As City, County Officials Show Off Riverfront Blvd. Plans, Questions About Size and Cents

A few weeks ago, we directed your attention to plans to turn the Riverfront Boulevard into a so-called "complete street" -- plans that, as we've also pointed out, have drawn a fair amount of criticism for being, well, not-so-complete streets with far too much emphasis on automobile traffic and far less space given for pedestrians and cyclists. Even city officials would agree: Last night, after the debut of Act II of Riverfront Boulevard at City Hall, council member Dave Neumann told Unfair Park that the plan's not "perfect."

Still, Neumann -- chair of the council's Trinity River Corridor Project Committee -- likes what he sees, at least conceptually. He calls it "an interesting switch," turning 1.5 miles of The Boulevard Formerly Known as Industrial into Condo Corridor. And, says Neumann, at least the city is making an effort to get away from only thinking about "how many motor vehicles can we have" on a roadway to "making a roadway that's also a viable pedestrian corridor." So that's something. Right?

But is that how the 100 people who showed up to City Hall last night feel about it? Let's go to the recap.

By 6:45 p.m., the conference room was packed -- at least, that's how it feels when you can get 100 concerned citizens down to City Hall on a Monday night for an event billed as "Riverfront Boulevard Public Involvement Workshop." Said Neumann: "I'm excited to see this size of a turnout."

He insisted the whole point of the night -- which included alignment maps placed around the room, a virtual-reality-style "Voyage Down Riverfront" projected on the wall and a Q&A with city and county officials -- was to "get feedback." (The cynic, of course, will say that hearings like these are meant to give people the perception they're being listened to.)

Steve Salazar told us this project would mean a brighter future for Dallas: "If we do these improvements, the developers and developments will follow." Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway told us, "I'm here to hear the presentation and catch a few reactions." (After the open house, though, Caraway and Sheffie Kadane slipped out about seven minutes or so into the presentation -- though, to be fair, it had been a long day over at City Hall.)

After Neuman called the meeting to order, he handed the mic to Salazar, who thanked property owners for helping "look at zoning issues." Acknowledging that the city has "lots of assets along Riverfront," Salazar assured the business owners that the city wants what's best them. "We want you to make lots of money and pay lots of taxes," he said, drawing mild laughter.

Then, after we were treated to a slideshow explaining the project's goals, perimeters and challenges, it was time to hear from the crowd.

There was, after all of Bike Friendly Oak Cliff's hand-wringing over the width of the proposed street and the scant number of bike lanes (sorry, bike lane) suggested, little discussion about the "complete street" angle. Maybe that's because county and city officials said, hey, this ain't no Avenue des Champs-Élysées -- "but it'll be close," swear.

Besides, most of the Qs during the Q&A were rambling, unedited thoughts about native grasses, drainage and ... the Trinity River toll road. And most of the folks in attendance didn't seem too concerned about the city and county using eminent domain to skim off enough acreage for the proposed improvements.

About the only tense part of the presentation came when one property owner asked officials if they would start snapping up property before they have all the funds raised for the project. City officials acknowledge they're facing a $14 million "shortfall" for the proposed $54.5 million project.

The gentleman, who owns the property where Welders Supply used to stand, said: "My concern is we've got a $15 million shortfall, and if you're going to start acquiring right of way in November, we got six months. Do you plan, do you hope to have all that money in hand, when you start buying right of way? Because selfishly I don't want to be the guy that's right next to the guy where you ran out of money." This drew hearty chuckles from the crowd.

"So," the property owner continued, "Are you going to have all the money in hand when you start acquiring land?"

Les St. John, who works in Dallas County Public Works' Engineering and Construction Division and who served as the Q&A's moderator, responded: "We will begin acquiring right of way with the money we have in hand."

One woman brought up the fact that the plans didn't call for public parking. She asked where folks were supposed to park when they came to traipse around these beautiful new improvements near the Trinity River, and the city's response was that "typically" parking is the responsibility of the developers, so, well, the city's not really worried about the parking.

We asked Neumann about this "parking issue" after the workshop was adjourned, and his in-a-nutshell reiteration was that, yes, the developers are the ones who will be dealing with parking. That is, when and if the developers do come in.

Because some of the folks who asked questions had lengthy, convoluted comments and/or suggestions -- at least one brought his own laser pointer -- the Q&A portion of the evening ended up being extended to nearly an hour.

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Daniel Rodrigue
Contact: Daniel Rodrigue