Veterans Park discussions continue, tax revenue updated


by A.C. Hall

The White Settlement Economic Development Board had a chance to sound off on the recently proposed Veterans Park changes at their meeting last week.  City staff continued to stress that this project remains in a very preliminary place.  The proposal is to relocate the softball complex from Veterans Park to Saddle Hills Park.  The roughly 17 acres of land opened up by this would then be used as commercial real estate.
“We’re not getting rid of a park, we’re just talking about moving a sports complex,” Parks and Recreation Director Rich Tharp told the EDC.
Tharp echoed what was said at a recent council meeting, telling the EDC that businesses are already expressing an interest in building on the land where the Veterans Park softball complex currently sits.  One thing Tharp mentioned was the possibility of a land swap that would see other acreage around the City turned into park land.  This would mean that the City would retain the exact acreage of parkland it currently has.  Some of the areas that would be converted into park land are already adjacent to existing parks like Central Park and John Griggs Park.
EDC members were given a chance to ask questions about the project.  Ann Smith voiced her concerns about the placement of the proposed parking for the new softball complex on the north side of Saddle Hills Park.
“I don’t personally think the neighborhood is gonna want a park back there,” Smith said.
She also stated that she doesn’t believe there is enough room at Saddle Hills to accomplish everything that is being proposed.
EDC member Pat Wirsing asked how the project would be funded if it does move forward.
“We have not explored that at this time,” Tharp replied.
Tharp stressed again that they are just testing the waters and are still in a very preliminary place with the project.
A short discussion was held about the commercial viability of Clifford Street.  Tharp remarked that thirty and forty years ago people thought that White Settlement Road would be the main commercial draw but that Clifford has emerged as the bigger commercial draw.  He continued, saying the Veteran’s Park proposal is just a way in which the City might help the citizens. “We’re just trying to bring options to the table for the economic benefit of the community,” Tharp said.
Wirsing posed another question, asking if the White Settlement Independent School Board is okay with the idea of turning part of Vetarn’s into commercial real estate.  The WSISD donated some of the land that makes up the park.  She was told that a meeting is happening soon between WSISD and the City and that this topic will be raised there.
City Manager Jim Ryan addressed the EDC as this discussion came to a close.  He touched upon the issue of WSISD involvement in the land.
“I doubt if the land will ever be sold because of the ownership rights between the school and us, but it could be possibly leased,” Ryan said.
He continued to stress that this is still preliminary, saying nothing is happening yet and that nothing will happen without council and voter approval.  Ryan asked that everyone keep an open mind while they explore this possibility.
Asked about the cost of moving the softball complex, Ryan took one last chance to drive home the preliminary nature of these discussions.
“We don’t know if we can do it or if we should do it.  That’s what we’re exploring,” Ryan said.
Finance Director Phil Bray presented this item, informing the EDC that sales tax collection was down yet again.  The June sales tax numbers came in over thirty percent under expectations and Bray said that July numbers were also down, making five straight months of declining sales tax.
“They don’t look much better,” Bray said of the July sales tax numbers.
The budget was amended earlier in the year and the expected amount of sales tax revenue was lowered at that time.  Bray told EDC that they still might come in under that revised number.
“August and September are going to have to look very good in order for us to even meet the reduced budget number that we projected,” Bray said.
Economic Development Director Kyle Reeves shared his monthly report.  He spoke about the booth the City will have at the upcoming retail convention in Dallas.  Reeves also shared some information about IHOP on Cherry Lane.  The grassy area next to the IHOP parking lot is an ONCOR right of way and Reeves said that they’ve expressed a willingness to let that area be paved.  If completed, this could mean additional parking at the IHOP.  Reeves said they’re continuing to talk to all the parties involved but voiced optimism of this getting done.
“It’s looking pretty good,” Reeves said.
Also announced was the lease extensions of several businesses along Cherry Lane.  Reeves stated that Academy recently extended their lease for another ten years.  He also said that O’Reily’s Auto Parts and Toys R Us have also extended their leases.