An urban farm development in Lake Highlands will now be headed by Atlanta-based nonprofit City of Refuge instead of locally based Bonton Farms.
The 12-acre project proposes the construction of an urban farm, farmers market, restaurant, coffee shop, co-working space and workforce innovation hub at 12000 Greenville Avenue. The project will serve the surrounding community and vulnerable residents.
Farm founder Daron Babcock told the Dallas Morning News he had to let go of the development after tackling too many projects at once. He worked on the “Bonton Farms north” concept and his community development arm is working on bringing 17 South Dallas lots back to life.
The decision did not come easily to Babcock as he wanted to live up to his promises to the community.
“I’m really hardheaded about that,” he said to the Dallas Morning News. “But I realized I was risking being so hardheaded that I could jeopardize the great foundation we’ve built.”
But project champion Mayor Pro Tem Adam McGough said the development is still in good hands with City of Refuge. The nonprofit has been a key partner of the Lake Highlands project from its inception and offers over 23 years of experience building housing options and workforce innovation hubs with various corporate partnerships.
“I want to express my appreciation to Daron and the entire team at Bonton Farms for their roles in helping this concept grow into an innovative project that led to an option agreement on the land from the City of Dallas, support from the community, and interest from numerous partners and potential funders,” said Mike Reinsel, CEO of City of Refuge – Dallas, in a press release. “Project leadership, partners, philanthropists and other stakeholders remain committed to creating a unique place at 12000 Greenville Avenue that benefits the Lake Highlands and Hamilton Park communities.”
Even with the shift in leadership, the development’s underlying foundation, core beliefs and design remains, McGough said.
“The only part that I perceive changing is not because of the partnerships or anything else, it’s going to be as we continue to engage with the community and try to meet the interests and needs that are voiced during that process more-so than anything else,” he said. “We’re even waiting on additional engagement before we pick a name for the project.”
Switching roles within the project comes at a healthy point in the process, McGough said. Some of the key players at Bonton Farms are still involved.
“When you talk about the actual part with the city, they have to sign off with a nonprofit, and it’s more appropriate for it to be City of Refuge – Dallas than it is Bonton Farms based on the role everybody’s taking right now,” he said.
Steve Van Amburgh, CEO of development firm KDC, has agreed to help with project management, oversight and procurement of construction-related needs, per the release. Bobby Page, founding partner of JPI, will serve as a development advisor and will assist with fundraising efforts.
The option agreement for the project will be edited and put before the City Council next week, McGough said. But the final approval of the project by council still in the works.
“When we’re able to put together all the different pieces, we’ll take that back to council and it just has to be done within the next 12 months,” he said. “I believe it’ll be much sooner than that.”
As everything stands, McGough said he is optimistic about the project.
“We want the neighbors and the community surrounding this area in a year to come back and say ‘We are so thankful that this project is here. We go eat our meals there, we go grab coffee there, we set our meeting there, we’re able to share spaces with a lot of different people at the same time,'” he said.