On January 16, The Mansion on Turtle Creek hosted a hastily called meeting to discuss the steps needed to fight a decision by the Dallas City Council to enter into a partnership with Reverchon Park Sports and Entertainment LLC, a group led by Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Nelson, to redevelop the Reverchon Park Ball Field.
If you’re the District 14 council representative and there are 160 angry constituents meeting at The Mansion on Turtle Creek, that ain’t good. If you’re the District 14 representative and you don’t attend said meeting, trust me, it really isn’t good. It’s simple math. Like Preston Hollow’s Districts 11 and 13, District 14 residents aren’t short on influence or cash.
District 14 council member David Blewett (who led the charge with council), Reverchon applicant Donnie Nelson, and Parks and Recreation Board President Calvert Collins-Bratton (Jennifer Gates’ District 13’s appointee) were all invited to listen to the group. None attended.
Leading the meeting was former Trammel Crow president Don Williams with help from Bruce Bowman — the Bowman in Godwin Bowman, one of the city’s largest law firms. The presidents of the Mansion Residences and Plaza condos were there, as were smatterings from Dallas’ most prestigious Turtle Creek and Uptown high-rises. There was more money in the room than a good-sized Powerball jackpot.
What’s With The Money Talk?
Why am I harping on money and influence? There’s a lot on both sides. But a flush opposition means that if there’s a hair out of place on the deal or the process, they’ll find it. To that end, the group intends to raise $100,000 to do just that. Last night, the group raised $20,000 in a matter of minutes.
Before you think this is just a bunch of rich anti-development NIMBYs, consider that these same people recently negotiated with and ultimately supported Prescott’s three-building project next to The Mansion and the Mandarin Oriental a few doors down.
Outspoken against the plan, District 7 councilmember Adam Bazaldua attended to show his support and listen to the group’s concerns. His comments to the group were similar to what he said at the council session. Namely that this began as a refurbishment project and now it’s an event venue.
What Did They Say?
One of the more serious issues they reported was the lack of assistance from City Hall in gaining documents. For example, finding out exactly what was approved at last week’s council meeting. Open government also needs to act with speed when time is an issue. It was said Christopher Caso, the acting city attorney, is taking a hands-off approach to controversial rulings as he’s in the running to be the permanent city attorney.
They claim the 2019 RFP was “developed by the Parks Department in direct consultation with the entertainment developer” and that it was issued with less than 30 days given to respond. The only respondent was the one designing the deal with the Parks Department. If true, this was less RFP and more of a negotiated deal behind the veil of city process.
The group also said the number of acres the project will use increased to “+/- 6 acres” while the current ball field uses less than two. It was also said that they’re hearing the existing recreation center would be torn down for the project and relocated to the tennis courts.They presented a briefing document given to city council says the events are planned each year. All totaled, the document claims there will be something going on in the park 350 days each year.
After hearing from multiple people in support of the plan claiming the adjacent Scottish Rite hospital is also in support, Williams said he’d reached out and their response was that they don’t take sides in these matters.
In addition to looking into the deal itself and its players, they’re also looking at those who supported it. The Friends of Reverchon Park has become a focus with claims that seemingly none of non-profit group’s monies were ever used to upkeep the park it’s named after (based on the group’s tax filings with the IRS). They’re also checking out financial and personnel ties between Friends of Reverchon Park and a group variously called the Trinity Nature Conservancy, Trinity Recreation Conservancy, or Trinity Coalition.
When the floor was opened for comments, it was said that there are many parts of the deal that constitute a “change of use” under Texas’ park statutes. Those use changes require their own meetings which never happened.
Others pointed to more inconsistencies.
In the end, time is of the essence for the group and they know it. Things like the “change of use” filings have to be done within 30 days and a week has already passed. But never underestimate how quickly money, and the will to use it, can speed things up.
A version of this story originally was published on Candy's Dirt.