Andrews to (fill in the blank), some probably feel like this protective palace can't be built too fast.
   As last summer's sniper ambush in Dallas unfolded, the shooter (Micah Johnson) who killed five officers told police "the end is coming."
   Cue the chills. Call to action.
   "Our hope is that membership will never need Trident Lakes for anything more than a vacation home, main residence or just a fun place for a family getaway," says Salfen. "But in the event of something dramatic, it will also be a 5-star insurance policy and a place that will - as well as possible - dilute the ongoing dangers."
   I wasn't privy to a formal Master Plan, but was told Trident Lakes could eventually become a self-sustaining community using off-the-grid sources of food, water and energy. Among the extensive security features being kicked around are a protective wall surrounding the property (eat your heart out, Mr. Trump), watchtowers, air-lock blast doors, a navigable tunnel system, communal greenhouses and a DNA vault.
   Those detailed checks and double-checks would, in theory, protect residents and minimize disasters such as terrorism (ISIS). It will also be built to diminish the brunt of virus pandemics (Zika), intergalactic events and violent conflicts. From Mother Nature's mood swings to scary scenarios that would empty store shelves within hours, Trident Lakes plans to take a big swing at answering the most ominous questions ... even before they are posed.
   "One of Trident Lakes' most appealing features is its proximity to Dallas and Fort Worth, yet its location at least an hour from the major 'threat zone'," says Salfen. "Whatever danger arises, we feel confident we're providing the best Plan B money can buy. After all, preparation negates panic."
   One of the things that struck me about Trident Lakes is its seeming contradiction: Existing as a deluxe, secret safe house - but one adorned with one of the most ostentatious fountains on Earth. The palace screams "Look at us!" But the philosophy is founded upon "Please don't notice us."
   In his UN address, Glasser just might have it figured out.
   "It's all about risk management," he said. "If you plan properly, you can hide in plain sight."
   Like a joint password protecting sensitive information, a safe word drawing boundaries on sexual exploration or the designated family meeting spot during ominous weather, planners hope "Trident Lakes" becomes the default escape destination when and if Doomsday dawns in Dallas and beyond.
   Fine, serendipitous structure. You win.
   In the present, your sprawling fountain in the remote reaches of North Texas will generate unique curiosity.
   In the future, you just may provide unparalleled security.