By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
If Hickory Creek could provide some undeveloped park land at next to no cost, Brody told the city, he would deliver a sports facility that would make the place a first-rate soccer town. The sports venue would include an indoor field, a training room, coaches' offices, and at least four outdoor fields -- plenty of room for the Dallas Burn to practice, plus greenspace for hundreds of adults' and kids' league teams that are always in need of places to play.
The plan would require the city to lease Westlake Park from its owner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, then sublease about 20 acres to Brody. Pending further negotiations, Brody promised to maintain the park and pay Hickory Creek a minimum of $1,000 a month -- far less than the $1.5 million to $2.5 million price tags he found attached to the purchase of similar commercial property in the surrounding areas.
Brody couldn't have found a more receptive audience, given that Millie and several Hickory Creek councilmen already had plans of their own for creating new playing fields and parks. They had designs on taking control of Westlake Park, leasing it from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and using it as a city facility, as neighboring Lewisville, Highland Village, and Lake Dallas have done in the past at other lake parks. And they thought they'd have no problem getting feds on board. Ken Howell, the corps' Lewisville Lake project manager, says his department has a policy of permitting -- and in fact encouraging -- municipalities to manage their lakefront parks. By unloading real estate, the corps cuts its operating budget and frees money for other projects.
There was another favorable wind blowing off the water. Under a master plan the corps developed in the '60s, the park was designated as an eventual site for recreation -- ball fields, tennis courts, maybe a marina and beaches.
"Peter Brody said what he needed, and I said, 'You're describing Westlake Park,'" Millie recalls.
Six years ago, when Millie first went to work for the town, his "fleet" of service vehicles numbered one used postal truck and an old trailer. The tax base consisted of revenue from several late-'70s and early-'80s subdivisions, a boat storage facility, and the town landmark: Hickory Creek Barbecue out on I-35. Its pig-shaped smoker is to Hickory Creek what the Arc de Triomphe is to Paris.
The boundaries and main roads begin to make sense only when Hickory Creek's history is explained. According to Millie and several other locals, a couple of major landowners on the eastern edge of the town of Lake Dallas tired of its boozy, honky-tonk atmosphere and decided to begin a good, dry town of their own. Hence, Hickory Creek. That explains why Main Street is simply an extension of Lake Dallas' Main Street -- and why the tiny municipality never developed its own main drag, tax base, or clear identity.
"I've lived here six years, and I just tell people I live in Lake Dallas," says Hickory Creek councilman Doug Miller. "I'm tired of explaining where it is. When you heard the name, did you know where it was?...Neither does anyone else."
Miller was one of the first people Mike Millie brought into talks with Blue Sky, and he immediately became one of its chief backers.
"My son plays baseball and soccer, and he's been playing on substandard, privately run fields. No city in the Lake Cities has any city parks that include them. That's the platform I ran on when I got on city council a little more than three years ago. I want to build these things with private-public partnerships," says Miller, whose Illinois-based family was part of the Daley machine in Chicago.
In a tax-shy town that isn't likely to pass a park bond without a fight, Miller says, it makes sense to find a private developer to build facilities that the public can use.
Under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rules, any revenue Hickory Creek generates from Blue Sky must be plowed back into the park. Miller and Millie see that as a constant revenue source for building more playgrounds and playing fields and facilities.
"Who wouldn't want to have a funding source for parks and rec?" says Millie, adding that he's been talking about the city taking over the park for several years.
"Two years ago I would have told the city council it would have been a risk financially. I wouldn't say that now. We're in as good a shape now as we've ever been."
The reason for his change of heart sits a few hundred yards north of City Hall, where one of three new subdivisions is being carved out of the fairly deep woods and fields that make up the town's west side.
"I got a 365-lot subdivision going in here, got another 80 lots going in here," says Millie, running his finger around a blue-lined survey map of the town. "I just talked to a guy today, and in the real near future, we're gonna be developing all this commercial property up here."