Saw a story on Channel 5 last night, which follows below, about how Chad Lacerte's building a wakeboard park up in Allen -- you know, the one that was supposed to open on Fish Trap Lake last summer, before Dallas Housing Authority president Mary Ann Russ drowned it last July. Not so long ago, Lacerte's proposed $2.1-million West Dallas development, known as the Dallas Watersports Complex, looked like the surest of sure things. After all, it passed the City Plan Commission, the council's Economic Development Committee and the full council without a single nay. Lacerte's project was embraced by city officials, who were only too happy to give him a $250,000 economic grant to make something out of nothing.
But then Russ cut the cables, insisting she wouldn't OK the park till the DHA completed its master plan for the lake and surrounding area. Albert Huddleston -- Bunker Hunt's son-in-law and a Park Cities developer -- got involved, funding nonprofits who began protesting the park. Then there was a dispute over water quality. And Lacerte thought about suing. Or taking the whole thing to Denton. Tom Leppert, who championed the project during his tenure as mayor, told Unfair Park last summer he was disappointed and surprised when the thing fell apart. But he suggested: He knew what happened.
The jobs that are created are perhaps not the jobs that an older generation would want to have there. Nevertheless, those are jobs that may put a kid through school, so in that sense they are valuable. Other people may want retail instead, and both of the objectives can be reached -- a watersports facility and do some retail elements as well as some of the other things, like local clinics.
Ultimately, Lacerte tells Unfair Park this morning, the whole thing fell apart after Russ sent him an email on February 21, in which she wrote that the DHA board would not consider moving ahead with the Dallas Watersports Complex without a business plan. Lacerte coudn't believe it. (Her email, and his response sent this morning, follow.)
"This is a person I'd worked with for two years, and she kept changing the time frame and the objectives, and it was absolutely ridiculous," Lacerte tells Unfair Park this morning. "Everything was approved by the city. I don't blame the city one bit -- except the old mayor [Leppert]. Everyone else at the city did their job. I needed DHA to give me right of way access. That's all I needed. A signature. And we would have had a $2-million development in West Dallas. I'm not the one who chased it away. DHA did."
Still, Lacerte says he'd still be willing to build the wakeboard park in Fish Trap Lake. Even after all he's been through.
"I still have hope," he says. "I'm still interested in dong something there. There are only a certain number of lakes we can do this on in DFW, and if it's popular I want to do it there. But they're not making it easy. I went there first because I was trying to change an area. I could have gone to any of these other cities before West Dallas, and I didn't do that. Nonprofits began saying we didn't involve them. I'd been working with the neighborhoods. I worked at Westmoreland Heights Community Center once a week. It was crooked from the get-go. But I'd still do it if there's a change in the DHA leadership."
Here's last night's piece from KXAS-Channel 5:
From: Chad Lacerte
Sent: Monday, February 21, 2011 7:47 AM
To: MaryAnn M. Russ
Cc: 'Terdema Ussery'; 'Pedro Aguirre'; 'Steve Stamos'; Mayela Lopez; 'Gates, John (US)'; 'Randy Skinner'
Subject: Dallas Watersports Complex - Business Plan
At the February Board Meeting, you stated you would have Tim provide me with a copy of a sample business plan that you want to see from us. Would you mind sharing that with us?
You also said you would send us a copy of some of the current leases that you have done (Cititrend, HIS bridge builders, Mercy Street Field for dreams).
We look forward to seeing how the Master plan turns out and look forward to working with DHA.
From: MaryAnn M. Russ
Sent: Monday, February 21, 2011 12:40 PM
To: Chad Lacerte
Subject: RE: Dallas Watersports Complex - Business Plan
I cannot send you anyone else's business plan, nor would I share yours with anyone else. I can send you sample leases, although there is no reason yours would be like theirs.
A "business plan" is a term of art. Any CPA knows what it means. It means you must show the amount and source of money you will use to develop the Wake Board complex, the projected income (broken down by source of income) and expenses (broken down by type of expense) from the complex for each of the five years covered by the lease, and an audited financial statement and balance sheet for the corporation that will hold the lease. In addition, we need specific information about the jobs to be created - how many will be full time with benefits, how many will be part-time (and how many hours per week/year) are these projected. We will need simple position descriptions for all the jobs so we can make sure our residents are prepared to hold these jobs.
The Board will not consider this proposal without the business plan described above.
I hope this is helpful.
From: Chad Lacerte on April 15
To: MaryAnn Russ
I didn't respond to your email [above] because I was deeply offended by such a condescending tone from a high ranking public servant.
After working in good faith on a plan to bring jobs and recreational activities to West Dallas over the last two years, it was very disappointing to receive this type of message from a government agency such as DHA.
Over time, it has become apparent, that you and Tim Lott do NOT want a wakeboard park in West Dallas and prefer to maintain the status quo. I sense that you regret giving us the authorization to obtain the zoning for the wakeboard park. I also feel that you regret DHA's approval of the Development Plan for the property last February and the widespread support the project enjoyed as the top ranked initiative of the Mayor's Task Force for the southern sector and the unanimous support this project garnered at Plan Commission and City Council.
The master planning process has been helpful -- it has demonstrated that the West Dallas community is not only ready for change, they are insisting upon it.
Word has recently filtered back to me that you are telling West Dallas community leaders that the wakeboard park is delayed because I haven't provided a business plan. Given how hard we have worked on this project, and given the overwhelming support we enjoy within the community, I don't appreciate that message.
We have shared our business plans with every jurisdiction that is interested in bringing this venue to their City and of course we have extended the same courtesy to DHA. We will be more than happy to share our business plans to any Board member or DHA employee that wants to see it. My contact information is below -- please have them call me directly.
I have also heard from a former DHA Board member, that you will only entertain a five year lease for a wakeboard park. If that is in fact true, then this entire exercise has been pointless and a complete waste of everyone's time. Any sensible business person would recognize that a capital investment of the magnitude that is required for a wakeboard park cannot possibly be amortized over such a short period of time.
DHA must recognize this -- your recent leases of unused properties on Hampton and West Commerce span 50+ years. These properties were very marketable - one property is 16+ acres on a major street and the other property is improved with a 50,000 sf maintenance and light manufacturing facility.
The Dallas Morning News reported yesterday that several Pinkston students don't want a wakeboard park at Fishtrap Lake and would prefer to have canoe rentals and fountains. This runs contrary to what I have heard from the dozens of Pinkston students that I have met with -- they have all expressed great enthusiasm for the promised jobs and activities this type of park could bring to West Dallas.
I would have appreciated an opportunity to meet with the kids that made the presentation to the DHA Board -- who showed them the wakeboard park presentation?
Why wasn't this presentation included as a part of the public notice of this meeting on Monday? As a government agency, I would expect your Board to be as transparent as possible, particularly on an issue that is being closely scrutinized by the public and the media.
The Dallas Morning News story was interesting to say the least -- the article concluded:
"Students raised concerns that a water park would make the lake inaccessible to anyone but customers".
That is an interesting observation because it is simply not true -- where did these students possibly hear that?
As you know, on several occasions I have asked for a meeting with the "Young Developers" group at Pinkston and I was never afforded that opportunity. I was told that the Young Developers group was only focusing on the Lakewest Town Center - you can imagine our surprise when this group provided their opinion about the wakeboard park since we have never shown them our plans or answered any questions such as public access to the lake.
You can inform those students that the lake is available for a canoe rental business in West Dallas. In fact, the lake has been available for that and any other use for over 70 years - but the lake still remains unused today. The community is anxious to see how much usage the lake enjoys this coming summer.
We are excavating two new lakes to open a wakeboard park in Allen this summer. It will be the only USA park that has opened with three separate cable systems. The lease in Allen was approved in late March and we expect to have wakeboarders enjoying the venue in June - it will be a world class facility.
On top of the recreational uses that are headed to Allen, we have already employed over 75 people in connection with the development of the park in Allen. NBC's local affiliate ran a story last night that shows the development in progress.
Here is a link to that story:
I will invite West Dallas residents and community leaders to Allen this summer so that they can see for themselves, first hand, what a wakeboard park looks like. That will enable everyone to make a determination of whether this is something that they might want to see in West Dallas. They will also be able to see firsthand, the employment opportunities that this venue will create.
I am not sure as to the status of the DHA master plan for the Lakewest area. The community leaders that I work with are very upset at the entire planning process. Many of them believe that the master plan was a tactic to purposely delay this project -- they feel that the planning process is nothing more than an expensive sham funded by their tax dollars.
At the first meeting of the master plan process, Tim Lott, the person at DHA responsible for hiring Craig Reynolds with BRW, boasted that he and Craig had been friends for 22 years.
This relationship and the lethargic pace of the planning process raises suspicions and casts doubts as to the objectivity of the planner selected by DHA and the objectivity of the entire planning process.
While DHA's master plan process started in September, 2010, no plan has been produced in over 8 months. Since the community is skeptical and tired of waiting on DHA/BRW, I am sharing OUR master plan of a wakeboard park with the Board.
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Attached is the concept plan for the wakeboard park in Allen opening this summer. Hopefully this will give the DHA Board and West Dallas' community an idea of what a master plan for a wakeboard park might look like.
The wakeboard park in Allen is similar to the proposed venue in West Dallas in one respect -- both venues adjoin a high school and nearby baseball fields.
While we are very excited about the park in Allen, we still intend to work with the West Dallas community to improve the lives and well being of the residents in West Dallas. We still want to bring positive change, particularly in the form of new jobs and recreational activities, to West Dallas.
I am available for any questions and look forward to our next meeting.