Accusations are swirling over the Toyota Music Factory as its developer, The Ark Group, seeks promised money from the City of Irving.
City councilman Allan Meagher said a planned August vote on the city’s $44 million investment in the project is on hold after mediation with the developer failed last week.
A large concert pavilion at the project off Highway 114 in Las Colinas opened last year and additional sections have been opening since then.
“We’ve worked on this since 2006. We want this to be successful. We want a great partnership. We just want to be sure everything was done correctly,” Meagher said.
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Accusations about the project increased after tenant Billy Bob Barnett, a founder of the Fort Worth honky-tonk with his name on it, closed his portion of the Music Factory in May. It came just two months after Barnett opened Big Beat Dallas, a collection of restaurants around an outdoor plaza at the Music Factory.
Barnett claimed the parking and plaza areas provided to him were far smaller than promised, making it impossible to stay in business. Barnett was also a partner in the first Irving entertainment center proposal, which fell through in a dispute with the city seven years ago.
Since he closed Big Beat Dallas, a citizen group using the same attorney as Barnett, filed a lawsuit to stop the $44 million payment. The lawsuit claims fraud contributed to passing inspections at the property to obtain certificates of occupancy by city deadlines for the payment.
On top of all that, civic leader Lisette Caraballo now complains that a non-compete agreement with the city grants the developer the right to reject city participation in other entertainment venues in the future.
“The city should be able to give incentives so we can bring people here that want to have venues and businesses,” she said. “I own a business here, and I want answers. I want to know what’s going on. To me it seems like everybody is in bed with each other.”
The vacant location of the former Texas Stadium, which Irving also wants to see developed, is just down Highway 114 from the Music Factory.
Meagher defended the non-compete agreement to help protect the city-owned Music Factory project.
“You don’t want to compete with yourself,” he said. “But then again, you think about it, we do own the Texas Stadium site. Unless we sell that outright to somebody else and don’t give them any money, that’s the only way they’ll be able to open an entertainment venue there.”
There is also a contracting dispute.
John Proctor, the leader of the Regional Black Contractors Association, said a small masonry sub-contractor is due more than $1 million for work that was completed on the project.
Proctor said lack of payment is making it difficult for the contractor to stay bonded and borrow money from lenders to remain in business.
“They don’t care what the issue is. To them, you’re a risk. And if you’re a risk, I’m not going to lend you no more money,” Proctor said.
Meagher said the city wants all sub-contractors to be paid for work that was completed properly, even as the city withholds payment to the developer.
“And we are working at this time to get all contractors paid, no matter how we have to do it,” Meagher said.
He also said Billy Bob Barnett and the developer should work out their differences.
“If we could just get them at the table to talk,” Meagher said.
In text messages Monday, Noah Lazes with the Ark Group said the opposition to the project now is orchestrated by Barnett.
Through a public relations firm, Lazes provided a statement in response to questions from NBC5. It included a list of amphitheater venues that shows The Toyota Music Factory Pavilion is already the 9th busiest in the world. Here is the rest of the ARK statement:
“Toyota Music Factory was built in full conformance with the terms of the City of Irving agreements. The allegations by Billy Bob Barnett's group are without merit. Mr. Barnett's failure is a direct result of only his own mismanagement, consistent with his long track record of missteps. Many have seen this Billy Bob movie before when he failed the first time in Irving and unjustly sued the City in 2011, as well.
“The ARK Group has a 30-year history of creating successful projects and honoring agreements. The Irving project is no exception, delivering tremendous benefits for Irving and its residents. The concert venue was recently listed by Pollstar Magazine as the 9th busiest amphitheater in the world. The $44 million owed by the City as part of agreements approved four years ago is a reimbursement for approved expenses already paid by ARK for the City owned project. We fully expect the City will honor the executed agreements.
“The non-compete does not prevent construction of any other entertainment venues. It only prevents ARK or the City from investing in a similar entertainment center.”