Thursday, August 28, 2008

The new Trinity River

Talk about big dreams for Big D. Imagine the Trinity River bottoms as we know them today dramatically changed into an urban lake with three signature bridges designed by the renowned Spanish architect/engineer, Santiago Calatrava, with tree lined promenades, scenic overlooks, trails and ports fields, plus the Trinity Parkway to relieve Canyon congestions. You say, I’ve heard this before. Now, it’s actually happening.

On its website, The Trinity River Corridor Project proclaims that the completed project “will make Dallas the envy of other large cities as it transforms a flood protection solution into an opportunity for community revitalization, economic development and the creation of a world-class greenway.”

Since 1998, when Dallas voters backed the plan, there has been more talk than walk about converting the overlooked, underused, and neglected Trinity River in to the new front porch of Dallas. Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert says it’s time to walk the walk.

“Nothing like this has ever been attempted in the history of Dallas.” Mayor Leppert told me. The mayor wants to aggressively speed up the time line, so that people will begin seeing progress. While he can’t control state and federal agencies, the mayor expects the bulk of the project to be completed within seven years.

“We’re going to be much more aggressive in terms of telling the people what we are doing,” says the mayor. “This is huge for flood control in South Dallas, and for economic development Downtown, in West Dallas, Oak Cliff, and in South Dallas.

John Scovell, President and CEO of Woodbine Developers, who has developed major projects in Dallas since the 1970’s, says the Trinity River Corridor Project provides the biggest opportunity for economic development since the construction of DFW International l Airport. Mayor Leppert told me he agrees with that.

Scovell says, “ It’s monumental. Water is magic. We are transforming Dallas forever.”

Maybe you haven’t seen it yet, but a crane next to the Continental Avenue Bridge on the banks of the Trinity is sinking piers for the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, the first of the Calatrava bridges, scheduled for completion in the spring of 2010.

The 20,000 square foot Audubon Center, built on an old landfill site, south of Loop 12 and East of I-45, is taking shape, and is on schedule to open in October. Classrooms there will be full of school children learning about nature. Miles of trails will create access to the heart of the Great Trinity Forest.

Rebecca Dugger, who has been the Director of the Trinity Project for the City of Dallas for nine years, says, “We’re spurring developers to really get excited, because we’re done planning and the dirt is flying. It’s time to believe.”

Dugger says next year will be a busy one, as construction begins on several projects: I-30 bridge, the first the first phase of the Trinity Trials, the standing wave recreation area (creating white water), and the Trinity House Park south of Downtown. At 10,000 acres, Dallas is creating one of the largest urban parks in America.

“You are going to have a great place for recreation, boating, canoeing, kayaking, including white water, meandering streams, natural areas and 15 ball fields. A lake on the West Dallas side will be suitable for rowing competitions,” Dugger says.

On the east side of the levees, Industrial Boulevard, which may get a new name, will also get a face lift. New zoning will encourage mixed-use development. The first floors will be restaurants and retail stores, with condos and townhouses up above, but not so high as to block the view of other buildings.

Just up from Industrial, next to the levees at Oak Lawn on the West side of Stemmons, across from the Infomart and the American Airline Center, the Design District is home to 350 shops., showrooms, and eateries, with galleries, photography studios, and other design-based business. Residential properties like Trinity Lofts are emerging here as well.

“In my opinion, there will be no public project in this decade in any city that can have a more profound effect on changing the lives of the citizen’s of that City, that the Trinity River Project”, said Deborah C. Ryan, partner with Patton Boggs. “It will redefine how we see downtown. It will redefine our leisure time. It will redefine Dallas and it’s place in the country as a “destination”.