White Rock and Belle Isle, a Tale of Two Cities

Categories: Schutze

frozenwhiterock.JPG
You'll see a lot more of this at White Rock Lake before its defenders move aside to let commercial development in.
A family chore last night prevented me from attending a big community meeting about a proposed restaurant at White Rock Lake, but stories on Channel 8 and in the daily paper this morning gave the flavor. The community is looking at the idea of building a commercial restaurant on parkland at the northern tip of the lake with about as much enthusiasm as it might view a proposal to open up the lake again to all-night drug sales.

Wish I had been there just to see it. On TV I heard members of the public standing at the microphone expressing a passion for the park surrounding White Rock Lake in East Dallas but also giving voice to even bigger ideas, as in the concept expressed by one man that not everything in life can or should be "monetized." Who knew we'd ever have to say that? Now we know we do.

White Rock was the first big public place in Dallas I viewed when I moved here from Detroit 150 years ago, and I thought I knew all about it the second I saw it. I had come here to work for the The Dallas Times-Herald. I drove out there one evening with Rone Tempest, an old buddy I had worked with at The Detroit Free Press.

I saw crumbling benches, blowing trash, lots of people drunk, some of them doing what looked a whole lot like buying and selling dope in plain air. We drove past a boat club where a bunch of beat-up grit-encrusted sailboats looked like they hadn't been off the dock in decades. Tempest told me you couldn't really sail anymore because the lake was silted in and about 2 feet deep.

At one point a guy staggered across the road in front of us, walked up on the lawn of a big house fronting the lake, unzipped his fly and relieved himself. I immediately thought, "Oh, I know this place. I even know that guy. He's a slob. And this is Belle Isle Park 20 years ago."

Belle Isle is what still ought to be one of the nation's most gorgeous urban parks, an island near the American shore of the Detroit River, leafy and green, ornate with meandering water paths, hiking trails and focal points built around charming fountains and follies, most of it designed in the 1880s by Frederick Law Olmsted, the guy who designed Manhattan's Central Park. The "20 years ago" I was thinking of back then was back when Belle Isle was already beginning to be seriously down-at-the-heels, but you could still go out there in the evening without an absolute certainty of getting beaten, robbed or killed.

belle_isle.jpg
Library of Congress
When Belle Isle was new.
Belle Isle continues to suffer today, taken over recently from the bankrupt city of Detroit by the state of Michigan. It was the center of recent controversy when the state, which wanted to host some events out there for a convention, announced it would close the island to the public while the conventioneers were on the island. That got called off at the last minute, but I believe it was an honest attempt to prevent the conventioneers from getting beaten or killed.

I wish there were some way to compare Belle Island and White Rock today without dripping in schadenfreude. I still love Detroit, weep for Belle Isle and firmly and passionately believe Detroit will figure out a new better destiny for itself. But I also have to be honest with myself here about my first-blush take on White Rock those many years ago. I was dead wrong. It was not Belle Isle.

White Rock was not just another major urban asset in America a little behind Belle Isle on an irretrievable slide into ruin. Dallas was not going to turn its back on White Rock.

In the decades that ensued since I first saw White Rock, citizens banded together and forced the city to dredge out all that silt. The same citizens insisted that the city change traffic patterns on the lake to put an end to the nightly cavalcade of incontinent slobs. The city sent the cops out there to make sure it got cleaned up, and the city, in partnership with a growing community of philanthropists large and small, has continued to spend serious money on infrastructure at the lake.

The people I heard on TV at that meeting I missed were expressing a protective parental wrath in defense of a place that has become their beloved child. Theirs is not only a love of the lake. In their devotion to White Rock, the lake's defenders give voice to love for the city itself.

They are saying they will not be pushed out of this place, will not give up, will not let things slide until those things are dead and gone. In keeping White Rock alive they will keep Dallas alive.

It has been one hell of a thing to watch over the years. Never felt so good about being so wrong.


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70 comments
Sidewalk
Sidewalk

White Rock Lake and Nature wins the day.

CitzenKim
CitzenKim

My wife and I spent a day at the Fort Worth [free] Arboretum last fall.  'Round lunch time got hungry and had a nice lunch at a small, tasteful restaurant located in the Arboretum.  We were glad it was there.


I don't know the details of this particular planned restaurant, and the planned location sounds like prime park property, so the opposition is probably warranted.  But I hope everybody is not just opposed to ANY restaurant within the park.

Sidewalk
Sidewalk

I grew up in East Dallas, lived a half block from the lake. The people there will take on all comers who want to screw with White Rock Lake. No hesitation in kicking anyones butt who threatens the lake.

UNWASHED
UNWASHED

Unfortunately, many of the Great Unwashed think of Central Park in New York City as nature.............SAD!!

BushwoodSmithie
BushwoodSmithie

All those folks who want it left natural and without man-made structures are absolutely right. 


So the first thing we need to do is take out the dam....

rancher
rancher

This City needs more Nature to be a first class city, than it needs more restaurants or abandoned or half used buildings on the lake.  Stop trying to commercialize every last space.  BTW, there is a restaurant at WRL--inside the Arboretum.  Feel secure that the powers that be on the "non-profit" (that isn't one) that the developers want to "grant" money to, are one and the same with the group that wants to mow, spray to death and take over Winfrey Point for the Arboretum.  You can accuse East Dallas of feeling entitled to the Lake, but the reality is it has to keep protecting this City of Dallas asset from Park City asses.

buzzbaker3
buzzbaker3

Belle Isle has now become a state park and many improvements are in the works, the DNR and state police now patrol regularly and the park closes at 10pm, The Scott fountain will be in operation by the Grand Prix and many Detroiters are happy to see all the new improvements, by all accounts it is a safe park to walk jog or just sit and watch the freighters go bye. The golf course is open and the science center and also the aquarium and Dossins maritime museum make it a must see when visiting....

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

Imagine What kind of Crown Jewel  White Rock Lake would be today had all of the Amenities been maintained and cared for as they should have been when it was originally built .  

Greg820
Greg820

The developers talked about the success of Klyde Warren Park.  Let me pitch their idea using KWP:


Klyde Warren Park takes a lot of money to maintain.  If we put an office building on part of the park we would then pay a small amount for maintenance for the remaining part of the park.  Oh, we would also make a lot of money and the city would own the liability for the operation and upkeep of the building.


Do you wonder why they were greeted with sneers and jeers?

glenn03a
glenn03a

I was at the meeting last night. I have lived in the 75218 area code all my life. These

men are only after the money. They just did not have answers to so many questions

asked by the residents.

WylieH
WylieH

I'm in advanced negotiations with the City to build a large, single-family house in the middle of Lee Park, next to Arlington Hall, because I like nature.


As a part of the deal, I'm agreeing to plant some more trees, and keep trash picked up around the banks of Turtle Creek and give the Lee Park Conservancy a statue of my grand grand-pappy, Sir Wylie H Manchester.


We are calling it the "Balanced Vision Plan."

tbarker1
tbarker1

Hal here: The people just kept coming in, the ladies ran out of ribbons, and then more people kept coming in. It was like a flood. Jim, you missed it. Big time. This was grassroots organizing at it's best. The quote that really got me was that the restaurant "would be owned by nonprofits." But the most bizarre quote was the restaurant would be a "nonprofit owned by nonprofits."


The nonprofits they name are the White Rock Lake Conservancy, Love of the Lake, and the White Rock Lake Foundation. Picture about 100 Board members of the various nonprofits meeting to work out how to divide a bowl of peanuts. Especially when Love of the Lakes is dead set against the restaurant. Don't know about the other two they name. Did anyone ask their permission or was this just name dropping?


It was like Alice In Wonderland. The $250,000 they want to give the "nonprofit owned by nonprofits" is the equivalent of one dock or a couple of hundred feet of Hike and Bike trail. Or the cost of one Blue Death poison spray rig.


And they used the word "own." So the "nonprofit of nonprofits" would apparently have superior ownership rights to the restaurant and parking lots over the City, or it would seem. Do they get a Deed? This is deep City lawyer stuff so just thinking about it makes my head hurt.


Then keeping with the Alice in Wonderland theme, the "nonprofit of nonprofits" would then lease the restaurant to some unnamed Super Chef or maybe Pizza Hut or Sneaky Pete.


Probably the coolest comment I heard was this restaurant was for the "people of Dallas." So at probably $50 to $100 per full meal ( based on Savor at Klyde Warren Park), and just from my perspective as a not-rich guy, I don't see a lot of Dallas folks, maybe 90 percent of Dallas folks, visiting the restaurant to celebrate a business deal. Could be wrong, but I'm a Chili's guy or a El Toquito guy, so I don't have the bucks. El Toquito is in the $7.50 range with tip which I can afford.


Bottom line though, someone at City Hall has told them this is a go; just get rid of the "Vocal Minority" that showed up for the meeting and all will be ship shape and full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes!!!

BobLowlaw
BobLowlaw

Even the famous Tavern on the Green in Central Park closed--this was always, always a really bad idea.  But as an intellectual exercise, I'm interested in how they sold this.  I can't imagine and haven't heard a single good idea in support of the project.

Greg820
Greg820

The garage and pawn shop at Garland & Gaston would be an excellent site for a restaurant/bar/roof-top patio overlooking the spillway and lake.  But then, developers would have both the reward and the risk in such a proposal, where all they get is reward at Boy Scout Hill.  

Tonto
Tonto

@CitzenKim Free!!!!....guess they don't have the kind of parasites that make a living off of the Dallas Arboretum

pocahontas
pocahontas

@Sidewalk this is a ridiculously arrogant comment and contributes nothing to the discussion. where were you when the lake was being polluted? ps. it still is. the arboreteum has increased its footprint with crap. the rowers have put "plastic" lanes in the lake.

JustMe
JustMe

@UNWASHED it's as close to nature as one can get on that great rock of an island.  NYC is Central Park -- it would be nothing much without it.


Oxtail
Oxtail

@BushwoodSmithie  No that won't work. Then there would be more land and we would eventually have a developer make a deal with Walmart. It'd be built right smack in the middle, thus losing the natural area. Better to leave the damn.

loki.laufeyson
loki.laufeyson

@tbarker1  LOL, I'm a Fuzzy's or Torchy's gal! About $5-6 for a couple of tacos that I take out......



...to White Rock Lake and savor while I enjoy the sunset

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@tbarker1

So the "nonprofit of nonprofits" would apparently have superior ownership rights to the restaurant and parking lots over the City, or it would seem. Do they get a Deed? This is deep City lawyer stuff so just thinking about it makes my head hurt

What they are outlining is the City would need to subordinate its position to a lender as first in line to take ownership of the improvements in case of a default by the tenant/borrower.

Look at it this way: you likely took out a mortgage for your home and you gave the lender the right to foreclose, they become the owner of your home & land should you not pay the $ back as promised. Ihe guys developing the restaurant want to do something similar. But the city will not give the lender the ability to take ownership of the land. If there is a default of the loan all they can seize is the building, and then the lender becomes the tenant to the landlord (the city).

This is not unusual in ground leases, but it makes it very difficult to finance.

BobLowlaw
BobLowlaw

It sounds like all the reasons they gave to support the restaurant would work equally well for a gas station.

WylieH
WylieH

@BobLowlaw They said it wouldn't face residential proximity issues, because in middle of park.

thrasher
thrasher

@BobLowlaw the restaurant on wrl is a bad idea but just an fyi, tavern on the green just had a $20 million dollar renovation and is estimated to generate more double that in the first year. at

least pretend to know some facts before commenting.

Greg820
Greg820

@BobLowlaw  It was as ham-handed as you could get.  They were condescending, ignorant of our community, and used terms that indicated that this was a done deal. They had no idea how to speak to a community group.  They were their own worst enemy.  OK, take that back.  Their plan was their worst enemy, their presentation was the coup de grace.

thrasher
thrasher

@Greg820 again, i am against the restaurant. but this is a dumb comment. so you are okay with getting rid of a locally owned business because for some reason you dont like the way their business looks?

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

There is a closed and bankrupted liquor store overlooking the spillway. A little development and bam, you have a restaurant with a lake view.

Los_Politico
Los_Politico

@Greg820  My thoughts exactly. Why don't they risk their capital instead of asking for a handout of free land? I would applaud anyone who turned the storage units into a restaurant at the lake. 

Tonto
Tonto

@pocahontas .....AND SPEAKING OF THE WHITE ROCK BOAT HOUSE ROWING VENUE AND THEIR  "FOR PROFIT" OWNERSHIP WHO ARE THE BIGGEST NOISE POLLUTERS IN THE CITY. THESE PRIVATE SCHOOL DARLINGS AND THEIR 4TH RATE COACHES USE BOTH AMPLIFIED AND NON-AMPLIFIED MEGAPHONES AND  BULLDOZE PADDLE, YELLING/SCREAMING ALONG THE SHORE LINE  DISRUPTING "QUIET ENJOYMENT" OF PARK PATRONS OUT FOR A PEACEFUL STROLL/RUN/BIKE AND SCATTERING FEEDING/NESTING/BREEDING SHORE BIRDS SUCH AS THE  GREAT BLUE HERON, SWANS, PELICANS ETC !!!!!!!


BET "FOR PROFIT" OWNERSHIP IS IN BREACH OF CONTRACT ESPECIALLY IN THE  PADDLEBOAT COVE THEY HAVE TAKEN OVER....AUDIT THEIR CONTRACT AND PAY PARTICULAR ATTENTION  TO UNACCOUNTED $$$$ IN CITY OF DALLAS TRUST ACCOUNT...i'll be quiet now.

tbarker1
tbarker1

@mavdog @tbarker1  Hal here again. Good explanation of a possibility. I wonder how this would fit in with the investors they are talking about, the nonprofits, and the City? They've talked about $5 to $7 million for the facility, but they apparently have to pay for the sewer and water and road cuts from Mockingbird and the Buckner from the investor money or loan. The question gets complicated for me when thinking about infrastructure and then the physical building itself. When they talk about the nonprofits owning the property, then who owes the investors? And who has recourse against whom? It becomes still more complicated if the nonprofits own a restaurant that goes belly up? Do you think the nonprofits are going to want the exposure? Me thinks not.

tbarker1
tbarker1

@mavdog @tbarker1  does not make my headache go away, but I understand. Reminds me that I was glad not to handle real estate portfolio's.


Greg820
Greg820

@thrasher @BobLowlaw  Money is not everything.  No, really.  It's true.  There is very little green space on WRL compared to Central Park.  WRL can barely handle the walk/run/bike traffic on a beautiful sunny day as it is.  More development is not the answer.  

thrasher
thrasher

@Greg820 @BobLowlaw an opponent of the restaurant, i was shocked by how rude and inconsiderate "our side" was at the meeting. the people against the restaurant were very plainly acting childish and disrepectful. it showed a real lack of civility, common sense, debate skills, and discourse which to me makes the opponents look terrible. there was also a very strange entitled vibe at the meeting, like this is east dallas' lake kind of vibe. the lake is for the entire city not just east dallas.

Greg820
Greg820

@thrasher @Greg820  The free market is going to do that for them when the landowners realize that they can get more rent.

sammyP
sammyP

@P1Gunter  Great idea. And it's even already named "Lakeview Liquor" isn't it? (or is that the one across the street?)

deep-sigh
deep-sigh

@Los_Politico @Greg820I agree...there has been talk on top of talk of beautifying the entire stretch of Garland Rd from 635 to Gaston..  That triangle of garland, gaston and grand is perfect for a restaurant/ shopping destination area close to the lake.  Redevelop the area, compensate current tenants, make it pretty..... don't use park land to for that stuff. 

loki.laufeyson
loki.laufeyson

@RTGolden1 @thrasher @Greg820  Agreed. And if someone wants wine, there's Urban Vines. Can't take it into the park, though, because alcohol is forbidden in the park...


...UNLESS you are a fancy restaurant.


Money talks, we know what walks!

thrasher
thrasher

@RTGolden1 @thrasher @Greg820 the greek place is called cigarz and that guy sold that place a while ago. i dont imagine they will be in business once the place across the street opens up and now that we let cane rosso in behind it. it will be an espeically sad day if the goat goes goodbye. where else will i get my drink at 7 in the morning.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@thrasher @Greg820favorite weekend lunch is to stop by the Greek place over next to the Old Goat and grab some gyros and salad and then on to the lake.  The food is available in the area, they don't need to put it IN the park.

thrasher
thrasher

@Greg820 @ agree. i am just saying, the tavern on the green comment is moot. as someone who uses the lake daily, i would like to know where all these people were when the boathouses put the little plastic lanes in the water destroying the view? or the multitude of plastic floating docks that are around the lake now. we should have simple wooden docks. we should have more natural paths. we should have cyclist speed limits or a separate outer ring for them. as someone who routinely picks up trash at the lake, we should have even more green days. we should have uniformed good looking trash cans. we should rethink the existing buildings at the lake, maybe have a healthy locally owned locally sourced lunch place.

JustMe
JustMe

@thrasher @Greg820@BobLowlawThere were a few that were rude.  Most were contained.  If everyone had just sat back and listened, and were totally polite, the developers would have gone away thinking -- YES! 

Greg820
Greg820

@pak152 I believe we handled ourselves very well given the ridiculous proposal brought to us. For every boo or hiss there were three or more people saying to keep it down. People who were offended have likely never been to a lively civic discourse to begin with. It was indeed an organic meeting and when things got a little rough it was brought under control. Give up the myth of the civil civic gathering we all saw in black and white movies of the 50's. This is how citizen input happens.  This is what motivates our elected officials to listen to their citizens.

loki.laufeyson
loki.laufeyson

@pak152 @thrasher @Greg820 @BobLowlaw  


At the same time, some pro-restaurant people were lobbing ad-hom attacks at our side, singling out specific people, and one pro person even took that personal attack to the microphone. It went both ways. Not that it's right either way, though...


tbarker1
tbarker1

@Greg820 @BobLowlaw  We had a list of questions that I was trying to get posed. I think the OLHNA and the Save Boy Scout Hill group only expected about 40 folks.  


I gave up trying to suggest questions when the crowd at the door of the church became hard to navigate.


We had our fingers crossed that everyone would make nice.  After the first loud boo (which was entirely Kopf's fault) over "I bet you don't know where BSH is", I told folks to put on their seatbelts.


At least everyone did not have to experience the Open Mic style of Park Board or City Council meetings.


The developers now have a PR firm, will rally and come back better prepared.


Long fight 'til the Fat Lady sings.


pak152
pak152

@thrasher @Greg820@BobLowlaw 

an FB friend was in attendance at the meeting and was shocked by how those opposed to the restaurant acted towards the proponents. 

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@thrasher @Greg820@BobLowlawthat entitled vibe is not strange in this scenario.  It's always been there, to some extent, and is probably why White Rock is defended so quickly and vigorously when things like this come up.  Yes, it can be irritating, I've often complained of it here myself, but it is when communities and neighborhoods take this kind of ownership attitude that things turn.  Left to the city at large, WRL would probably be  Belle Isle.

Greg820
Greg820

@thrasher @Greg820 @BobLowlaw  Fortunately or Unfortunately we don't get a lot of practice to knock down disingenuous proposals at large community meetings like this.  There was some rudeness to be sure, but it was knocked down by equally vociferous people requesting respect.  

Greg820
Greg820

@Oxtail @Greg820  The Arboretum is not a welcome neighbor.  They are becoming the spoiled 800lb gorilla in the neighborhood and need to be reigned in on their expansionist ideas.  Their last attempt to take over Winfrey Point, and now this attack on BSH is going to galvanize our neighborhood groups to get accountability from these politically connected, neighbor disconnected concerns.

Oxtail
Oxtail

@Greg820 @thrasher  Yes. That is why Jim Breaux is moving Personal Touch Tree Service. Because the Arboretum needs MORE parking. They would love that little pawn shop too, i'm sure. Be careful what you wish for.

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