Dallas Entrepreneur Ray Washburne Gives Restaurant Recovery, Election Insights

Gloria Salinas, Managing Director, Economic Development

Dallas entertainment developer Ray Washburne had to delay plans for his high-profile redevelopment of the former Dallas Morning News building and furlough thousands of employees in March when the COVID-19 pandemic’s shelter-in-place orders closed Dallas restaurants, bars, and nightlife.

Washburne, a member of President Trump’s Great American Economic Revival Industry Group for Food and Beverage, said he does not expect to make predictions on the recovery of the restaurant industry or the 2020 election until the fall when a better picture of the economy will come into focus.

“It’s an interesting time for all of us,” he said. “Most of my businesses are focused in Dallas, from construction projects to owning apartments and retail centers, so we’ve had to deal with it all.”

During the DRC’s Thursday, May 28, virtual Board of Advisors event, presented by JLL and sponsored by McCarthy Building Companies, Washburne told WFAA-TV’s David Schechter rent payments and restaurant spending are a better measure of economic recovery.

Schechter asked Washburne, Co-Owner of Mi Cocina, Taco Diner, President and Managing Director of Highland Park Village, and President and CEO of Charter Holdings, for a sense of what a national plan would look like to save restaurants, bars, and places where people gather.

“This PPP [Paycheck Protection Program], for so many people, has kind of paid the rent for March, April, and May. The truth is all going to come in July and August. If we’re still at 50 percent, and PPP is not extended or new money is not put into the program, that’s when the big fall out is going to be,” said Washburne, who has rehired most staff and reopened restaurants to 50 percent capacity.

He said there has been a lot discussion on how the government can get involved in the business disruption side when many parts of the nation and state have been declared disaster zones.

When asked by Schechter for his insights on the role the pandemic would play in the November Presidential Election, Washburne said he would hold his thoughts until after Labor Day – and after both Republican and Democratic National Conventions take place.

“There’s an old adage in the political business [that] polls and rhetoric don’t matter until after Labor Day and after conventions are over,” Washburne said. “You don’t know how this pandemic [is going to affect] if things really open up and business gets going again in July and August, or if it comes back.”

Washburne said the unknowns created by the pandemic have delayed development of his high-profile entertainment district at the former Dallas Morning News site, but a positive has been a 10-12 percent decline in construction pricing.

“There are a lot of cranes in the sky and Dallas is a boom town,” he said.

Washburne said he sees Dallas and the region becoming a more attractive location for business relocations because of the diverse real estate options and business friendly regulations.

“As long as we’re viewed as a low-regulation, low-corruption, low-tax place, people are going to pour in here,” he said.

To view more footage from the event, visit the DRC’s YouTube channel.