Irving mayor demands answers on Entertainment Center's future

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on July 19, 2011 at 10:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 20 at 3:44 PM

IRVING — Irving's new Mayor Beth Van Duyne says it's time for some answers on the Las Colinas Entertainment Center project.

New numbers suggest it may never be built.

“Where's the money going?” asked Van Duyne. “Who is getting paid, and what are they doing for it? This has been a long concern over several years."

And now Van Duyne is determined to get answers.

Since 2008, $22 million in Irving tax dollars have been pumped into the Las Colinas Entertainment Center.

The only thing the city has to show for it is a series of drawings, blueprints — and a stack of bills.

The $250 million concert hall and restaurant venue has been the pet project of former Mayor Herb Gears and political ally and project developer Billy Bob Barnett.

A News 8 investigation, however, raised questions about millions paid to some consultants hired by Barnett in possible conflict with state Brimer Bill laws.

Since last October, city officials have repeatedly told News 8 they stopped paying bills incurred by the Las Colinas Group waiting for direction from the City Council.

But Irving’s online check registry shows the city has continued to cut checks — nearly $1 million worth —   to the Las Colinas Group.

"I was told by our staff that we have stopped payments to the Las Colinas Group,” Van Duyne said. "Wednesday we are going to ask why payments are still being made.”

What's more, Van Duyne says she has re-invited an accounting firm to discuss a previous audit that identified more than $4 million in non-construction-related expenses that the city, arguably, should have never paid.

When we tried to ask Irving City Manager Tommy Gonzales about those potential over-payments last February, we got no response.

That frustrates Mayor Van Duyne.

"If payments have been made that should not have been made, then absolutely I think we should revisit them, and I'm going to recommend that we do that," she said.

Again, the project's fate could be sealed Wednesday when financial advisors inform the city that their bonding capacity is about $100 million. That's $100 million short of what the city needs to build the project as currently designed.

Project developer Billy Bob Barnett was supposed to bring $50 million to the table a year ago. City officials have still not seen a commitment on that money from Barnett.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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