A $50 million gift announced Monday for a Dallas Trinity River Park brought new questions Tuesday about how the money can be used and how much more will be needed.
The $250 million estimated total cost for the Trinity Park is nearly as much as the entire $275 million list of high priority needs from the city Parks Department for all the other Dallas parks.
Voters first approved a Trinity River Park in a 1998 bond referendum that also included a Trinity roadway and levee improvements, but the project has been tied up in red tape ever since.
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Monday’s gift from the family of deceased businessman Harold Simmons comes with a stipulation that the $50 million be spent on a park operated by a private foundation, according to Dallas City Council Member Philip Kingston.
Kingston said the gift is generous, but he opposes the restrictions for using it.
“How does this decision get made by fiat, apparently from wealthy people, who can use the money to essentially make us do anything they want,” Kingston said.
The Trinity Trust has been raising money and promoting the park idea for years.
Kingston said the arrangement seems like Mayor Mike Rawlings’ push to turn management of Dallas Fair Park over to a private foundation, which met with strong resistance.
Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas is also run by a private foundation which provides extra service for cleaning and activities not found in other Dallas parks.
“It’s a nice little park for picnics,” said visitor Noelle Kelso. “They have an area over there you can read magazines and the newspaper. I think that’s great.”
The Klyde Warren Park organization has a $3.75 million 2016 budget to run the popular deck park over Woodall Rodgers Freeway, much more than the budget for other individual Dallas parks.
“They’re an extremely talented group who had experience in park management before they started on this,” Kingston said. “But the other thing that is true is that they haven’t been able to break even yet. Klyde Warren Park is running on its reserves.”
Klyde Warren Park is five acres. The Trinity River Park would be 285 acres.
Klyde Warren Park visitor Steven Childers said the Simmons gift that specifies private management for a Trinity Park makes sense to ensure that it will not degrade over time.
“If it’s run like this, it could be wonderful,” Childers said. “My curiosity is how they’re going to keep it dry. It floods over there all the time.”
Features of a Trinity Park inside the levees would have to be built to withstand floods and will require new approval from the US Army Corp of Engineers. An earlier park plan already had Corp approval, but that plan included fewer trees and other park features in the floodway.
Klyde Warren Park visitor Mary Anne Cox said building a new Trinity Park would be money well spent.
“You’re investing in something that’s going to make the city better and more of an attraction, so you’re going to bring more people here,” Cox said.
The Trinity Park includes plans for lakes along with bike trails and picnic areas.
The Dallas White Rock Lake Park includes those features. The city of Dallas spends $671,657 a year to maintain 160 acres of the 476 acres of park land beside the lake. Private fundraising also benefits White Rock Lake Park.
Trinity Park maintenance could be more expensive if it includes more of the features found at Klyde Warren Park.
White Rock cyclist Gale Daniels said the city of Dallas should have the Trinity Park, too.
“It would draw, in my opinion, just as many people as come to White Rock and it would be a great addition, I think,” Daniels said.
Kingston said Dallas needs much more discussion about money and management before going ahead with the latest Trinity Park Plan.
“Anybody listening to the mayor’s speech yesterday would say he’s not all that interested in a discussion. He wants us to name this thing ‘Harold Simmons Park’ and be done with it,” Kingston said.
Monday, Rawlings said public meetings would be held for input with the goal of beginning Trinity Park construction next year.