Jody Grant, founder of Texas Capital Bank and chairman of the Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation, wants to finish his masterpiece.
On Aug. 18, Grant came before the Parks and Recreation Board with a big ask: pencil in $40 million from the 2017 bond program so that his foundation can finish what it started at Klyde Warren Park.
Board member Yolanda F. Williams, District 5, told Grant what most were thinking. Promises had been made to constituents to upgrade aquatics and other recreational programs.
“If I commit to this, that means I’m taking a portion out of District 5. Give us an amount (less than $40 million) that you might consider. I cannot sleep if I don’t put aquatics first, like I promised our colleagues,” Williams said.
The Parks & Rec Board wish list exceeds $200 million in a citywide bond package that will likely be capped below $1 billion.
Grant acknowledged that the board and City Council had many worthy competing projects, but he added, “I have a hard time thinking about an amount lower than $40 million. It means we have to go to the private sector.”
As it is, the $40 million is about 44 percent of the total project cost. Grant promised to raise $50 million from the private sector to get to the $90 million estimated for the park’s expansion.
Grant held forth that the public finance options were limited. He said he didn’t care which public sources the city considered to complete its share, but getting in line for a chunk of the 2017 capital improvement bond through the Parks and Recreation Board had to be the foundation’s first step.
“If we don’t pass muster here, we don’t go anyplace else and this plan dies an immediate and natural death,” Grant said.
No one at the table doubted that Klyde Warren has been an incredible success. It has had the effect of replacing Main Street, becoming the Central Park of downtown Dallas.
District 14 board member Paul Sims opened his remarks by thanking Grant for having the dream and making Klyde Warren a reality.
“We take it for granted that Klyde Warren Park is the success that it is now,” Sims said.
But 10 years ago, no one knew what it could be or that downtown needed it. Building a deck park on top of a freeway was very controversial and came with strong opposition. Grant recalled how the foundation had to go to mediation with neighboring stakeholders to resolve the closing of Harwood Street.
Sims questioned Grant on rumors that Klyde Warren is operating at a significant deficit. Therein lies a key motive of Grant’s campaign.
“We knew we would lose money when we opened the park,” Grant said. “The first year, we ran a $2 million deficit. The second year, it was $1 million. The third year, it was a half-million. We hope we’ll be very close to breakeven this year, but that doesn’t include deferred maintenance.”
Admittance to the park today is free, but the foundation wants to include several revenue-generating attractions that will bring the park to sustainability.
Plans include adding a fountain plaza next to Pearl Street on the far east end, permanently closing Olive Street and installing a for-pay skating rink that would generate income during winter months. The rest of the year it would be converted to a tented pavilion that could be booked for events.
Another major renovation involves expanding the overcrowded Children’s Park by a third by retiring a portion of what Grant called “underutilized real estate” that had been dedicated as a meditation garden.
Further west, the park would be extended one block, crossing St. Paul Street to Akard Street. This would be Sky Park–referred to by Grant as the pièce de résistance. It would be a three-story round building with a spiral ramp balcony leading to offices for park staff and a restaurant-event space at the top. Nearly invisible to the public would be a parking garage for 70 to 90 spaces.
“The parking is on the same level as Akard Street, so you would see three levels of this structure looking at it from Akard. You’d only see two levels looking at it from St. Paul, so the parking is very carefully tucked into the total structure,” Grant said.
Across Akard Street, Klyde Warren Park would end with a large deck that is cantilevered to hang above the freeway. Next to this Sky Deck would be a spiral staircase leading up to the Sky Bridge, a shameless copycat of Manhattan’s The Hi-Line. It begins on the east end of Sky Park and continues parallel to the freeway about 1,000 feet to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. The pedestrian bridge leads Grant full circle back to the genesis of the expansion plan.
The presentation before Dallasites today is an outgrowth of a breakfast meeting Grant had two years ago with then foundation vice chairman Rob Walters and Mayor Mike Rawlings. Well aware that the original master plan was never completed, Grant said Rawlings charged the foundation to solve the connectivity problem between the park and the Perot Museum and the Dallas Arts District.
Grant realizes the project faces stiff competition this fall from other programs, but he is betting the economic benefits will help Klyde Warren stand out.
Klyde Warren has made the adjacent land the most valuable in the city. The Texas Capital Bank Building just sold for the highest price ever in Dallas at $500 a square foot, and a vacant tract where two buildings are planned sold for $395 a square foot, another record.
Real estate consultant HR&A Advisors Inc. estimated the expanded park would generate $160 million in one-time real estate premiums, $125 million in one-time local spending, $390 million in park-oriented neighboring development, and $150 million in revenue over a 30-year period from the spending of 1.1 million additional visitors.
Whether finishing the park with this city bond cycle can happen, time will tell. But Grant insists the time is now because the team that built Klyde Warren is still in place.
“We’re at the top of the learning years. If we wait five years to do something like this … we’ll have a very, very steep learning curve, and we don’t know what will be produced or what the cost might be,” Grant said.