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Mayor Mike Rawlings opens Lake Highlands Town Center meeting


Adam McGough hosted a town hall meeting Tuesday night, September 15th at Lake Highlands High School for the sole purpose of discussing Lake Highlands Town Center. McGough gathered the following stakeholders in addition to approximately 250 interested neighbors.

Sue Hounsel, City of Dallas Office of Economic Development
Justin Bono, RISD Trustee
Kathy Stewart, Lake Highlands Public Improvement District (PID)
Brent Brown, City Design Studio
Bill Rafkin, Cypress Real Estate Advisors

Even Big Dog Mayor Mike Rawlings attended. He opened the forum with support for McGough, committed to tapping a keg at Oktoberfest, and acknowledged that, yes, his administration has a focus on economic development in South Dallas, but he hasn’t forgot  “who brung him to the dance”. He wants to be a “big blocking back’ as McGough “carries the ball” for a Town Center that will “endure for decades.”

Sue Hounsel was the first panel member to speak. As part of the City of Dallas economic development team, she has been involved with the Town Center since its inception. She provided a brief oral history—Skillman TIF created in 2005, first Town Center development agreement in 2007, a TIF modification in 2011 and the completion of The Haven in 2014.

Bill Rafkin, representing the owner Cypress Real Estate Advisors, laid out their vision for Lake Highlands Town Center. He started with the premise “what you want and need is what we want to build.” He complimented Sue’s historical summary and then added a few items, including announcing that Sprouts has signed a lease as a 30,000 sf grocery anchor. That received the night’s largest spontaneous applause. Other tenants Cypress hopes to secure are soft goods stores, personal service retailers and a “prominent coffee purveyor based in Seattle”. He noted the community’s interest in local restaurant operators and wants to find “the perfect blend of dining options.”

Rafkin introduced the concept of a “village green” and argued that the words urban and suburban are “abstract terms that are hard to define.” Cypress is focused is on creating something “extraordinary, not ordinary” but one that must be “market–facing” and “meets today’s realities.” Rafkin took a bold step in stating that the original plan of 2,000 apartments and 2,500,000 s.f. of office and retail was “overreaching” and the project will be “downscaled significantly” from the initial vision.

Brent Brown, an architect and leader of City Design Studio, gave a history of the studio. He described it as a “public/private partnership” to introduce “a function of design inside city government.”  For projects that are eligible for TIF funds, developers must submit their plans to City Design Studio. Brown acknowledged “ a tension between what was declared as the vision and invested in” and the site plan that Cypress proposed. A quick approval as submitted would be a” disrespect to the time and energy that citizen from this community put forward for many years.”

Brent asked “Is the vison still relevant? Do you still want a Town Center?” Unless he “hears otherwise” the studio must work toward “fulfilling that vision.” He wrapped up by saying the studio is a resource to “employ design and your interests together to achieve a town center ….that is Lake Highlands.”

Kathy Stewart discussed the history and origin of the PID and its financial commitment, along with developer funds, to help maintain Watercrest Park, including landscaping, irrigation and fountains. Long story short, the irrigation and the fountains were designed to draw water from Jackson Branch creek and the newly constructed lake. The presence of silt and “maybe bad engineering” has rendered the irrigation and fountains in disrepair and unreliable. The PID and the Cypress have chosen to change the source of irrigation water from the creek and lake to city water and hope to have it functioning by spring along with new landscaping. The fountain space will be changed to another feature, perhaps art. On a more positive note, Stewart announced that she and Adam McGough’s wife Lacy are planning for events promoted as Sundays in the Park with music, food trucks and the like. The first Sunday in the Park will be from 4-6 PM on Sunday, November 8th. The plan is for seven Sundays in the Park throughout the year in the months where an outside event will work.

Justin Bono wrapped up the prepared remarks with support from RISD.

Questions ensued. The crux of the debate is the tension between the “original vision” and what is now “market –facing.” How will this eventually play out? Read the feature piece in October’s printed edition where The Advocate does a deep dive on this pivotal period for Lake Highlands Town Center.