City Hall

Battle Over the Trinity Toll Road Ends, But the War Over the Park Heats Up

The Trinity Trust, now called the Trinity Park Conservancy, has created a rendering of a potential park.
The Trinity Trust, now called the Trinity Park Conservancy, has created a rendering of a potential park. Trinity Trust
Around lunchtime Wednesday, former Dallas City Council member Craig Holcomb, fresh off the biggest defeat in his political career, approached former council member Angela Hunt. She was decked out in her trademark red suit and fresh off the biggest win in her political career.

The two shook hands.

Holcomb, long one of the strongest supporters of building a toll road between the Trinity River's levees, conceded defeat, telling Hunt that it was time for everyone to work on the park.

As Hunt and Holcomb both knew, the first fight over the Trinity toll road was over, but the overall fight for a future park was just beginning. Just after 2 p.m. Wednesday, about four hours after the City Council voted 13-2 to kill the toll road, the council voted 9-6 to turn over building the long-awaited Trinity park to a local government corporation. Seen through the prism of Hunt versus Holcomb, it's another round of the old guard (Holcomb) versus the vanguard (Hunt).  

click to enlarge
Former Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt opposed the Trinity toll road.
Paul Wingo

LGCs are public-private partnerships empowered by local governments to complete a specific project or projects.The push for the LGC began after Annette Simmons, widow of Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons, gave the Trinity Park Conservancy — formerly known as the Trinity Trust, which featured many toll road advocates on its board — a $50 million gift.

That gift is contingent upon the creation of a new government structure — the proposed LGC —that would oversee park planning and construction.

Dallas' LGC will be staffed by three to seven board members nominated by Mayor Mike Rawlings, another longtime toll road supporter, and approved by the City Council.  The mayor has nominated former Design District developer Michael Ablon to head the board.

In the runup to Wednesday's vote on the LGC, opposing council members, led by Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston, said the city was moving too fast after getting rid of the road and should take some time before handing the keys to the park over to a private group.

Kingston was pointed in his criticism, telling the Observer's Jim Schutze that Rawlings was pushing the LGC as payback for the demise of the toll road. “Procedurally, it is slapdash," Kingston said. He went on to accuse the mayor of "bullying" people to get the park on Wednesday's agenda because "he is so pissed off."

While Griggs succeeded in passing several amendments to the city's LGC plan Wednesday — including a guarantee that at least one naturalist or conservationist will be appointed to the LGC's board, term limits for board members, and a requirement that all board meetings be recorded and posted online — the council voted down his proposal that it wait 30 days before making a decision.

Likewise, the council voted down amendments that would've allowed it to nominate four of the seven positions on the LGC's board and limited the LGC's control over the building of the park to 10 years, rather than the 40 approved by the council. As Griggs offered amendment after amendment to the LGC proposal, several of his colleagues grew frustrated with what they viewed as attempt to kill the project with a series of small cuts.

"We've got police; we've got economic development; we've got housing problems, street problems, alley problems, dog problems. We've got every kind of problem, and we're sitting here with all of this mess over trying to decide who can come report to us and do something that we are not financially capable of doing personally ourselves," Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway said.

The fight over the park is not over. Handing over any amount of city money to the LGC will require a council vote. The council also has the option to dissolve the LGC at any time with a supermajority of 10 votes.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young

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