The council's Economic Development Committee kicked off its morning meeting by taking up the Texas Horse Park, which came up $14 million short in private funds but remains high on the city's to-do list. Hence, as we've noted in recent days, Park and Rec and the city manager's hope that the council will let them see if there's a private operator willing to take over a project -- funded with $15 million in '98 and '06 bond funds -- the nonprofit couldn't build out years after it was initially promised.
Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan pitched it as a money-maker, a job-creator, a bringer of "recreation" and "culture." And she did so in front of an audience that included many familiar faces down at City Hall, chief among them Gail Thomas of the Trinity Trust, which had hoped to open the park in 2007. "I have no doubt you'll raise the money for the park," said council member Sheffie Kadane. "I have no doubt," added Jerry Allen.
Most of the committee was all for putting out a request for proposals: Tennell Atkins, chair of the committee, said: "T. Boone Pickens, Gerald Ford, the Dallas Mavericks, the SMU Mustangs, the Texas Rangers -- everything's horse-related" 'round these here parts. "Why not have a great horse trail? Horses bring money. We got plenty of space ... When horse people come to the show, they spend money. Look at the Fort Worth Rodeo."
Allen had but one concern -- making sure the Texas Horse Park would be "world-class." Because, after all, "This is Dallas."
Said Allen: "The Trinity River, our recreation going into this, is setting the stage for future generations. This will be one of the trademarks to go along with it." Paul Dyer, head of Park and Rec, said, yes, world-class it is. "The Dallas Zoo, the Arboretum took 30 years to get here. This may not jump off as world-class ... but our mission is to get it up, show the value, and when the economy improves you'll see it get to world-class level."
In the end, only Ann Margolin refused to recommend asking the whole council to OK the RFP. After thanking Thomas and the other Trinity trustees, the District 13 council member said she has "grave reservations about" moving ahead with the search for a private operator. The reason:
"This is not what the voters voted on," she said. "There was a commitment to raise $15 million, and it didn't happen, and as far as I'm concerned that's kind of a deal-killer. It seems like we're going to do this no matter what. We're going to provide $12 million and $700,000 in debt service ... [And] if it doesn't work out we're on the hook. If there's an operator who loses money, the city's going to be forced to come forward and keep it going. I'm still having a lot of trouble with it, and at this point I don't feel like I can support it in good conscience."
Allen said: Don't worry, this is for the future -- for the children. And besides, the Trinity Trust and the Texas Horse Park-ers will find the money. One day. Fingers crossed. Because this is Dallas. And "we've been known as the most giving city in the United States of America."