Since opening in 2012, Klyde Warren Park has been a pleasant addition to downtown Dallas. The park, filled to the brim on weekends and still busy on weekdays and nights, is a friendly patch of green between downtown and Uptown, a good place to take your dog on the far end of a looping walk through either neighborhood. The park works, in part, because it's welcoming from any angle, rather than being overbearing and intimidating.
That's about to change, thanks to an $80 million plan to tack a big ol' building that planners are calling the VisitDallas Experience Center on 1.2 acres spanning above Woodall Rodgers Freeway adjacent to the park and just west of St. Paul Street.
If everything goes according to plan, the building will be completed by 2022, with construction beginning next year. Monday, Jody Grant, chairman of the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation, and Michael Morris, the director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, visited City Hall to take their first steps toward getting financing for the project.
Of the $80 million the project is expected to cost, about $15 million is expected to come from the city, $10 million from Dallas' 2017 bond package and another $5 million from the Sports Arena Tax Increment Financing District (TIF).
The three-level Experience Center "will serve as concierge to the city, offering a place to pick up a jersey or VIP tickets to one the area’s sports teams or great last minute deals on theater seats," according to marketing materials, in addition to providing 10,000 square feet of event space and limited parking on its ground floor.
The Experience Center will add about $875 million to the park's financial impact between now and 2049, according to the foundation's estimates, which are surely just as statistically sound as similar estimates made about the NRA Convention or the Super Bowl.
City Council members who heard the Park Foundation's proposal Monday took issue with the appearance of the proposed visitors' center and the TIF that's proposed to be part of the financing, but they didn't express opposition to the project itself.
"I was pleased to hear you say this is just a rendering of [the proposed visitors' center], but as you say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder," City Council member Sandy Greyson told Grant.
Greyson's colleague, Rickey Callahan, raised questions about keeping foot traffic off the roads around the park and making sure the park itself isn't overwhelmed by rented scooters.
"We don't want to just stop the traffic flow of those surface arterials," Callahan said. "Somehow, we need to do a better job there. I'm not sure what the answer is."
The only real substantive, rather than aesthetic, argument about the project came from North Dallas' Lee Kleinman, who hesitated at money from the arena TIF being used to help pay for the project. Kleinman generally opposes TIFs, which reimburse property taxes paid by developers who build on or improve properties in certain areas of the city. Monday afternoon, he was dismayed that cash from the TIF intended to help development around American Airlines Center was going to a project in a different area.
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"A TIF is an agreement with the taxpayers that we're going to allocate so much money to the area that's for redevelopment," Kleinman said. "We're finding other uses of these TIF dollars that aren't part of the original vision of this TIF."
Morris told Kleinman that the city's TIF money was only included in the plan to make the project go off easier by providing a simple way to pay back an initial loan from the North Central Texas Council of Governments' Regional Transportation Council.
"[If Dallas doesn't approve the TIF funding] it just makes my job harder to find out how to repay the RTC," Morris said. "I don't mind doing that."
The expansion is on the Regional Transportation Council's December agenda.