Cool response to $400 million Dallas parks plan

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A massive $400 million Dallas Park improvement plan received a cool response Tuesday from Dallas City Council members at a briefing for the Parks, Trails and Environment Committee.

They questioned that much money for parks in a planned 2024 bond referendum with so many other needs in Dallas.

An example of what park people consider a need is the Grauwyler Park pool off Harry Hines Boulevard in Northwest Dallas.

The pool is closed, waiting for major repair.  A door at the pool entrance is so decayed it appears dangerous to even try to open it.

Grauwyler and several other Dallas pools are slated to receive $5 million each in the bond plan.

“I have one pool left in West Dallas, one. Everything else is shut down. And that one pool is not going to make it much longer. I get that,” Councilman Omar Narvaez said.

But he was still among the members that questioned the size of the parks department request.

“It’s decades of kicking the can down the road and unfortunately, it’s all hit us at the same time, streets, roads, lighting, police, fire stations, parks, all of it, and it’s piling on,” Narvaez said.

Park Department Director John Jenkins said he knows that request may be whittled down but he defended the scoring done to develop the list of projects.

“I know there's some big dollars out there you all, but there's a lot of thought put into it,” Jenkins said.

For instance, the department wants to open a park in Cadillac Heights like one at Forest and Audelia in what used to be a shopping center parking lot in a high crime area where there were no parks.

“That will help with the development of that community. It will allow it to thrive,” Jenkins said.

The plan includes $20 million for dredging White Rock Lake which would draw $80 million more in federal money.

In current drought conditions, the need for dredging sediment from the lake is obvious.

“If I don't dredge at White Rock, we won't have a lake no more,” Jenkins said.

Council members questioned money unspent from the 2017 bond referendum including $3.5 million that was earmarked to help build a parking garage at the Dallas Zoo.

Park officials said that project is in the works.

A new zoo request is for $30 million in 2024 bond money to match $70 million more to be raised by zoo boosters.

It would replace the old zoo monorail structure and use the base location for an entirely new zoo attraction.

“It’s going to be a big shot in the arm. It's going to put the zoo back where we want it to be, which is one of the premier zoos in the country in competition with Fort Worth and others,” park official Ryan O’Connor said.

Councilmember Carolyn King Arnold who represents neighborhoods around the zoo was still unsold on the zoo request.

“I’m just trying to get clarity around the needs and the wants conversation, and can it be delayed until the next bond package. You see where I’m going? So we could put our funds into the needs category for some of these community parks,” Arnold said.

City Council members will make the final decisions about what are real needs to be included in a 2024 bond package.

That decision is due for January if the referendum for final voter decision comes in May 2024 as planned.

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