Friday, August 08, 2014
After May stalemate over fate of Pacific Plaza, Dallas’ park department will ask developers for proposals
At the moment there are just two proposals for Pacific Plaza in downtown Dallas, the 3.5-acre patch of green space that’s been on the city’s wish list since 2004. The Park and Recreation Board decided on Thursday that’s just not good enough.
With eight members voting “aye,” the board decided — just barely — to solicit proposals from private developers who just might be able to develop the park guesstimated to cost $10 million, a small fortune the city doesn’t have in its back pocket and doesn’t expect to find under a couch cushion any time soon. But there will be caveats contained within that request for proposals (or RFP), chief among them: There can’t be an above-ground parking garage at Pacific Plaza. If a developer wants to plant parking on the spot bound by North St. Paul, Live Oak and North Harwood, it will have to be below-ground.
But the parks department is in no rush to look for takers: Willis Winters, direct of the Park and Recreation Department, says the RFP will be issued “at some point,” but that “we’re not in a big hurry to get it out.” For one thing, he says, the city needs to “make sure we have a legitimate need for parking at that location before we issue the RFP.”
Of the two existing proposals, following Shawn Todd’s withdrawal of his $100-million proposal earlier this week, only one, from former council member Ron Natinsky and 4P Partners, has below-ground parking — specifically, an automated parking garage. Mukemmel “Mike” Sarimsakci’s ambitious $600-million proposal features a number of structures on the proposed park, including two residential skyscrapers at least 70 stories tall.
In May the board parked a decision on how to proceed with a 6-6 stalemate. Thursday’s vote was close too, a sign that the board’s not eager to let someone else build a park — or put a garage on that property, which, even if underground, would require room for entrance and exit ramps, elevator shafts, stairwells and ventilation. But board member Rodney Schlosser called the decision to issue a request for proposals the “no-regrets move,” since the city doesn’t have to accept any of them. “We’re not being asked to do anything other than put out an RFP and see what developers have to say,” says Schlosser.
And this is how former council member Ron Natinsky intends to bury the parking at Pacific Plaza.
In the end, he noted, the Park Board can decide to fund the park with bond funds. Or, it was suggested, maybe the city can pull off a private-public partnership, a la the Klyde Warren. Winters hints that’s a very real possibility “at some point in the future,” pointing to the possible formation of a “non-profit ‘friends’ group” that could help raise money to build and operate Pacific Plaza.
Park Board member Larry Jones concurred with Schlosser and parks staff: Issuing an RFP, he said, is a “no-brainer, a no-lose situation.”
But after the board voted to proceed with the RFP, board president Max Wells warned his colleagues that this could be a very slippery slope, a way for a private developer to get their claws into a public park. The city, with the help of the The Trust for Public Land, spent $9 million in land acquisition over several years — a process made especially difficult when the city ran into parcels with multiple owners whose claims dated back decades. And turning it over to a private developer doesn’t sit well with Wells.
Wells pointed out that Pacific Plaza sits in the Downtown Connection TIF, and said he’s terrified of someone using city money to eat into green space that’s been part of the city’s to-do list since it was part of the original Downtown Parks Master Plan in 2004. He made it clear that he “violently” objects to a developer trying to use city money to build a garage beneath a park. Adds Winters, “My goal is to build as much of the park without it being on the city’s ledger.” Natinsky and his partners haven’t yet explained how much their proposal will cost.
“We do feel good about” the board’s decision, says architect Scott Lowe at 5G Studio Collaborative, who’s been working with Natinsky. “It was a no-brainer decision in my option for the city — a no-lose. They get to explore their options. And a joint venture makes sense. City’s budgets are thinner and thinner, and this could be the way the city makes a little money on a ground lease and builds the park too. I feel pretty good today. The 8-7 vote was a little surprising for me because I didn’t think they had anything to lose by going with the RFP option. I also understand the perception that private developers are out for themselves. They are. But a good joint venture is when both parties get something out of it. That’s what we’re proposing in this deal.”
By Robert Wilonsky- Dallas News