The long-awaited parking study for the Dallas Arboretum, known as the Desman study, has no bearing on the proposed Garland Road garage, says Barbara Kindig, assistant director of the parks department.
“It’s not material to this garage,” she says, since the Arboretum has opted to privately fund the project that would provide overflow parking for the increased attendance expected with the new Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden, opening Sept. 21.
The city hired Desman Associates in August 2012 to conduct the study after the Winfrey Point parking controversy, spending almost $80,000 worth of parks department funds. The study looks specifically at the Garland Road parking garage solution and whether it fulfills the Arboretum’s need for the next 20 years. The financing is no longer included since the project won’t be funded with city revenue bonds as originally planned, Kindig says.
Nonetheless, she expects the study to be released by “the middle of next month.”
“I purchased the study, and I’m going to get the study,” she says. “People seem to think it’s some kind of smoking gun. It’s not.”
Last week, the Arboretum unveiled early schematic designs of the garage, but some questions remain unanswered as board members work to finalize the details in time for an August press conference.
“The Arboretum wants to hold off on speaking about the parking garage until some decisions are made,” Wendy Rentz, public relations manager, said in an email on Tuesday. “At this time, nothing has changed from the last week’s meeting.”
In a related decision, however, Dallas City Council approved two amendments to its contract with the Arboretum on Wednesday. One allows the Arboretum to use revenue from the paid-parking garage to repay the private loan it’s seeking to finance the project. The second extends the terms of the contract between the city and the Arboretum by 10 years.
Here’s a brief history on their relationship. The city entered into a contract with the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society (DABS) in 1982, providing funds for the Arboretum, which sits on the city-owned DeGolyer Estate and the Camp Estate, which DABS owned at the time. In 1988, the Camp Estate ownership transferred to the city, allowing DABS to receive an annual stipend, set at $295,098, for 25 years with one 10-year renewal option. That came up for review in February and was approved.
On Wednesday, almost four months later, the city granted a second 10-year renewal, continuing its support for the Arboretum through 2033.
“It’s a great deal for the city,” says Willis Winters, director of the parks department.
The annual support includes that stipend of $295,098 plus $395,000 for utility payments (which fluctuates from year to year), totaling $690,098. The city also provided $3 million for the Arboretum in the 2006 bond program — money that went toward buying up properties on Garland Road for parking improvements.
The Arboretum attracted about 1 million visitors last year, including 46,000 schoolchildren on educational trips. The new 8-acre, interactive Children’s Garden, paid for with $62 million in private donations, will make it an even bigger asset, city officials say.
Over the past 10 years, the Arboretum has matched city capital funding of $9.5 million with about $80 million in private funding.
“Our contribution is about a 1-to-20 share,” Winters says.
Kindig says the Desman study is based on the idea that the Arboretum does not intend to grow attendance any more than what will result from the Children’s Garden opening. John Armstrong, the Arboretum’s vice president of property development, said at the June 18 meeting that the new garden can hold up to 1,500 visitors, which could turn over twice a day at peak season.
In April 2012, when the city was still searching for a firm to conduct the parking study, the Dallas Morning News reported that the study would look at how to create a projected 1,900 more spaces. Last week, Armstrong did not answer specifically, saying only that the 1,200 capacity garage would bring them closer to their goal.
So, if the Desman study doesn’t affect the Arboretum’s parking garage plans, then what’s it for?
“Not much,” Kindig says, noting that, while specific to Garland Road, it could somehow be applied to other parking-related projects at city venues such as the Dallas Zoo.
The study, if released as promised, should still provide a definitive answer on what the Arboretum’s parking needs are and how they need to be addressed. We’ll have to wait until August to hear the more detailed plan on the new garage and whether it meets those recommendations (which, apparently, are not binding). Or if it’s just the first of more parking solutions ahead.