Arenas in the sky

It's been too much for one poor man to bear. First, David L. Park watched the city of Dallas twist itself into knots trying to build a new downtown sports arena.

Then Park decided to put the city out of its misery by offering to give Dallas a brand spanking new, $150 million sports palace, free and clear without a dime of taxpayer money.

But no one would take him seriously. Now, the Fort Worth businessman says he feels like a Santa Claus who walked into the middle of a family feud.

All he wanted was for someone important--the city manager, the mayor, or Dallas Mavericks owner Don Carter--to sit down with him for 15 minutes and listen to his secret plan. Which is a little strange since some of these people actually considered an idea to turn Reunion Arena into a reflecting pool.

But with all the posturing, finger-pointing and bickering that has engulfed the arena debate, Park says he has not been able to get an audience with anyone powerful enough to hear his pitch.

So, for now, Park has given up. His secret plan will remain known only to him, and the anonymous private benefactors Park claims to represent will simply take their money elsewhere, thank you very much. "I'm just amazed," says Park. "I think the citizens of Dallas deserve to know that their city political leadership and staff leadership is such that they can't be bothered with listening to what is a serious proposal."

Park's proposal is serious. He'll tell you so. But he won't tell you anything else about it, like where the money is coming from, how the deal would be arranged, or even why someone would feel inclined to simply hand over a $150 million arena. "The principals, beyond myself, don't wish to be divulged and I don't think that's all that unusual for wealthy benefactors. As far as they are concerned, it is a private matter and in their view they want it to remain a private matter."

He would have shared the secrets with the mayor or Carter, but since they wouldn't respond to his letters, the city is out of luck.

Park says it is not for lack of trying on his part.
For months, Park watched the arena controversy unfold. Dallas leaders covet a showcase that will sate Carter's thirst for greater profits and dissuade him from moving his Mavericks basketball team to some godforsaken suburb. But the estimated price tag--by city estimates, at least $140 million--is steep for a city that cannot afford to keep its streets paved and its libraries open.

Then, of course, there is the matter of the old Mavericks playground, Reunion Arena, which isn't even paid off yet. The council must avoid the appearance of cutting another sweetheart deal with Ray Hunt, as it did with Reunion, if it builds the new sporting gallery on Hunt's downtown property.

With so many fine lines to tread, city leaders have been going through fits attempting to divine some method of giving Carter what he wants without inciting a taxpayer revolt.

Park figured somebody had to step in and save Dallas from the agony and bickering that had beset the metropolis.

Park, who says he was born in Dallas but lived most of his life in Fort Worth, apparently owns a company called Dawin Properties, which has a Fort Worth phone number but lists a Dallas post office box as its address. He is known around Fort Worth, slightly, for having fought City Hall during some zoning battles on the east side of town. He will divulge little else about himself.

Three months ago, when the City Council's efforts to strike an arena deal were approaching meltdown, Park began offering his proposed largesse to Dallas leaders. In letters to Carter and fledgling Mayor Ron Kirk--later also sent to the Observer--Park said his company was willing to step up and "provide a way to solve the Reunion controversy to everyone's satisfaction and at no one's expense."

The letters continued: "We represent a benefactor who will arrange for full payment of the Project and present the finished Arena to the City of Dallas as a gift."

For all its intrigue, no one bit on the proposition, perhaps because Park did not say who his mysterious "benefactor" was, or how they proposed to build the new arena. Receiving no response, Park then wrote City Councilman Paul Fielding with the same pitch, hoping Fielding could open some doors.

Fielding, though dubious, admits he talked to Park several times to find out just what kind of deal Park was offering. Park wouldn't say. "I think I'm the only person who called him back because I like to give people the benefit of the doubt," Fielding says. "He wouldn't give me any details. He would only discuss it with the mayor or Don Carter."

So Fielding arranged time for Park with Assistant City Manager Ted Benavides. But, Park says, he wasn't about to divulge the contents of his secret proposal to some mere flunkie. Only the mayor and Carter would do.

"He pressed me for the most minute details about it, and I said 'With all due respect to you, I'm not going into the details without the presence of Mr. Carter,'" Park says. (Benavides did not return Observer phone calls.)

Without getting past Benavides, Park was unable to arrange a meeting with City Manager John Ware. Carter, who was out of town last week and unavailable for comment, never responded to his letters. So, on July 24, Park withdrew his offer.

Park says he's still fuming at the snub he received from Dallas officialdom.
"I can't believe that anyone is so busy and so powerful that they couldn't listen for 15 minutes," Park complains.

But when the Observer offered to listen, Park still wouldn't divulge the slightest insight into his secret plan.

The private benefactors, he would allow, are in the United States, but he would narrow it down no further. They have money to give to someone, and if Dallas won't take it they'll find someone else who will. "This is not the only project that has been considered," he says.

The offer, apparently, would not be a straight-up gift of money. Park says it would require some "passive" financial participation from Carter, though the mystery deal wouldn't ultimately cost Carter or Dallas taxpayers anything.

Sound too good to be true? "I am not a kook," Park says. To prove that his aim is true, Park proposes a test project. If someone else will put up a half-million dollars--in a nice, safe certificate of deposit where it can't be squandered--Park says he will match the money in a few months and build any smaller project Dallas wants. A building, a park, something tangible. That, he says, will prove that his plan, secret though it may be, is backed up with real financial heft.

But that is as far as Park is willing to go in explaining his scheme. Mere citizens, council members and assistant city managers simply have to take it on faith that he's not blowing smoke.

If only the mayor and Carter would have listened, Park says, Dallas could be preparing now to break ground for its new arena, rather than remaining mired in controversy over the project. Sometime, it just hurts to be generous. "At this point," he says. "I don't plan to reopen the matter with the city of Dallas.

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David Pasztor