Dallas City Council’s transportation committee will vote Monday on whether or not to allow the son of a Texas state senator to build a soccer field beneath an interstate highway, over objections from the local community. At least three city council members are in the dark about the proposal, and questions surrounding the plan draw comparisons to Fort Worth’s billion-dollar Panther Island boondoggle.
Interstate 345, located in southeast Dallas in the Deep Ellum district, is a stretch of highway constructed in 1973 that has been blamed for the decades-long economic downturn of the area.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) owns the land but has leased it to the City of Dallas with an agreement that they can use it to build parking lots. As previously reported, there are two proposals for the future of I-345; one calls for tearing it down to allow for new economic development, and the other calls for Roddrick West—son of Democrat candidate for U.S. Senate and Texas State Sen. Royce West (DeSoto)—to build soccer fields beneath it. Texas Scorecard received these plans as part of a response to an open records request sent TxDOT.
On Monday, the City of Dallas’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will vote on amending the agreement with TxDOT to allow soccer fields to be built by the city giving up control of the project. Emails secured by Texas Scorecard reveal that, in an attempt to push through the agreement, a swap has been proposed where TxDOT will not stand in the way of Dallas redeveloping Carpenter Park. Critics say tying the soccer field with other deals is a classic trick used to make projects harder to oppose.
The Deep Ellum Foundation, whose mission is “to enhance, improve, and market the neighborhood as a whole,” has repeated their opposition to the soccer fields, as they originally stated in an open letter. “We prefer that they do another parking lot for the neighborhood, which has generally been our position,” Deep Ellum Foundation President Jonathon Hetzel told Texas Scorecard. “We also want to make sure that soccer fields don’t include any [obstacles] to 345 potentially coming down in the future.”
Hetzel also mentioned that some have expressed concerns about people breathing in car fumes from the overpass as they exercise below.
But it’s not just environmental concerns that have raised eyebrows. West, who has a history of enriching himself with taxpayer dollars, has been hit with allegations that he has a conflict of interest when it comes to the highway. He dodged questions regarding these allegations at a meeting where he was combating the idea of tearing I-345 down. Prior to the meeting, he had emailed constituents in an attempt to mobilize opposition to the tear-down proposal. If it were demolished, his son would not get the soccer fields.
Furthermore, questions about Roddrick West’s fitness to run such a project have arisen. A response from an open records request Texas Scorecard sent to the Texas Board of Architectural Examiners revealed West has repeatedly failed some of the board’s exams.
Sources have expressed concern the real goal of the soccer fields project could be to grab land that would be prime real estate for development, and sell it to the highest bidder once I-345 comes down.
West’s involvement also puts the City of Dallas in a precarious position. West is known to have significant influence over TxDOT, which in turn influences the North Texas Council of Governments, which controls the flow of certain taxpayer funds to the city.
Texas Scorecard sent inquiries to all of Dallas’ city council members regarding the issue.
“At this time, I have limited comments related to the soccer fields due to the fact I have not seen the proposal or the ask to the council,” District 13 Councilwoman Jennifer Gates replied. “In general, I am supportive of exploring the option of removing I-345 and would be reluctant to support any project that would prevent that option.”
District 9 Councilwoman Paula Blackmon expressed concern about how this would affect the future if I-345 were torn down and Deep Ellum and downtown Dallas were reunited. “What does that mean for that piece that we’re talking about that’s locked up in a soccer field project?” she asked. “Do we have to buy out a contract? Is TxDOT going to sell at some point?”
“I need to know the specifics of what this means 10 years down the road,” she added.
When asked who is providing the investment or capital for the soccer fields, Blackmon said, “I know nothing.” She also said she hasn’t seen the agreement between Roddrick and TxDOT. While not on the committee, Blackmon intends to appear that day and ask questions.
District 1 Councilman Chad West said he is also in the dark, not only about who is providing the funding for the project and the agreement between West and TxDOT, but also his partners. “[That’s part] of my problem with the whole thing,” he told Texas Scorecard. “I have no idea.”
He also expressed concern about considering a move in this direction before council sees a report—due in June—about what the community would like to see done with the site. “Why are we going to enter into some kind of agreement, or turn over all our rights to TxDOT to do that for us, when we have these new studies coming in?” he asked. “I don’t understand this at all.”
With city council members being kept in the dark, the involvement of a powerful elected official and his offspring, potential real estate development, and the possibility of taxpayers being on the hook draws eerie comparisons to the 16 year-long Panther Island boondoggle in Fort Worth.
Contact information for the council members who serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is below. The committee will meet on Monday, May 18, at 1 p.m.
Lee Kleinman (Chair): [email protected]; 214-670-7817
Adam Medrano (Vice Chair): [email protected]; 214-670-4048
Tennell Atkins: [email protected]; 214-670-4066
Adam Bazaldua: [email protected]; 214-670-4689
David Blewett: [email protected]; 214-670-5415
Adam McGough: [email protected]; 214-670-4068
Chad West: [email protected]; 214-670-0776