The Dallas City Council will indeed vote on an amendment that would allow the son of a state senator to install a private development of soccer fields under a highway. The seesaw saga of this land under I-345 continues, this time with Councilman Lee Kleinman—the chair of the city’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee—requesting that it stay on the agenda for a vote next Wednesday.
Staff pulled it earlier this week after others on that committee raised a slew of questions about the deal, which had resurfaced after stewing for more than a year. The coronavirus had halted many city operations and the current Council had not been briefed on the plan. The previous Council sent it back in 2019 because of concerns that it was unsafe to exercise beneath a freeway.
The soccer deal is packaged together with a few other city priorities: the redevelopment of Carpenter Park, additional parking for Deep Ellum near the Farmers Market, and a Complete Street-style redevelopment of a stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in South Dallas.
All those projects will exist under a highway, meaning TxDOT land. For everything but the project in South Dallas, the city has control of that land through what’s known as a Multiple Use Agreement, or MUA, with TxDOT. The city is wanting to build a structure of some sort attached to Carpenter Park, but that isn’t an allowed use under that agreement. It would have to be amended. And TxDOT would have to grant the city control of the land on MLK.
And so city staff has proposed ceding control of the land that would hold the soccer fields, a project being led by Roddrick West, son of state Sen. Royce West. The elder West sits on the state’s transportation committee and is also the most notable critic of removing I-345, the freeway that separates Deep Ellum and downtown. Roddrick West and TxDOT say the lease will include a clause that if the state decides to modify the highway—either removing it or burying it below grade—the soccer fields would have to vacate within two years.
But it doesn’t seem anyone in City Hall has seen the lease. Or it didn’t, as of Monday’s transportation committee meeting. Roddrick West isn’t naming his investors and he has no experience operating such a project. City staff hasn’t seen a business plan and at least four council members expressed discomfort with the project.
All of that led staff to pull the item, but Kleinman said he requested it to stay on for a vote. Those no votes—which appear to be council members Chad West, Adam Bazaldua, David Blewett, Paula Blackmon, and Cara Mendelsohn—want the soccer field removed from the package deal and considered separately. Kleinman said Council could still do that. (He is not one of those no votes, by the way. He quipped at the critics on Twitter with a photo of a homeless encampment under a Toronto highway.)
“If separated, it would be up to TxDOT to decide if they would accept,” Kleinman said.
TxDOT has expressed interest in considering all the projects together, and staff acquiesced. Assistant City Manager Majed Al-Ghafry said he would answer Council’s questions in a memo on Friday. I’ll post that here once it’s sent to council members.