Burnt offering

When major-league Dallas soccer wanted to come to Hickory Creek, the folks there just weren't buying

That was an overstatement, but Brody had clearly fished his idea around in some of the larger towns in the area before he arrived in Hickory Creek. No one bit.

In Highland Village, across the lake from Hickory Creek, there simply wasn't any room, says Parks and Recreation Director Randy Truesdell. "Brody outlined what he wanted, and we really didn't have a suitable space." Beyond that, the city already has about a dozen practice fields and six game fields spread over three different parks.

In Flower Mound, Parks and Recreation Director Bart Stevenson says Brody had "several long discussions with a group including the city manager, town council members, and the mayor. We were in a preliminary discussion stage when he got his break in Hickory Creek, so we left it lying there," says Stevenson. "The general structure was, he was going to lease land in a city park, pay X number of dollars per year, and the public would get some access to it."

David Plunkert
Blue Sky developer Peter Brody, shown in Westlake Park at the edge of Lewisville Lake, holds an artist's rendering of his soccer complex. If he had picked some private land, things would have gone a lot smoother.
Mark Graham
Blue Sky developer Peter Brody, shown in Westlake Park at the edge of Lewisville Lake, holds an artist's rendering of his soccer complex. If he had picked some private land, things would have gone a lot smoother.

By far the worst reception Brody received was in Corinth, two towns north of Hickory Creek, where discussions had progressed the furthest.

"There were too many unanswered questions. We just couldn't get sufficient information [from Brody] to make a definite judgment," says Corinth Mayor Shirley Spellerberg, who along with the rest of the city council heard Brody's proposal in a meeting in late January. "He wanted us to build an indoor soccer place and put in two outdoor fields. He was going to pay the city back over a number of years. With the debt service, it would have been a couple of million dollars, and the city would have had to issue bonds."

Brody had been considering putting his facility in a new 116-acre park Corinth voters approved in a 1996 bond election. "That park was voted in for use of our citizens. To put in a commercial endeavor would have changed the whole idea of the park," says Spellerberg.

Kay Swihart, a member of the Corinth parks board, recalls that Brody wanted a five-year lease and that "if he would have walked after only five years, we'd be burdened tremendously...I looked at this pretty closely, and you can't identify yourself with one team. The Dallas Burn might not be popular five years from now."

She adds that Blue Sky "backed out of the deal. We asked for a more detailed plan, and they never responded. They just dropped the ball."

Brody, using the Hickory Creek City Hall trailer as an interview site, explained that the council reacted so negatively that he decided not to pursue the project. "It was my first brush with a city government, and I said to myself, 'At this point in time, let's shake hands and thanks for the memories,'" he explains over the roar of a passing train. "I told them I'm just gonna go in a different direction."

The direction Brody took turned out to be south, and straight into the drink.

After the city council's green-light vote in mid-July, Brody, the Burn, and company were high on Hickory Creek. "We like the site," said Billy Hicks, the Burn's president and general manager. It might be 45 minutes from downtown, but, says Hicks, "Most of our players live north." Now in its fourth season in Dallas, the Burn is one of two teams in the 12-team Major League Soccer that is still owned and operated by the league, which also began in 1996. The rest have been purchased. Attendance averages a paltry 13,000 at the Cotton Bowl -- the third lowest in the league.

Playing 16 home games in a season that runs from March to mid-October, the team requires a practice field virtually year-round, Hicks says. "We're a tenant now," he says, referring to the team's arrangement to practice at the Greenhill School in North Dallas. "A dedicated site would be much preferred."

In short order, the Hickory Creek council drew up a five-year plan for Westlake Park, as the corps requires, and passed it. It also approved opening discussions with the corps over the leasing of Westlake Park.

By the time Brody and a party of Hickory Creek officials met with three corps officers from its regional Fort Worth office on August 11, the opponents had already peppered the feds with anti-Blue Sky e-mail.

And it was that poison the corps used to kill the lakeside proposal, which it didn't favor for a number of reasons.

"We thought it was better for them to go back and see if they could work things out in Hickory Creek before they came to us," says Ron Pivonka, an outdoor-recreation planner for the corps.

If opposition remains, he said, the corps would likely do a 45-to-60-day environmental assessment. If there remained "overwhelming significant public opposition," the corps might require an environmental impact statement. That could take as long as two years and would cost Hickory Creek, the applicant, as much as $150,000.

"We have been hearing some concerns from the public about the proposed development, and in light of that, we recommended that they give some serious consideration to some more public meetings at the city level, a little more public disclosure," Ron Ruffennach, a corps spokesman, explained.

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