When somebody takes a hard-line position on a City Hall issue and won’t say why, it’s no big surprise to find out later he had something in his pocket that he didn’t want to share. But in East Dallas, I believe I have found a tribe of people who may have an entire football stadium in their pocket. I don’t even know how they can walk around.
The parents and boosters at Woodrow Wilson High School went to the city earlier this year and said they wanted to pave over some park land across the street from the school for teacher parking. The first thing the city noticed was that the master plan for Randall Park does, indeed, call for some land in the park to be converted to parking, but the space allotted is at the other end of the park, a block from the school’s front door.
Neighborhood and school leaders labored for the better part of a year to work out the master plan a decade ago. A large senior citizens' home is nearby, as are several thriving neighborhoods. Coming to an agreement was not easy.
Before the agreement, Randall Park was a no-man’s zone that grew only weeds and used hypodermic needles. Now, it’s a thriving athletic complex under the shared auspices of the city and school district, a huge success born of community cooperation. The obvious answer to Woodrow’s parking needs, rather than ripping up a decade-old community peace treaty, seemed to be for the school district to build the parking it needs on the space already provided in the master plan.
No. Absolutely not. The Woodrow parent committee said a parking lot at the far end of the park was totally out of the question.
Why? Well, they said, the lot was for teachers, and teachers have to carry a lot of books and graded papers, so teachers can’t walk a whole block to the front door of the school.
Really? Teachers can’t walk a block? OK, make the kids park there. No, absolutely not. Kids can’t walk a block either.
That’s where it stands. The fight goes on and on. First the park board voted to let them pave the park across the street from the school. Then the board voted to reconsider. It will take up the issue a third time later this month.
It’s all up in the air. In two park board meetings, nobody on the Woodrow side ever gave a reasonable real-life reason why the school couldn’t just build the parking lot where it’s supposed to go. If the teachers really won’t walk a block from their cars to the front door, they all need to be fired, and if the kids can’t do it, they should all go to the doctor.
So this point in a debate is about when I start looking for odd bulges in people’s pockets. I sort of asked around first for hints. I was told to ask people if they happened to have a football stadium in their pockets.
Really? A football stadium? I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to go up to people and say, “Hey, I don’t mean to pry, but you wouldn’t happen to have a football stadium in your pocket, would you?”
I called Dustin Marshall, the school board trustee for the Woodrow district, and asked him.
“They are very separate issues from my perspective," he said. "Just to be very transparent, there is a group that are interested at some point in the future in proposing a public-private partnership to build a football stadium on Randall Park that would be Woodrow’s home stadium that would also be open to the public and for use in other activities that are not DISD-related, consistent with the whole dual usage of the park as it exists today with the interlocal agreement between DISD and the city.”
Wow! A football stadium!
“There is a group that I am not part of,” Marshall said, “that has been talking about that for many years, and as far as I know, there has been no movement on that for many years.”
Oh. So it’s not a real football stadium. It’s kind of like a make-believe football stadium that might happen someday, but who even knows?
I made a few more calls. Park board member Jesse Moreno told me that he and fellow board member Paul Sims were invited to attend a recent meeting of Woodrow parents and boosters about putting a new football stadium in Randall Park. Hmm. That sounds kind of real. So I looked around a little more.
In February, the Lakewood Advocate newspaper carried an article about a $10 million football stadium that “would be built where the rather desert-like soccer field currently exists” in Randall Park. I tried to think where the desert was in Randall Park. Oh, it must mean the very popular soccer pitch where all the YMCA teams play.
So it is real. And look, I’m not even saying a football stadium would be a terrible idea. I am aware that it took a whole lot of talking and negotiation among all of the community interests in the area to produce that agreement a decade ago between the school district and the city — the agreement that created the current Randall Park.
I noticed a rather strange version of that history buried in the Advocate piece. “An effort led by Woodrow boosters and athletic director Bobby Estes made the park more usable, particularly for the school’s athletics department," according to the story. "But since then the park has suffered from limited maintenance.” I also noticed, when I looked for a byline, that it said, “Advocate interns contributed to this post.” I believe that.
I remember Estes from my days as a Woodrow parent, and I am sure he is too modest and honest a man ever to have suggested to anyone that he was the one who made Randall Park happen or that “Woodrow boosters” get all the credit. Randall Park was and is a creation of the larger East Dallas community. If any one person deserves credit for making it happen, it’s probably Moreno’s father, East Dallas business owner Jesse Moreno Sr.
The uses in this very popular urban meeting place include a diverse mix of sports reflecting the community. In an area that has been predominantly Hispanic for decades, soccer is a very important piece of that puzzle.
But let’s say that’s all wrong. Let’s suppose that all of those diverse uses ought to be pushed aside in favor of a great big, gleaming multimillion-dollar football stadium like the ones some new arrivals in East Dallas must remember longingly from their days in the suburbs.
Fine. Say it. Take the football stadium out of your pocket. Don’t tell people that teachers and kids can’t walk a block to school in the winter when temperatures in Dallas plunge into the 60s. Spit it out. Admit that you don’t want a parking lot at the south end of the park because it might screw up your plans for a $10 million football stadium.
Make a scale model of that sucker and carry it around to all of the surrounding neighborhood groups. See how East Dallas people feel about having a new football stadium next door. Maybe people will love it.
But take the football stadium out of your pocket. Then talk about the parking lot. That’s just how people need to behave in East Dallas. It’s called manners.
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