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Real story behind the soccer complex under 345 in Dallas is not about soccer

Real story behind the soccer complex under 345 in Dallas is not soccer

Dallas freeway, I-345
Someone wants to stick a soccer complex beneath this freeway. Photo courtesy of Christopher Mann

If you thought the Reverchon Park deal was skeevy, the Dallas City Council discussion on May 27 regarding the patch of land under and adjacent to IH-345 will be eye-popping. In this case, the end of the story – a vote to delay a decision until August – is the least interesting thing about it.

The city council heard about a trio of parcels along that IH-345 corridor where a soccer complex is being proposed. The land falls under a 1992 Multiple Use Agreement (MUA) between the city and state. Two of the parcels are Carpenter Park, which rests on both city and state land. A second parcel straddles IH-345 from roughly Pennsylvania Avenue to South Boulevard.

The Carpenter Park parcel needs state approval for its renovation to begin. The second parcel needs state approval for a combination of parking and park land. It's almost the stuff of yawns, and in fact, a decision about Carpenter Park could have been handled administratively without council. It's now a political hostage.

The third parcel, Parcel C, is bounded by Canton, Good Latimer, and Taylor. This is where the action is. This is where a a proposal is underway to install five soccer and football fields. But for that to happen, the city must relinquish its rights to the land so the state can sign the lease.

Let's start with optics
Plans for the soccer complex were instigated by Roddrick West, son of state Senator Royce West. The state supported the idea, thinking it was a way to lease lands that are currently fallow. Fine, but the state didn't send the proposal out to bid. Instead, they just awarded the option to West, Jr. (once it passes Dallas City Council).

Already up for debate is a proposal to tear down IH-345, which Royce West opposes because it's a vital artery for southern Dallas residents commuting to northern jobs. Some 180,000 cars traverse it a day. Now you have his son looking to shoehorn a convenient doorstop under IH-345 with a 25-year lease.

To the casual observer, this looks all kinds of shady. But people make money based on what they know. You don't see oilmen suddenly invest in Dairy Queen. Roddrick West is an intern architect for HKS so maybe he understands a little about development. He saw a project similar to this work in Miami (but he has no experience operating anything like this). His father brings him into political and TXDOT orbits. So yes, it looks funny on the surface but is simply how people make connections in their day-to-day lives. Am I saying it’s squeaky clean? No.

What reeks is the no-bid aspect. And the appearance of nepo-cronyism should have set off alarm bells for the Wests and the state. Now had these upstanding groups been following the Reverchon Park case, they'd have known how easy it is to (not once, but twice) design a poorly-promoted RFP tailored for a single applicant to get the job done they wanted doing – spraying Poo-Pourri over the steaming pile.

Did I mention that the Deep Ellum Foundation has been petitioning for this land to be turned into parking for their needs for over a decade, with no luck?

Bum deal for Dallas
What does the city get for all of this? Headaches and no money. The state gets all the rent from West Jr's operation. The city also collects no property taxes, since it's state land.

About all the city gets is their cut of sales tax generated from ticket and concession sales. Whoop-dee-effing-do.

But there's more. Because it's in the city's jurisdiction, guess who gets to manage and support the operation with police and any emergency services: Dallas.

What's also interesting about this agreement is that generally, the state is looking to offload responsibilities on parcels like this, not become the landlord. In fact, the city attorney's office was asked if they could recall another instance when the state wanted the city to walk away – the answer was that in her nine years she'd never seen it work this way.

So to keep track: So far, we have a highly unusual no-bid agreement with a state senator's son, for which Dallas will only lose money providing emergency services.

What's the city really get?
This whole thing has been wrapped in a "soccer fields for the kiddies" message. But as D14 council member David Blewett pointed out, the lease wording is a little loose. It doesn't spell out exactly what will be done with the land, but it does include language about "events" in addition to sports stuff. Blewett called the fire department and asked what capacity would be on the parcel from a fire code perspective. At roughly one person per seven square feet, it’s 20,000+ people.

Oh, and did we mention they can sell booze?

Blewett went on to note the steps the Greenville Avenue St. Patrick’s Day Parade takes with regard to paying for police support (114 officers) – and that’s just once a year. Since Dallas would not be party to this lease, their power to require support services and payment would be nil. This essentially puts Dallas in the position of being financially responsible for putting out a fire at a neighbor’s Airbnb party house.

I found Blewett’s argument as persuasive as I did deliciously hypocritical vis-à-vis Reverchon Park.  He wants to scuttle a 20,000-person event space under a highway but thinks a 5,000 person event space in a residential neighborhood is OK because … Dallas collects the rent?

So to keep track: So far, we have a highly unusual no-bid agreement with a state Senator's son for which Dallas will only lose money providing emergency services and which may become a 20,000-person outdoor event venue serving alcohol.

Under the highway
Those from the public speaking in opposition mentioned the idiocy of locating an athletic facility under a highway where air pollution is higher. Specifically, particulate matter from car exhausts and tires rains down on the land below – and who wants to breathe that? Athlete or spectator, who wants to breathe that for hours of practice or on game day? Anyone who's parked outside at an airport knows all about the particulate residue left on their car – not something desired in a child's lungs. One speaker called out the current EPA's credibility in the face of their rollback of over 100 pollution statutes under Trump.

I'd also like to add noise. The undersides of highways are not quiet places, instead generating an overall din with the thump-thump-thump of thousands of tires speeding over expansion joints.

So to keep track: So far, we have a highly unusual no-bid agreement with a state Senator's son for which Dallas will only lose money providing emergency services and which may become a 20,000-person outdoor event venue serving alcohol that poisons people's lungs.

What about the highway?
Remember, the city and state have been piddling around for years about what to do with IH-345. Some want to demolish it and send 180,000 cars on surface roads or simply elsewhere. The biggest negative impact will be those in southern Dallas who use the highway to commute north, not whites in the north commuting south of downtown. A plan that while nice on paper, continues the use of roadways as racial dividers.

But whatever happens to IH-345, Roddrick West would have two years to move out when/if the city and state get their thumbs out. Fine, it's sorta temporary even though it's a 25-year lease. But if/when IH-345 goes, is this project a doorstop or a cash cow? Because this is happening here for a reason that doesn't include soccer.

It was a lease length Blewett also had trouble with, because the city essentially cedes control for a quarter century and if anything goes pear-shaped, the city is powerless. But Reverchon Park signing a 30-year lease to Donnie Nelson is A-OK because the city is the landlord (but just as powerless to change the terms of the lease)?

(Speaking of Reverchon, many of the same council members OK with the sleazy non-community meetings at Reverchon were gnashing over community meetings and outreach in this case — I love consistency.)

Tennell Atkins plays politics
There is something (else) weird going on here. Many of the council members were annoyed that these three parcels were placed as a single item. They specifically wondered why Carpenter Park hadn't been disposed of administratively, and could they now decouple that case to get Carpenter going.  D1 council member Chad West specifically asked TXDOT if they would allow the cases to be separated – the answer was they’d have to get back to them (meaning "not today").

The initial request for a vote to delay the combined case until August was made by Tennell Atkins of District 8. Many council members asked him to restate his motion so they could vote on Carpenter Park that day. He repeatedly refused.

Many (rightly) called it a hostage situation whereby those who wanted Roddrick West's soccer fields were prepared to hold up Carpenter Park to get it. And while no one was seeking approval then, they want that ace up their sleeves in August when it does come back.

So the 10-5 vote to delay is misleading. The five dissenters weren't for the soccer fields. Their intent was to vote down Atkins' delay so they could make a motion to separate the parcels into separate cases and get Carpenter done while still delaying the soccer fields.

This deal smells worse than the air under the highway or the ballpark at Reverchon Park. Were I on council and the soccer fields pass essentially as-is, I'd play hardball. I would raise parking fees on city lots to $100 on event days and I'd station police with breathalyzers at every parking lot – we'd see how much money the city of Dallas can generate.

It's about control
Don't lose sight of the real deal going on here: The fight to control the land under IH-345. When I last attended a TXDOT meeting in December, they told me that were there no longer a roadway there, they'd sell the land. There are billions in development opportunities here. Are soccer fields with a 25-year lease a foot-in-that-door?  Why else would you put soccer fields no one asked for, in a place no one asked for?


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