Former councilman asks why his downtown park plan won't be considered

DALLAS -- A former Dallas City Council member says he's troubled by the apparent rejection of his plan to pay for and maintain a three-acre park in downtown Dallas.

Mayor Mike Rawlings and the head of the Dallas Park and Recreation Department say they can't support the park, and the developer wants to know why.

Right now, the space is an eyesore. It's a parking lot at Pacific and Pearl in downtown Dallas.

The City of Dallas bought it several years ago hoping to someday turn it into a park. Two years ago, former Dallas City Council member Ron Natinsky and architect Kevin Sloan came up with a plan.

Natinsky and his partners devised a plan to design, develop, and maintain Pacific Plaza Park -- built on top of a deep underground parking garage -- and do it all at no cost to the city. Parking revenues would pay for it all.

Natinsky says the head of the Parks Department, Willis Winters, was ecstatic.

"He said, 'This is fantastic if you can do this,'" Natinsky told us. "He was insistent, telling me, 'Don't ask the city for any money. You need to maintain it. No above-ground parking structures. If you can do this, I'm in support.'"

Over the past two years, Natinsky says he has refined the design and secured financing and he says he could break ground by the end of the year.

But it turns out someone else literally has designs on Pacific Plaza Park, former chairman of the board at the A.H. Belo Corporation -- which owns The Dallas Morning News -- Robert Decherd.

Decherd is known as sort of the park king of downtown Dallas. He took a former parking lot across from the federal building and transformed it into Belo Garden at Griffin and Main.

Natinsky says Decherd's plan would require a $7-million contribution from the City of Dallas and the city would also have to pay for park maintenance. He says his attempts to present his plan to the Park Board has been rejected, and that the Decherd plan is the only one being considered.

"I'm disappointed," Natinsky said. "As somebody who has lived here almost my entire life and served this city, I would love to see this kind of thing where people come to the city and say 'We can help you get this done.'"

The head of the Parks Department, Willis Winters, told News 8 Natinsky's proposal is "not very compelling" and that there "aren't enough trees" in the artists renderings.

Mayor Mike Rawlings, who was briefed by Natinsky about the plan, says he doesn't know enough to support it.

A spokesperson for Robert Decherd's group, Parks for Downtown Dallas, declined our request for an interview. We were provided with a packet of plans to develop a cluster of downtown parks, including Pacific Plaza.

Dallas City Council members will be briefed on Decherd's Pacific Plaza Parks plan next week.

Natinsky's plan will not be considered, and he still wants to know why.

News 8 has confirmed elements of the Natinsky proposal that could ultimately affect the city's decision on Pacific Plaza. One of Natinsky's partners is Ron Lusk, the former owner of an Oklahoma City nursing home who, according to an article in the Daily Oklahoman, was hit with a $1.6 million civil jury verdict for fraudulently transferring money away from his nursing home accounts.

Winters did not specifically mention this as a factor in his criticism of Natinsky's proposal.

Copyright 2016 WFAA


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