After District 14 council member David Blewett pulled the Reverchon Park reconstruction project back from its December abyss, Dallas City Council heard arguments for and against the proposal in one fiery late afternoon/evening meeting before rendering a fresh decision.
What had been a tie vote in December was now passed 11-4.
And far North Dallas District 12 Councilperson Cara Mendelsohn was in the house to vote in favor of turning over the century-old ballpark to Reverchon Park Sports and Entertainment LLC, a group led by Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson. There will also be an all-abilities baseball field built by Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, a Dallas native, and his wife Ellen’s foundation, Kershaw’s Challenge, along the chain-link fence side to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children. Kershaw’s Challenge has given away more than $7.5 million dollars to benefiting communities since 2011, Dallas will now be one of them. On the surface, it all seemed very philanthropic, athlete-and kid-centered, and fun.
But like most real estate deals, the devil is in the details.
In addition to the December motion, Blewett added caveats and sweeteners:
- Raise the original $30,000 ticket revenues to $106,000
- Ensure there would be 15 days of free play at the baseball field
- Create a user advisory group to meet on hot-button issues such as sound transmission, safety, traffic, signage notifications, etc.
- Commit to two annual community meetings
- The Reverchon Park Beautification fund must be used to maintain the park
- Provide 10 percent (or 2,000 tickets) for free distribution
- Offer ticket discounts to teachers, first responders, and veterans
Before the vote was taken, District 2 council member Adam Medrano, in whose district this largely resides, made the motion to hold the vote for another month so that community outreach could be conducted. He said that an overarching message of those opposed was a lack of information and the city should grant them a month to conduct those meetings (and perhaps change some minds). His motion failed with only five supporting votes. District 1 council member Chad West (Oak Cliff) was the only one to support a 30-day wait, and then go on to vote for the Blewett amendment.
Waiting for community involvement was apparently OK, but it wasn’t a deal killer for West, it seems.
It was almost perverse that many council members who voted in favor of passage, including Jennifer Gates, Cara Mendelsohn, and Chad West, also bemoaned the poor process and lack of community outreach. But not enough, apparently, to give the process 30 more days. Each was saying “we have to do better in the future,” you know, when all things are better.
District 12’s Cara Mendelsohn produced some startling stats on our city parks agreements. In the whole city, there are just eight agreements and only four of those generate any income. (Which makes taxpayer me wonder: the city of Dallas signed agreements that knowingly provide no “rent” on city-owned land?) Of those four income-producing parks, a total of $126,000 is generated for the city thusly: the management companies generate $96,000 in ticket sales and $1.374 million on other revenues – with roughly a 10 percent cut or return to the city.
On its face, the City of Dallas doesn’t appear to strike much of a deal with its properties at all. Perhaps the council should enroll in a course at Champions School of Real Estate.
Of those in opposition, District 7’s Adam Bazaldua said the Reverchon Park RFP had evolved to cater to two competing interests – a ballpark for inner-city kids and a profit-making operation. He said you can’t leverage one to get the other. He said this began as a way to rehabilitate the Reverchon Ball Field to help out kids, but in the past three years had mutated towards profit.
Profit for whom?
The rhythm of this meeting was interesting. Speakers were given one minute each to voice support or opposition, each lining an opposing wall of council chambers. Council then adjourned for a closed-door executive session before returning for the votes and motions.
Here’s the gist of the two sides of the public arguments:
Arguments Against The Plan
Arguments against the proposal were basically the same for all contentious zoning cases – the overall size, increased traffic, poor parking, noise, a rushed process, and the secrecy. These concerns may or not be valid, except that there’s no way to judge because of the secrecy. Many against the project today said they might not be against it if they’d known more about it – if there’d been public meetings.
Another citizen noted what we all know of these public-private partnerships. Someone rakes in a nice profit, while the city privatizes its maintenance. If there’s so much money to be made there, why can’t the city figure it out on their own? One speaker said that the average minor league baseball team generates $2 million a year in revenue. Another noted the same league announced in November 2019 it would be cutting 42 teams, representing about a quarter of the league (none in Texas). Were Reverchon to lose what might be its biggest paying customer, who or what takes up the slack?
It’s worth asking, given the contract is for TWENTY (20) years, with two additional five-year extensions.
Oh, and it was pointed out that the Ball Field has a “historic designation.” But that doesn’t often matter in Dallas.
One speaker made a particularly sound comment, I think: most of the people who supported the proposal as-is had some vested interest or were paid to be there as lobbyists. This was in stark contrast to those in opposition, who were almost solely residents. It was a smart pick-up.
Arguments For The Plan
As noted, a large majority of those in favor had some special interest. There were any number of athletic organizations from an amateur rugby league to the North Dallas High School and the current baseball-playing users of the field. North Dallas High School is landlocked — no playing fields — and Reverchon serves as the school’s home field. But the field has apparently become unplayable, so they go elsewhere. So the kids and administration were field users representing the plan’s authors.
Current and past Parks Board representatives were in high dudgeon at council (the folks who appointed them) for even taking a second look at the project, aghast at being second guessed. Current Park and Recreation Board president Calvert Collins-Bratton (D13) accused the opposition of spreading lies.
The only “lie” I heard was confusion/lack of sophistication in expressing the mechanics of a public-private partnership – an underlying desire not to have to buy a ticket to visit a public park.
There were also plenty of representatives from Friends of Katy Trail and Friends of Reverchon Park in support.
But where were the resident groups who own property nearby? Where was the outreach to them?
One man noted that in a minute on the Katy Trail 25 people passed but when he walked around Reverchon Park (not exactly its high-season) there might have been 25 people in the whole park. First, a 3,500 seat venue isn’t going to increase use on non-event days. Second, there’s a completely different utilization map for a park (run around, play and picnic) versus a long, straight exercise path. Conflating the two is just wishfully poor math.
I particularly enjoyed the presentation from the Arlington Hall and Oak Lawn Park (formerly Lee Park) representative, talking about the success their partnership has brought to what had been a downtrodden park and facility. True enough.
But… no one told her to bulldoze Arlington Hall and rebuild it five-times larger in order to make it work.
There was an appropriate level of boohooing for the kiddies. One North Texas High School speaker lamented that even if they started today, freshmen wouldn’t be able to use the field until they were juniors. Of course if the field was being used by DISD students, why weren’t they chipping into the ball field’s maintenance?
This muddling that serving kids somehow requires a for-profit venue was as misguided as it was repeated.
But Why 3,500?
That’s the gaping hole in the opposition’s argument. Why 3,500 seats? Why five-times the size? Why 1,100 seats more than a year ago? No one touched on this. As one proponent noted, “There aren’t 3, 500 people coming to see me play baseball.”
Then why are 3,500 seats needed? Where’s the business case that this is the only way?
All the baseball jersey-ed supporters also played up the sporting angle, while downplaying the potential for concerts – which is clearly stated as an option in the city’s RFP. If the concerts are so inconsequential, why was there not an offer to excise that from the proposal? Why not even an offer to limit the hours of operation?
The supporters similarly never came up and said, “Here’s how we’re dealing with the five-times increase to accommodate parking needs. Here’s how we’ll handle five-times the traffic.” They didn’t not answer those concerns because they were afraid of “spoilers.”
They didn’t say, because I think they don’t know.
In the end, the public’s desire for more input to a secretive process didn’t matter enough — surprising since Blewett has been holding community meetings on zoning cases to get input for himself. But here he is, stumping for a deal in Medrano’s district, ignoring his wishes for community meetings and barreling this through – shades of a Blewett future elsewhere?
Blewett’s tossing of a few sprinkles on the deal from December convinced four votes to move forward. It was said that this was step three in a five-part process.
It felt like a rationalization for the evening’s vote. “We’ll catch you on the flip side.”
We all know how well that works.
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 email@example.com. Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.