It’s been over eight months since Donnie Nelson’s Reverchon Park Sports and Entertainment LLC gained approval from Dallas City Council to proceed with a contract for redeveloping the 100-year-old Reverchon Park ballfield. (Confused? Here’s some background.)
What I’ve since learned is that the January council vote didn’t award a contract per se. What it did was empower the Parks department to negotiate a contract with Nelson’s group based on the RFP.
Nearly nine months later there is still no contract signed.
I believe it’s because Nelson’s group is unable to meet the requirements to sign – among other things, the money and the agreements with surrounding parking lot owners to house the massive increase in traffic the quintupled ballfield and entertainment space would generate.
Parking was always going to be a problem.
Think about it, commercial building owners encumbering their properties with a 40-year commitment to provide the bulk of their parking to Reverchon during off-hours?
The contract specifies parking within Scottish Rite, Parkside Tower (Heritage Auctions old building on Maple), and Balfour Beatty off McKinnon. It seems none of these agreements have been secured. I’ve reached out to building owners Lincoln Property and Harwood International seeking confirmation, but they have not replied in time for publication (I will update as needed).
One of the buildings, the Balfour Beatty building at McKinnon and Ivan Streets, is either a 0.9 mile walk to Reverchon or requires a cut-through across the Katy Trail. Imagine thousands of people trampling across the Katy Trail for 100-plus events per year – and all the garbage they will jettison on that walk. Yesterday, I reached out to the Friends of the Katy Trail, who’d supported the deal, for comment but they did not reply in time for publication.
Councilmember David Blewett (D14) had been pushing Nelson’s group since May to get the deal signed or to walk away. During May, June, and July, Blewett was pushing for a response and a signed contract from Nelson’s group.
With nothing signed in early August after the council’s summer recess, he again pushed the Parks Department to draw a line in the sand and either get the contract signed or cancel it. On August 10, Nelson’s group responded. And on August 20, they asked for a 60-day extension. Finally getting a backbone, on August 31 the Parks Department staff gave them 30-days – the end of September – to execute the contract.
“Even with the city generously adjusting for COVID-19, it’s been too long.” said District 1 City Councilmember Chad West.
We also know that financing remains a problem.
I’m aware that attempts to secure financing are falling on deaf ears. The first RFP couldn’t secure funding either – and it didn’t have a pending lawsuit and a pandemic to contend with.
Honestly, I’m furious there was any extension granted. Aside from eight months being far too generous on its own, Nelson’s group had to have been piecing together his deal before they even answered the June 26, 2019, RFP. So even though eight months without a contract is excessive, the year-plus they’ve obviously been working on this makes an extension simply egregious.
Blewett seems to agree.
“We gave them [Reverchon Park Sports and Entertainment] every opportunity to complete the contract, but after eight months the city has to have closure,” he said.
Councilmember Paula Blackmon (D9) echoed that thought.
“I voted for and supported the project and was excited by what was proposed,” Blackmon stated. “It’s unfortunate that’s not happening, but nine months is nine months and deadlines are deadlines.”
I reached out to a representative of Reverchon Park and Entertainment LLC for an update, but received no response by press time.
So we wait for death to come in 13 days.
A Better Way: No Third RFP
Since May, after five months of waiting, it’s been Blewett who’s pushed for the contract to either be executed or killed. When asked about this seeming change of heart, he responded, “December I couldn’t vote for it because there wasn’t enough money in it for the city and there was poor public access to the new ballfield and facilities. In January, I thought I got a better deal.”
It’s a series of events that made him unpopular with residents who resent being essentially shut-out of the city’s process on two RFPs – and the oversized results that either RFP would’ve brought to Reverchon Park. Remember, we’re talking about a stadium for 3,500 seated attendees that could push to 5,000 for certain events that are located in a park with about 30 parking spaces on-site. The traffic, noise, and mess would have been catastrophic for local residents.
In what many will consider a surprise move, Blewett now supports the neighborhood plotting their own course – a welcome win-win for residents.
Come Fund Me
We all know the city has no money to maintain … well, anything. So the result of Nelson’s failure will be a third RFP unless there’s a better way.
Back in May, I wrote that Dallas could approach some projects as GoFundMe opportunities where citizens and groups could donate to specific projects. I wondered if such an option would have gotten the neighborhood to have raised the monies needed to refurbish Reverchon Park’s ballfield.
In my conversation with Blewett, he separately raised a similar idea. I’d say he got it from me, but he’s an infrequent reader (probably only when I rag on him – ha!). He’s now saying that he would support a neighborhood group raising the cash to refurbish and endow the ballfield while keeping it pretty similar to its existing footprint and seating size.
“The city has tried twice and failed when they should have been talking with the neighborhood all along,” Blewett said. “If the neighborhood wants to avoid a third RFP, they have to take the ballfield’s refurbishment into their own hands, something I am happy to lead the charge on.”
Councilmember West feels the same way. “Projects that are neighborhood driven are critical,” he said. “The winning solution will come from the neighborhood.”
Who knows, maybe some of the 2006 bond monies that have been whittled away over the years can finally be used on the ballfield. Certainly that neighborhood group can’t be called “Friends of Reverchon Park,” who gave away $187,250 in 2015-2016 to the Trinity Nature Conservancy instead of being spent on Reverchon – the park they were named for.
To that end, I spoke with area resident and former Trammell Crow chairman and CEO Don Williams who told me, “When this deal is dead, the neighborhood is ready to raise funds for the restoration of the Reverchon Park ballfield, matching City bond funds already appropriated for Reverchon Park – it’s what’s right for the park and the neighborhood.”
If these and other donors are found, Blewett and other council members will support this outcome for Reverchon – a win-win for the neighborhood.
Councilmember Blackmon added her support: “I would work with any group wanting to better the park and welcome the opportunity to move forward.”
For those keeping score, that’s three council members who supported the redevelopment deal in January who have now changed their minds. Will more follow?
Certainly COVID-19 has proven the value of our green spaces.
Why is Blewett taking such ownership of this issue?
“The park may be in Medrano’s district,” Blewet said, “but the nearby residents are in mine.”