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Trick or Treat? The Trinity River Project Is Back, and It’s $50 Million Richer

This morning, Mike Rawlings announced a new $50 million donation from Annette Simmons that will go towards the construction of a Trinity River Park

It’s back! We’ve had a bit of a reprieve from Trinity River Project news over the last few months, and, to be honest, I can’t say I’ve missed the thing. But talk of the Trinity River is about as persistent a Dallas obsession as the Cowboys and charity balls, so it was only a matter of time before the old river project came roaring back.

And roar it has, with the announcement this morning that Annette Simmons will donate a whopping $50 million to the Trinity Trust to support the construction of a new Trinity River park, in honor of her late husband, billionaire businessman Harold Simmons.  Simmons, whom this magazine once labeled an evil genius for his plan to dump nuclear waste in West Texas, is not exactly a name one might immediately associate with environmental friendliness. And yet, if the park is built, it will bear Simmons’ name.

Regardless, money is green, no matter where it comes from, and the $50 million — paired with the $30 million still lying around from that 1998 bond election — will go a long way to kick start the planning and eventual construction of the park. Which park? Good question.

In his press conference this morning, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings talked about bringing to life the park vision that he presented this past spring, which was designed by landscape architect Michael van Valkenberg. At the Dallas Institute and Trinity Trust’s “What Makes a City?” conference back in September, van Valkenberg talked about how those renderings do not represent an actual park design and that there was still a “tremendous amount of conversation” that needed to happen in Dallas in order to complete the design. In her letter committing the funds to the Trinity Trust, Annette Simmons references the Balanced Vision Plan, which advanced its own design vision for the floodway. And then there are those schematics for the massive toll road, which remain the only federally approved design for any road in the levees.

And so, here we are again, with a big new donation for the Trinity River Project; a proposed new role for the Trinity Trust, which will change its name and take over management of the park; and many of the same old questions about what exactly each of the various entities involved in the Trinity — the city, Corp of Engineers, private foundations, etc. — can, should, and want to build between the levees.

Until we scare up some answers, here’s a press release with some more detail about how the donation will impact the Trinity Trust and the future of the Trinity:


Donation will enable development and construction of The Harold Simmons Park to begin

(Dallas – October 31, 2016) Mayor Mike Rawlings along with Annette Simmons and the Trinity Trust today announced a historic $50 million donation from Annette Simmons in honor of her late husband, Harold Simmons, for the new Trinity River park.

The donation is the single largest gift from a private donor for a public/private partnership benefitting the City of Dallas. It will launch development and construction of the first phase of what is poised to become one of America’s greatest urban parks.

“This gift represents a major turning point for this project, and for our city,” said Mayor Rawlings. “With the generosity of Annette Simmons, in honor of Harold, we can begin to create a natural treasure for the future generations of Dallas. This will be one of America’s greatest urban parks and will serve as a gathering place that unites us right here in the heart of our city.”

The donation comes five months after Mayor Rawlings unveiled a conceptual design for the park to widespread acclaim.

“My husband Harold was a visionary, a humanitarian and a nature lover.” said Annette Simmons. “He was committed to investing in Dallas and its citizens. This gift will begin the creation of a great public space in our city that will be a place to gather, to enjoy nature and promote health and well-being. I cannot think of a more lasting and meaningful way to honor Harold’s memory and legacy,” Annette Simmons said.

With this historic donation, and following City Council approval, the park will be named The Harold Simmons Park. Other contingencies of the gift include that the park be operated by a private entity that has secured operations and maintenance funds, and that the funds needed to build the remainder of the park are raised within the next three years.
The donation by Annette Simmons will fund further design of the concept presented in May, and along with other sources will fund construction of the park. The Trinity Trust will serve as custodian of the initial gift payment until an entity is established to oversee and manage parkrelated expenses.

The full park concept encompasses more than 285 acres of land near the heart of downtown Dallas. The concept envisions a new naturalized river landscape that is ever-changing with miles of pathways and trails within the levees, and includes sites for five elevated parks that will extend from inside the levees into the adjacent communities. The concept also allows for the Trinity Parkway, which will provide primary access into the park and will require separate funding.

The concept is the careful work of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., one of America’s premier design firms whose work includes the Brooklyn Bridge Park and Harvard Commons Spaces. The concept was funded through private donors. The next critical step in planning the construction will be community input that will provide the necessary information to create final designs.

“Dallas is very fortunate to have this forward-thinking, transformational gift from Annette Simmons,” Rawlings said. “This gift changes everything. It has the ability to change the culture and image of our city in the future. And in terms of immediate impact, it transitions us from thinking to doing. My hope is that in the near future we can begin a series of public input meetings to start building out the design of the park. By next year, we want to be building America’s next great urban park,” said Rawlings.

About Harold Simmons
Harold Simmons was a remarkable, generous, and gifted man who exemplified the American Dream. As one of three sons, Harold was born May 13, 1931 to strong rural Texas school teachers, Reuben Leon and Fairess Clark. At the age of 16, Harold and his family moved from Golden, Texas, to a community near Austin where he enrolled at The University of Texas and was a member of the Southwest Conference championship basketball team of 1951. He then earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and was awarded a Phi Beta Kappa key.

Mr. Simmons’ first job was as an investigator for the U.S. Civil Service Commission, then as an Assistant Bank Examiner at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and an assistant loan officer at Republic National Bank. After five years, he decided he would rather work for himself. So at age 29, Harold became an entrepreneur when he purchased a small drugstore near SMU in Dallas. In 1966, he began to acquire other drugstores including buying Williams Drug Co., Ward’s Cut-Rate Drug Stores and Madigan-Dugan. He ultimately built a chain of 100 drugstores that he sold in 1973 for $50 million to Eckerd Corp. for stock. Mr. Simmons was founder, chairman and CEO of Contran Corporation, a holding company that over the years held various interests. The portfolio of investments have included controlling interests in Valhi, Inc., Kronos Worldwide, Inc., Titanium Metals Corporation, CompX International Inc., Medford Corporation, Medite Corporation, Baroid Corp., Amalgamated Sugar Company, Sybra, Inc., LLC Corporation and Keystone Consolidated Industries, Inc.

Mr. Simmons was actively involved in philanthropy with his wife, Annette, giving millions to educational institutions, hospitals, churches and many other charities. He served on various honorary and executive boards including SMU’s Cox School of Business and Dedman College of Humanities and Science, The Parkland Foundation, The Kidney Foundation, UT Southwestern Medical School, The Crystal Charity Ball Advisory Board, the Dallas Heart Ball, the Ronald McDonald House of Dallas, The Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children Annual Treasure Street, The Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, and the Military Ball.

Mr. Simmons was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame and also received several local awards for his unwavering support and involvement with Dallas-based charities, which included Tom Landry Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Dallas Arboretum, the Dallas Historical Society Philanthropy Award for Excellence in Community Service, The Annette G. Strauss Humanitarian Award, the Champ Award by The Dallas County Medical Society Alliance, the Dallas Distinguished Community Service Award, and the United Way – Alexis De Tocqueville Society award.