In December 2016, the Friends of Reverchon Park briefed the city Parks Department about how they “proposed the redevelopment of the existing [baseball] field by means of a long term agreement with a self-funded private entity.”
As you can see from the slide above delivered at that meeting, Friends of Reverchon had some specific parameters of what a redeveloped Reverchon Ball Field should encompass. Given the existing facility had seating for 700, I’m left to wonder how it was decided that it should grow to 2,400 seats? How was that number arrived at? Without a ballfield guru on staff, who woke up one morning in 2016 with this epiphany to scrape the ballfield, replace it with 2,400 seats, and lease it out?
Ballpark Designs Deja Vu
Wherever that came from, it found its way into the initial 2018 RFP. That RFP was issued on January 17, 2018, with a 30-day response window. That 30-day window garnered a single reply from Mark Schuster’s Reverchon Sports and Entertainment LLC (not to be confused with Donnie Nelson’s Reverchon Park Sports and Entertainment LLC).
While Park Board president Calvert Collins-Bratton commented that “a response time of 30 days is normal for City projects,” that’s never sat right with me. It’s one thing if the city is looking for a supplier of wagon wheel sized toilet paper rolls or flesh-eating hand soap, but for multimillion-dollar, non-commodity items, it seems a perilously short window to get a lot of ducks in a row.
What seems more likely is that Friends of Reverchon was in communication with Schuster’s group (coincidentally founded in 2016) before making their December 2016 proposal to the city that met Schuster’s needs. After all, Schuster, Southwest League president, was answering the RFP in the same timestream that his Southwest League was attempting to launch its inaugural season with six new franchises (of which Reverchon Park was to have housed one). After a series of financial issues, the three-year-old league appears to have ceased operations in 2019 before more than the initial team got off the groud.
And if there was any doubt of Schuster’s intentions for Reverchon beyond baseball, after being awarded the RFP, he was quoted in Ballpark Digest, “I applaud the Dallas Parks Department and Dallas City Council for having the vision to transform Reverchon Park into an entertainment destination.” [Emphasis mine.]
Maybe this is all just coincidence?
Spoiler Alert: It’s Probably Not a Coincidence
Enter the 2019 RFP and its expanded and changed parameters. The 2018 RFP failed when Mark Schuster’s financing collapsed, not seemingly because it was too small and used real grass.
So how did the city know that the only way to attract another lone bidder (in another 30-day response window) was to increase the seating to 3,500, add artificial turf, reconfigurable lighting, and spell out that the field would be “a multipurpose and reconfigurable support facility”?
Of course, if you believe Collins-Bratton’s comment that, “There was no substantial change between the first and second RFPs …” it’s easy to see a 46 percent increase in scale and the other changes as inconsequential.
But to me, these changes seem not only consequential but awfully specific. Almost as though the RFP was tailored to the respondent’s specs. It would also make sense as to how an entity could put together a profitable $10-15 million development deal in fewer than 30 days.
Once may be a coincidence. But twice?
What Do You Think?
I reached out to Parks Board president Calvert Collins Bratton and the Friends of Reverchon Park’s president Lori Ashmore Peters with specific questions. As of press time, Friends of Reverchon has not responded, but a weekend back-and-forth with Collins-Bratton netted these responses.
Me: Did the briefing notes (from the December 1, 2016 briefing) reflect that Friends of Reverchon Park was already in discussions with Mark Schuster’s group before the December meeting? It seems curious that the parameters suggested in December and that wound up in the 2018 RFP were what Schuster’s group needed.
Collins-Bratton: I did not join the Park Board until October 2017, so I was not in the first briefing related to a potential RFP in December 2016. I do remember when Mark Schuster presented to the Park Board in June 2018 for the briefing and vote, there were several representatives from Friends of Reverchon Park in the gallery, and one who spoke in favor of the deal. Like I said, I had very little knowledge of that RFP; you might reach out to Jesse Moreno since it’s his district and he’s been on the Board since 2015.
Me: Who suggested and what was the reasoning for the increases in scope in the 2019 RFP? The lack of those changes don’t seem to have been a contributing factor in the first RFP winner’s overall business failure.
Collins-Bratton: Similarly, I had no knowledge of any change in scope to the second RFP. I remember disappointment that Schuster’s group couldn’t raise the money (which we questioned him about extensively during the June 2018 briefing and vote), so it was my understanding that Park staff reissued the RFP based on hearing of other potential interest in reviving the idea.
At the end of our exchange I wrote: I just can’t see someone waking up one morning, checking the city’s RFPs and thinking, “Gee, I’ll build a ballfield” and get everything together in a month.
Collins-Bratton: I understand your questioning, but both of these proposers are in the ballpark/minor league sports operation business around the country. So, they are more accustomed to municipal processes and deadlines than just anyone who would haphazardly want to build a new ballpark.
Unasked: But how did they know about the RFP in the first place? I can’t imagine either of these groups scouring the city’s RFPs to see if there’s something they’re interested in.
And that’s the question.
How and when did these groups know? Did they influence the RFP’s creation? And is it a problem?