It seemed baffling that last month the Dallas City Council didn’t approve the renovation of the Reverchon Park ballfield, but it shouldn’t be.
It’s no secret Dallas has an unspoken policy of “build lavishly and walk away” when it comes to maintaining its public facilities. It’s also no secret that Dallas does a poor job doing park deals (Fair Park and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kalita Humphreys Theater spring to mind).
With this in mind, you may wonder if last month’s disapproval of the $10 million deal to redo the park with Donnie Nelson’s Reverchon Park Sports and Entertainment LLC, was any different. In that it was a bit of a CF, it’s business as usual. But in other ways, it was actually the right thing to do. Here’s why.
Only One Public Meeting – 28 Months Ago
I’ll start with the largest issue that might have fixed the rest. There was a single meeting in 2017, which was reportedly very sparsely attended. This was months before the initial RFP was issued in 2018 and 21-months before the second RFP, and its 1,100 more seats when the goal was solely the baseball field.
In the meeting notice (below) the city described the meeting as, “Public Meeting to provide your input for planning the proposed renovation of the Baseball Field in Reverchon Park.” Reading those words and seeing that picture, what would you think? Certainly not 3,500-seat outdoor concerts with alcohol.
There was no hint there was a public-private partnership in the works to rebuild and vastly expand the park’s operations. You also wouldn’t know the stated goal of “maximizing overall usage of the facility” via events including “baseball, soccer, rugby, and lacrosse teams/leagues as well as providers of concerts, races, festivals, celebrations, camps and clinics.” No, you wouldn’t.
I daresay that meeting would have been a lot better attended. And regardless, both RFP versions state there should be multiple public meetings and there hasn’t. For this reason alone, the city council was right to kick this until they could show the contractual community outreach.
Apparently the developers met with Friends of the Katy Trail and Friends of Reverchon Park who approved of the current deal. That’s fine, but neither organization represents those living nearby. Where’s the support from resident groups like Uptown Dallas, TUNA, and the Oak Lawn Committee?
However you slice it, one meeting in 2017, for a vastly smaller plan just doesn’t cut it.
How’d We Get Here?
The city issued an RFP (request for proposal) for the project to rebuild 4.25 acres within the 39-acre Reverchon Park that includes the baseball field. It’s the end bounded by the tollway, Katy Trail, and Maple Avenue just south of Scottish Rite. In fact, they issued two. One in 2018 and a second in 2019.
The result of the 2018 RFP was that after overwhelming council approval, the selected vendor crapped out. The RFP was tinkered with and reissued in June 2019. And there’s the rub.
Baseball and …
The 2018 RFP was written with the rehabilitation of the baseball field as the key ingredient. The RFP stated that, “Reverchon Ball Park (RBP) has been reviewed by the Dallas Park and Recreation Board. The preliminary concept for a Ball Park was loosely modeled after Dallas Baptist University’s Horner Ball Park. Following is a general scope and program.” Horner Ball Park seems to only host baseball.
That baseball-y language was dropped in 2019 and Reverchon Ball Park was re-coined as Reverchon Athletic Field in a seeming attempt to broaden the facility’s appeal to more sports and other events. But both RFPs included the option to host “baseball, soccer, rugby and lacrosse teams/leagues as well as providers of concerts, races, festivals, celebrations, camps and clinics” Some of these uses exist in the park today.
I see these subtle changes as amping-up the park’s programmed events calendar seemingly beyond what was proposed and nearly approved a year ago. Is that a good thing?
46 Percent More Seats
The 2019 RFP also upped the seating from 1,400 permanent and 1,000 temporary seats to 2,000 permanent and 1,500 temporary seats. While Robert Wilonsky over at The Dallas Morning News noted the increase, he also said the city would get “far less revenue” under the (smaller) 2018 proposal. Unpacking that, he didn’t see an issue increasing the seating capacity by 46 percent so long as it generated $12,000 of additional income to the city – that’s $10.90 annually per additional seat. I’ll agree to disagree with Wilonsky that $12,000 constitutes “far less” in the city’s overall $3.4 billion annual budget.
In addition to a shiny new venue attracting more promoters, the seat count matters because it directly affects the type of event they could support. I’ll also hazard a guess that a larger capacity enables not only larger but more frequent events. This is easily seen in the economics. The “winner” of the 2018 RFP estimated their annual median net revenue at $21,555. The proposal dismissed by council in December called for $69,788 annual net revenues – a 233 percent increase. Sure, some of that is from the additional 1,000 seats, but a lot of it would be from increased numbers of events. In 15 years, the current proposal estimates net revenues of $249,000 – it’s fair to say that ticket prices are unlikely to increase 256 percent in that time.
Sleepy Reverchon would awaken in ways the community might not support.
Parking And Traffic
Both RFPs noted that while there’s some parking within the park, they’d need to contract with local commercial properties to secure event parking – that’s 1,100 more parking spaces needed. It’s also the potential for 3,500 cars all arriving and departing at roughly the same times (yes, some will walk depending on the event).
Maple and Oak Lawn Avenues will be gridlocked all the way to the tollway and Interstate 35E. Were this a proper zoning case, a traffic study would be required before a council vote (not after, as is promised).
Who Sets The Schedule?
According to the RFP, “The Proposer shall have authority on scheduling the facility use, with input from the Owner.” In this case, the “proposer” is the management company and the “owner” is the City of Dallas. This says that the city doesn’t control any aspect of the scheduling. While we don’t want the city juggling a Lacrosse match and an ABBA tribute band on the same day, they should be setting some type of limit based (in part) on the surrounding community’s desires. For example, a maximum number of events and music concerts, hours of operation, decibel levels, transportation plans, etc. You know, the kinds of answers required of any public venue – especially one serving alcohol – because they directly impact the financial viability of the venue. Apparently, this too will be worked out after passage through council – when backs are against the wall to make the numbers work.
This seems to be anticipated because there’s this requirement, stated multiple times in the RFP, “Conduct public meetings (minimum of two) with the surrounding community and User groups to receive input on the design and scheduling of the facility.”
Not All Bad News: Wages
One bright note in comparing the 2018 and 2019 RFPs was on wages. Back in 2018, workers were guaranteed minimum wage. The 2019 bid says, “Proposer agrees to pay both its full-time and part-time employees an hourly wage equal to or in excess of the living wage for a single adult, as calculated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Living Wage Calculator for Dallas County, Texas” At this moment, that’s a difference between a $7.25 minimum wage and an $11.71 living wage or an annual difference of $15,080 vs $24,357.
Let’s see if on Wednesday city council decides to again withhold support until the terms of their own RFP are met. If this deal is as sweet as presented, more public airings should be welcomed.
Remember: High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards. Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make? Shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.