Don Williams is not your ordinary real estate investor.In a call from Costa Rica, the 70-year-old single father of a 3-year-old toddler said he bought the once-storied Massey’s restaurant building for “about $1 milion” without ever visiting the south-side site on Eighth Avenue. (Tarrant Appraisal District values it at about $535,000.) Williams said he relied on his banker, Tim Klauck of Woodhaven Bank’s Ridglea branch, to look the property over for him. Woodhaven financed the purchase.Reached closer to home on Camp Bowie Boulevard, Klauck said that he’s known the Dallas-reared Williams since 2003 and that nothing surprises him any longer. “On this deal, I was sort of his eyes and ears,” Klauck told us.The banker sent to Costa Rica snapshots of the Eighth Avenue property, which Dallas restaurateur Gene Street had told Williams about. A deal was struck in December with owner Diane Massey, widow of Charles Herbert Massey Jr. Several North Texas restaurateurs, including Street, have looked over the property, which needs extensive work on the roof, grease trap and wiring, Williams said. The owners of Norma’s Cafe of Dallas have expressed interest most recently, he said. “It’s only been on the market two months,” he said.Massey’s, which opened in 1947, earned landmark status for its signature chicken-fried steaks until it closed in 2011. In between, it won literary notoriety in Dan Jenkins’ 1981 novel, Baja California, as the place where fresh-mouthed waitresses tossed Lone Star longnecks to thirsty Fort Worth regulars.“Massey’s was our Left Bank of the Seine; it was our literary hangout,” sportswriter and novelist Bud Shrake said in 1996. “We played the bowling machine and ate the open hot-steak sandwiches. We’d sit at Massey’s for 12 hours at a time, drinking coffee, just talking about everything.”Jenkins renamed it “Herb’s,” the moniker used by many locals, for Baja Oklahoma, later an HBO film starring Lesley Ann Warren as Juanita Hutchins, a feisty 40-something barmaid who couldn’t be out-sworn by male customers.Three years ago, Jenkins sent us an email on Massey’s closing. “In the glory days, there was the bar side and the restaurant side joined by a doorway,” the writer remembered. “The bar served beer only, but in those days you could brown-bag it also. But most of the sitting around was about drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes and discussing the 13 roads leading out of Fort Worth to a more glamorous future. Stupid us. ...”“All I know is, the Massey’s that’s closing is really not the place that all of us once knew,” Jenkins wrote. “Still, that street corner will always be sacred.”Sacred or not, Williams said he plans to visit his property for the first time in April.Asked why he bought it, Hemingway-bearded Williams told us he’s building up a trust for his 3-year-old, who emphatically declined to comment when we called.GM Financial growing loans and jobsWhen a big local employer is bought by an even bigger national company, there’s always the concern that jobs might disappear. No such worry with AmeriCredit, now named GM Financial, since its 2010 acquisition by General Motors Corp.GM Financial is up to about 2,200 Tarrant County employees, split between its downtown Fort Worth headquarters and a big operations center in Arlington, CEO Dan Berce told us last week. That’s about 600 more than when GM bought it.It has also spread to six floors of the Burnett Plaza office tower, Berce said, as the company has taken on more administrative functions related to GM’s 2012 purchase of the international auto lending operations of Ally Financial. And more growth seems to be on the way.Berce said GM Financial will start making loans to prime credit customers of GM dealers sometime this summer. It’s part of GM’s strategy to turn the subprime auto lender, which long served only risky borrowers, into a full-service auto finance arm.“One of GM’s mandates was to expand into leasing,” which the company did before the end of 2010, Berce said. Then GM Financial was asked to get into financing dealer inventories, called a floor plan, and real estate, and that was done by 2012.“We pretty quickly learned that dealers that award their floor plan business to a lender” also want that company to be their primary lender, he said. That meant offering loans to all the dealership’s customers, starting with about 300 dealers that already get their floor plan financing from GM Financial.Making prime loans is not quite as simple as just plugging a higher credit score into the software, Berce said. The prime auto loan business demands a quick decision compared with subprime, where income verification and other paperwork slows the process.But GM Financial is adapting its systems, and in the end it could represent a sizable new chunk of business for the lender. GM dealers’ vehicle sales are about 20 percent cash, 20 percent leased and 60 percent financed, with the prime lending market four or five times the size of subprime.General Motors would like to see GM Financial write up to 20 percent of its prime loans, and while it will take several years to get there, it would likely mean about $8 billion a year in loans, Berce said.Groundbreakings this week for Heritage Bag, KrogerGroundbreaking ceremonies are planned this week for two key projects.On Tuesday, Heritage Bag Co., a second-generation privately-owned company, will celebrate the start of construction of its new corporate headquarters and Southwest division facility at Alliance. The company makes can liners, food/utility bags and specialty liners for institutional markets.It is moving from a 330,000-square-foot facility in Carrollton to 501 Gateway Parkway, in the Roanoke section of Alliance.And on Thursday, Kroger breaks ground on its North Richland Hills Marketplace, at the intersection of Precinct Line Road and North Tarrant Parkway.The 120,000-square-foot store will create 300 jobs, Kroger said. The store will open in 2015.
Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727 Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST Jim Fuquay, 817-390-7552 Twitter: @jimfuquay Barry Shlachter, 817-390-7718 Twitter: @bshlachter