Reliving the Trinity River Toll Road Campaign With Mayoral Candidate Ron Natinsky
In our cover story about the mayoral race, perhaps you read the section about council member Ron Natinsky and noticed a glossing over of sorts when it came to his public comments during the contentious 2007 Trinity River toll road referendum.
As is often the case, space constraints kept us from fully examining the issue, but that doesn't mean our conversation with Natinsky wasn't a fascinating walk down memory lane.
Our back-and-forth about the toll road and convention center hotel referendums during a late afternoon sit-down last month at the offices of The Reeds, Public Relations Corp. in Uptown is one of several experts to come from our lengthy interviews with each candidate.
During the Trinity debates leading up to the referendum, do you feel like anything you said was not true?
I don't think so. [Laughs.] You don't think so?
If you've got something that you think is untrue, then test it on me. You said the city will be reimbursed for its $84 million.
The only money that's on the table is the city's $84 million.
Right. But you said those funds would be reimbursed by the NTTA.
If you say I did...
But you'd agree that's not true?
Yeah. That's right.
You said Angela Hunt wrote the ballot language.
On the referendum?
I believe she did. That's what was told to me when the petitions were turned in to the city attorney's office that they came with the language on there.
The city attorney's office and bond counsel wrote the ballot language.
You also said the referendum would kill the road. Do you think that's still true?
Had the referendum passed, that it would kill the road?
Yeah, because the referendum prohibited building the road inside the levees.
Right. Inside the levees. It could have been built on Industrial Boulevard.
Well, I've seen the financial projections of what it would take to build it along Industrial, and it's not anything that anybody would undertake.
But would it have killed the road?
Consultant Carol Reed interjects: Well, the referendum was only about the road inside the levees.
Natinsky: The referendum wasn't about the road outside.
That's what I'm saying. If your side would have lost, it wouldn't have killed the road. It could have been built along Industrial or anywhere else, just not inside the levees.
Reed: Oh, I see what you're saying.
Natinsky: Oh, OK. But I still stand by what I said because what we were voting on was whether we were gonna build the road inside the levees, and I think based on the information I knew then and the information I know now about the cost of decimating Industrial Boulevard, we would not have ever done that. Talk about dividing the city. We would have never done that, so then there would be no road.
Another thing you said was there would be no Project Pegasus without the toll road.
Well, I haven't heard anybody say we can build Pegasus without it, but, at the time, the experts were telling us that the toll road was needed for Project Pegasus to be enabled, and there are letters from TxDOT and the COG and so forth saying that.
And one from the hotel referendum: You claimed repeatedly that the convention center would continue to lose $3 million annually had the hotel not passed. Do you still believe that?
If you're asking me: Did I believe it at that time? Yeah. We were continuing to slide in business, and we weren't booking the convention center enough. And the projection at that point was we'd continue to losing $3 million a year. But [former city of Dallas CFO] Dave Cook said at the time that the refinancing of the convention center itself covered any losses, and actually past loses were reimbursed to the city's general fund.
Right. But you've got to calculate in ... I think part of the convention center thing is not just the convention center itself, it's the whole convention center department. So I'm not sure what Dave Cook told you or said.