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At West Dallas Luncheon, Optimism, a Hotel Pitch ... and Talk of a Water Sports Park

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At the West Dallas Chamber of Commerce's annual "State of the West" luncheon yesterday, nearly 200 people filled a sunny room at the Lake West YMCA to hear about the future of West Dallas -- and, in a keynote address by Mayor Tom Leppert, still more about the convention center hotel.

The mood was upbeat and positive. There were fajitas from Primo's, a vast dessert table and lots of talk about West Dallas, where, as Chamber board chairman Victor Toledo pointed out, the recession doesn't seem to have done much to dampen the spirits of investors and builders in big projects currently underway, among them nonprofit home-building initiatives and Mercy Street's planned "Field of Dreams" sports complex. Toledo also has a pet project of his own: He's hoping to build a water sports park, complete with cable-run water-skiing and wake-boarding (check out the promo for a similar park in California here) that he says will provide 200 seasonal jobs for young people in West Dallas.

Mayor Leppert seemed genuinely excited about the prospects for the west side of the river too. He congratulated the Dallas Police Department for reducing crime by 38 percent in West Dallas, talked a lot about "bridging" the north-south gap and previewed the 2010 bond program with a capital base "dedicated to housing ... in the area of about $50 million." Then, he launched into the familiar speech concerning Prop. 1. Well, familiar except for one small thing ...

"I'll leave you with one last piece," Leppert said, animating the overflow crowd with sweeping hand gestures, "and that's, of course, talking about the convention center hotel. On Tuesday, there's a big election coming, and I think it's important ..."

"Saturday," someone interrupted him, very quietly. There was a pause.

"Oh, it's Saturday. I said Tuesday?" Leppert asked, his momentary confusion turning into a self-deprecating smile as everyone burst into laughter. "Let me tell you, I don't want it to be Tuesday," he added, then continued with his Vote No pitch.

Though Leppert tried to connect the taxpayer-owned hotel and its potential tax benefits back to West Dallas, the more exciting things for this area are coming from within. This summer, El Centro is scheduled to open its West Dallas campus, and with a big chunk of the riverfront property designated as a Municipal Management District, or MMD, developers will have a degree of flexibility and independence that will let them build, well, pretty much anything. Even cable ski parks.

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