Below is a Facebook article by Jeff Winget. I thank and appreciate Mr. Winget's efforts to gather info and inform Rowlett citizens of a very important topic. Behind some of Mr. Winget's comments are some of mine. Please do not think any of my comments are a criticism of Mr. Winget. They are not. I am only commenting on the story as represented to Mr. Winget by the developer, Tom D'Alesandro. I have some input because Mr. D'Alesandro called me on the following day, Aug 1, at 11:06, and we talked for about an hour. The two stories don't quite match up.
This is a summary of my conversation with Tom D'Alesandro (Lead Developer for Bayside). I spoke to him for about 45 minutes on Tuesday 7/31 and promised him I would share this information in an unbiased way. All of this is my paraphrased interpretation of what Tom told me. None of it is a direct quote from him, and should not be treated as such. I hope you find this informational.
Tom's view of the situation is that there is a fundamental disconnect between two goals -
1) A financial goal: Rowlett's effort to attract large users of 1.7M sq.ft. of office, hotel, conference center, retail, entertainment, dining space (the majority of which do not currently exist in Rowlett). What does the office and hotel portion need to be successful? Attracting users who are not near Rowlett today. (Duh. Do you think desirability has anything to do with it?)
2) To construct a Caribbean style resort including the Crystal Lagoon. (I have sailed all over the Caribbean. Many islands I have visited more than once. I kinda know what the Caribbean looks like. I have not seen anything yet that cries out"Caribbean!!".........maybe Southern Italy.)
NEW PLAN - The broad strategy being to create an environment that is attractive to those users. This plan combines the hotel and conference center, leveraging the lake by connecting a plaza with restaurants and open space. To leverage the lake, which is what the hotels are really looking for (not a lagoon), and create a border to I-30 which is not just parking lots followed by buildings like you would see all through Mesquite/Garland. (I know what financial leveraging is, but at a little loss on how to "leverage" a lake. Does that mean take advantage of? The lake has been here 45 years and no one has experienced any success of the lake providing any overwhelming attractiveness to a business........except the marinas. The lake is nice, but has not had a history of providing more magnetism than good old sound business acumen. Everyone knows the lake is here. About the only recognizable financial plus, is the price of waterfront lots. All else is pretty basic. If there is a demand for a hotel, there is a demand for a hotel, lake or not. Same with office, housing, or restaurants. Most of the developer's story to Jeff is just "spin." I want them to show me the facts.)
OLD PLAN - The package proposed originally (the Crystal Lagoon, zip-line, trolley, waterjet fountain and etc.) were not tactics that aligned with attracting these users. (Sez who? Where's the facts?) While they are attention-grabbing, it did not accomplish the goal bringing in users to those spaces. (Sez who?) The target audience wanted a more natural setting, and an 8-acre lagoon does not accomplish that. (Again, sez who?) The Crystal Lagoon as was presented was too "exotic/tropical" in theme, and not native to the North Texas area. (Prove it!! Everyone I have talked to wants the lagoon to remain in the development. Killer bees aren't wanted either, but they're here. Must be attracted by something. I know!! They're here because there is no lagoon.)
JEFF: How did you come to such a different conclusion from the previous developer?
TOM: This is a plan that appeared to be created by an owner, city, and developer without prior experience with this type of development. (Well, that captures everybody except Tom. However, it's hard to find good help.) It appears research was not done because there were just too many things wrong with it. The property looks like 3 bands (see attached graphic) - upper (strip shopping on the north face, much like I-30 already has between Dallas & Rowlett with parking lots and box retailers), middle (massive apartment blocks), bottom (Caribbean fantasy land, with the lagoon, single loaded retail similar to what Rockwall has, poor parking, etc). Furthermore, the wind coming off the lake from the south would carry the 60-foot fountain into the northern parts of the penninsula, plus the cost to operate will be thousands of dollars per night. (Folks, this is all "spin." I have to take issue here. Apparently, our City Council was so stupid as to buy into what the idiot first developer and the uninformed owners wanted. Only Tom could see the light, and raced in to save the day. In addition, the wind is so bad coming off the lake that it would blow the water spray over the lower acreage south of I-30, across I-30 and into the northern parts of the peninsula. Folks, that's a long way, and every day, too. Being an old dumb sailor that has sailed on the winds of Lake Ray Hubbard for 40 years, my only solution would be to flip the power switch on the fountain to the OFF position. But, what do I know? I've only been in the business as long as Tom is old. And, let's see......thousands of dollars per night operating costs? That's plural, so I assume something over $2,000 per day. Do you believe that? You don't even run air conditioning while spraying water.)
There seems to be a conflict within what the City wants this to be. The City wants this to be a park, but also wants it to be a successful commercial destiation, and then also wants it to be an 'amusement park' (referring to the Crystal Lagoon, zip-lines, etc.). What we should do is to bring back the original market studies that show a problem and then develop solutions. The first market studies identified problems but did not present solutions. (Most of the above is pure spin, but there is some fairly meaty comments. First, as I've said all along, where are the facts? Where is the market research data? Tom keeps telling us what it says, but never produces it. Secondly, I don't know what the city wanted. I did not sit in on planning sessions. Again, it's what Tom tells us. What meetings with the city? Where did the city communicate their desires? The first developer grew up in the family business of finance and real estate development. To paint him as a dupe and inexperienced is not very professional. So far, Tom is not winning me over.)
JEFF: What type of office space users are you trying to attract.
TOM: Office space should not be reduced, or if it is, only slightly. The goal is to replicate the office and hotel space shown in the original plan. The retail cannot be replicated because of the 'retail apocolypse'. (What is a "retail apocalypse"?) A lot of people are shopping outside the Rowlett Market (such as Firewheel, etc.). Retail could be what it was originally only if there is a "retail-rennaisance". (What is a retail Renaissance?.. most retailers I talk to seem to feel business is pretty good and really don't need an "awakening.")" One rumor that's been passed around is that we are increasing residential, however there is a cap on residential and only 20% of the land can be devoted to residential per the FBC. (Okay, at the citizen's meeting, it was said that there would be an increase of townhouse land because of the absence of the lagoon. How does that not increase the 20% residential....or was the 20% understated before? Folks, more spin. Talking without thinking.)
JEFF: Do you think a bigger focus on developing places to go experience things rather than shop is the way to go?
TOM: Yes, we are focusing on creating outdoor spaces. The new lagoon is more natural and is 2 acres in size. It looks more like Barton Springs rather than something out of the Caribbean; and 2-acres is still massive and is scaled better. (Where did a 2 acre lagoon come from? This is the first I have heard of it. Furthermore, where did a four year build out time come from? ) There are also 4-5 acres of lawn that lead up to a stage where performances can happen. There is beach volleyball, pickleball, and others. The marina will be moved out, and the cove will become a kayak area which is actually in the lake (but behind the breakwater). (They have a horrible plan for a kayak basin. The City of Rowlett has a much better potential for a kayak and canoe basin than Bayside, but that's another story.)
JEFF: The FAQ page on your website indicated you had met with the Mayor's office previously. Without getting into gossip, can you elaborate on that?
TOM: Yes, we gave a 2-hour presentation on July 10 at 2:30pm to the Mayor, City Manager, City Attorney, Asst. Economic Development Director, and with the architects & land planners. The presentation given this week was the same one as before, with only a few added to answer questions that were asked during the first meeting. That meeting spurred the meeting in front of the entire council. At that meeting, we were told we weren't doing what the zoning required, but in fact we are. There is a framework plan which governs zoning and our plan is more consistent with that than the Crystal Lagoon was. (This would be very, very debatable, and now would be a good time for legal advise regarding representations, not differences of opinion.).
We were asked not to share this with council until city leaders had seen the presentation, and we honored that, so I see why council was upset. (I thought the City Council were city leaders. Is there a shadow government that I don't know about? Who asked Tom not to share with Council? So, I guess everyone except Council knew about proposed changes? Where was legal council in this subterfuge?)
During the meeting, we also asked which if any of the Council members had even seen a Crystal Lagoon, and none had. (I see. It was the City Council's fault. Folks, the City Council was not investing the money. The owner's were.) For us to invest hundreds of millions of dollars having not even seen one is a very risky position. (Hundreds of millions of dollars for a sand bottom vinyl lined pool!!?? The lagoon is essentially a very large vinyl lined pool. Take a cheap sand bottom vinyl lined pool of about 15' x 20' that cost about $15k to build. To expand to 8 acres would be 1,161 times for a cost of $1.742 million to build.........a little less than "hundreds of millions of dollars. Give me a break, Tom. I got out of the 6th grade and was pretty good at arithmetic.) The stragegy is to build a financially successful district. The lagoon is a tactic to accomplish that, but the City is making it out to be the strategy, not a tactic. (Whatever the hell that means.)
JEFF: Given the previous plan was touted as "world-class", how do we convince people to travel here from DFW Airport rather than staying somewhere like the Gaylord Texan?
TOM: First, we are celebrating the lake. From PGBT to the lake, you are arriving at a 4-star resort hotel on the lake. It's more of a park-like setting, with trails and extensive landscaping, than it is today. There is a heavy focus on nature which will pull people in. (The two previous comments are pure BS.) What we will create is a combination of this natural setting with an urban core where you can still see the lake, that forms a tight mixed-use center surrounded by park land. (Some more BS.)
Under the old plan, aside from the Crystal Lagoon, the rest of Bayside is not world class. The new plan is to produce a well-designed development. Unfortunately the City did not give us time to prepare some of the more attractive graphics for the presentation, but we plan to set up public venues for people to see these plans in the coming months. (Once again, it s the city's fault. Plus, some more BS) We have done our homework and hired great designers to make this work. (By who's opinion?)
JEFF: How do you feel about the public reaction so far?
TOM: I don't think we've had a chance to tell our story yet, and because the City told us to not tell our story until we'd talked to them, we haven't had our chance yet. (Once again, would the city please get out of the way? We're trying to build something here.) But when we did, the City reacted in an abrupt way. We are definitely open to discussion, but it must be anchored in - are we trying to create Coney Island or are we trying to create an elegant commercial center and park? (Coney Island has boardwalks, basketball shooting booths, kuppie doll baseball throwing booths, and bumper cars. I don't remember the original plan having any of these features.) If we are really going after a commercial hotel and class-A office space, we can't do Coney Island. We've done the research to prove our plan will work, but with the City's plan, it's all based on hope that the Crystal Lagoon will do all that for us.
I disagree with the whole idea that the City of Rowlett was basing their entire comfort level on the development of the crystal lagoon. Every one that I have talked to knew that the lagoon was only part of the package. It was an important part, but still only a part. Far more significant was the whole picture. The original presentation certainly put a trophy on Rowlett's mantle, however it was the complete program that was important. The current developer is acting as tho he is the only smart guy in the room without proving it. Some of his "concepts" I just flat disagree with. And.....I've had more experience in this business than he is years old. I could probably put up references from 30-40 real estate lending bank officers to support my claim.
Tom's claims are pure spin. But, you must remember he's a good ole boy from Chicago. I know a little bit about Chicago developers. I once sit in a deposition with three Chicago lawyers at the same time, right in he Loop, because I was suing a City, a title company, and a Savings and Loan association. I only had my attorney from Dallas with me. We kicked their ass.
I have not heard one scintilla of evidence supporting Tom's presentation. Am I against change? Of course not, but I want to see the data. I want to know the questions, who were asked, and where they come from. I want to see some cost estimates. I want to hear about progress on the I-30 renovations. I want to see a reasonable estimate of the time line. I want to see the benefit package flowing to the City of Rowlett. Lastly, I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR ANY MORE SPIN. I'm an adult. I expect to be treated as one.
Again, thanks to Jeff. Good job.