Getting Schooled

A group of former condo owners say SMU defrauded them of their homes to make way for the new Bush library.

As Vodicka sees it, the school's bare-knuckled letter, sent in the middle of negotiations over the sale of the property, was calculated to drive down the sales price — and is a part of a larger pattern of SMU's underhandedness. Says McElhaney, "That's just craziness on his part. Vodicka sees a conspiracy everywhere, but he's just wrong."

McElhaney and SMU may be particularly frustrated with Vodicka for digging into details of the sale of Park Cities Plaza. After all, it was Vodicka who, during discovery, forced SMU to disclose that it was Ray Hunt, the school's pre-eminent Bush-library booster, who quietly contributed $35 million to the private university so that it could purchase the property. The donation matched the largest contribution to SMU in the school's history.

SMU certainly wants to be done with this case and its plaintiffs, preferring instead to get on with building its George W. Bush Presidential Center, whose groundbreaking is scheduled to begin in 2010 and whose costs have been estimated at between $200 million and $500 million. Until recently, school officials have only made vague pronouncements about where the library will be located — at the intersection of SMU Boulevard and Airline Road — but now Patti LaSalle, the university's executive director of public affairs, says that according to the most recent plans, the campus of the 25-acre presidential complex will include the former location of the University Gardens. This might account for why SMU has offered each plaintiff $1 million to settle.

Attorney Gary Vodicka is now suing his old alma mater, alleging SMU defrauded him and other residents of the University Gardens in its plan to acquire land to build the Bush library.
Mark Graham
Attorney Gary Vodicka is now suing his old alma mater, alleging SMU defrauded him and other residents of the University Gardens in its plan to acquire land to build the Bush library.
The empty site in front of the SMU campus is where the University Gardens condominiums sat for nearly 40 years until being demolished to make room for the 25-acre George W. Bush Presidential Center.
Mark Graham
The empty site in front of the SMU campus is where the University Gardens condominiums sat for nearly 40 years until being demolished to make room for the 25-acre George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Of course, Vodicka seems in no mood to compromise.

"They illegally took my home from me, they illegally tore down the home complex," he says softly, as if talking to himself. "I would be satisfied with them rebuilding the entire complex, pay my attorney's fees, pay me my expenses and I'll move back in."

Though Vodicka's demands appear outlandish, many of the residents who sold to SMU will still be rooting for him. Even though seven years have elapsed since her mother handed school officials a letter that outlined her desperation at being forced to sell her home, Leslie Davenport tears up while talking about what her mother had to endure. On a summer afternoon at a fast-food restaurant just one mile from the vacant lot that was once University Gardens, Davenport thinks back to how her mom just wanted to stay in her condominium for the rest of her days.

"My mother and I fought this like tigers," she says. "Here you think you've planned your life. You can take care of yourself in your own place. And then something like this happens, and it blows up your whole world."

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