We’ll have to wait until August to learn whether the Dallas City Council will allow a private developer to install a complex of fenced-in soccer fields under an elevated highway between Deep Ellum and the Farmers Market. The Council voted 10-5 to delay the vote on the I-345 project until late August, after Council returns from a summer recess.
But the delay also swallowed up the long-awaited 5.6 acre Carpenter Park redevelopment nearby, on which the Parks Department had hoped to begin construction in September. That will now likely be on hold until at least November, but possibly early 2021, as the item must be approved by the Parks Board and the City Council.
We’ve been following the soccer field saga since earlier this month, when the matter returned to City Hall for the first time in more than a year. This is the project headed by Roddrick West, the son of state Sen. Royce West, who expressed his interest in putting the fields on land owned by the Texas Department of Transportation. The only quirk: that land is controlled by the city of Dallas through what’s known as a Multiple Use Agreement, or an MUA. The state’s right-of-way division, which is based in Austin, would need the city of Dallas to give up its control. And there is a contingent on Council who had questions about the project.
TxDOT informed the city that it would prefer to package the soccer item with other projects the city wanted under a highway. So into the bundle went Carpenter Park, hundreds more parking spaces for Deep Ellum, and a project in South Dallas along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, under I-45.
The problem with this packaging? If any one of those projects doesn’t pass muster, the rest would have to pause as well. And that’s exactly what happened.
Carpenter Park’s redevelopment has been in the works for more than seven years. The design is complete, and the project has been bid out. It only needed Council approval and TxDOT’s blessing. But Councilman Tennell Atkins, of southern Dallas, quickly made a motion to delay the vote until August. If his motion passed, it meant the Council could not spin off any of those projects for individual consideration. Atkins wouldn’t budge.
What followed was more than two hours of parliamentary back and forth that I won’t go into. But today’s events showed the risk of voting on a package of projects that haven’t all spent the same amount of time in the oven. Councilwoman Paula Blackmon, who represents East Dallas around White Rock Lake, characterized Carpenter Park as “being held hostage.”
The lease that TxDOT prepared for Roddrick West would last 25 years and includes a two-year exit clause should any modifications to I-345 be approved. TxDOT is expected to reveal the results of a feasibility study regarding the highway’s future—which could include burial or removal—later this summer. Royce West has spoken loudly against the tear-out. Councilman Jaime Resendez, of Pleasant Grove, is a former West staffer who said any allegation of corruption was “ignorant and baseless.”
Some on Council believed 25 years was too long a time to hand over land in the city’s core; once the city cedes control, the land is gone. The city has said the Environmental Protection Agency deemed the land safe for exercise, but the agency used readings from about a mile away.
There were other concerns. Downtown’s Councilman David Blewett questioned Police Chief U. Reneé Hall about whether the city has adequate police resources to ensure safety at the area. Fair Park and South Dallas Councilman Adam Bazaldua asked whether the city could enter into the arrangement and at least recoup some tax dollars from it.
It seems Carpenter Park would’ve sailed through had it been separated from the soccer project. Councilman Adam Medrano, of Deep Ellum, was frustrated that basketball goals and a skate park had been pushed to phase two, which is not yet funded. (“I think there’s an underlying issue there why they don’t want the skate park or the basketball goals there. You guys can think why,” he said.)
But that was the only concern raised. Any others will now have to wait until August.