Thursday afternoon I was at Dallas City Hall and ran into someone I hadn't seen in a while. I asked her what gives. "The Texas Odyssey," she said, and it took a second to register. But ... oh, right. That Ferris wheel someone wants to plant along Riverfront Boulevard near the Trinity River — to which I had paid zero attention since it was first announced in late May.
What I did know sounded like a good giggle. Because I've seen other developers talk about building Ferris wheels and minor-league ball parks and other shiny things on the shores of the Trinity River. Not a single one came to fruition. And Riverfront, especially that barren and desolate stretch of floodway — no offense — ain't exactly the South Bank of the River Thames in London or a beach in Dubai.
But this observation wheel and surrounding development will eat up seven acres of a valuable 60-acre plot of land owned by developer Jack Matthews, adjacent to where the high-speed rail station and Dallas Water Gardens are planned. There's also a lot of behind-the-scenes firepower behind this: Allyn Media, which helped get Mayor Mike Rawlings and former Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk elected, and Willis Johnson, the radio host-turned-political consultant and lobbyist who's tight with Rawlings and John Wiley Price.
I guess it's like Lyle Lanley once said when pitching monorail to Springfield: "A town with money's a little like the mule with a spinning wheel. No one knows how he got it, and danged if he knows how to use it."
So with nothing better to do I sat through the City Plan Commission's chat about the Texas Odyssey on Thursday — developer David Taggart's third swim through CPC after the wheel was discussed then deferred in July and August. And I discovered it might be bigger than originally announced — closer to 550 feet in diameter than 500. And I heard that there would be flashing logos for a few seconds every 15 minutes. And in the supporting docs I read about a "museum-like area to learn about the region," and saw the ride would last 38 minutes, and discovered there would be a "post-flight area" consisting of "retail, restaurant, and other entertainment uses on the property to encourage regular patronage and activity."
All of which sounds ... pretty nice. Especially down there, in the land of cracked concrete and high weeds, the wasteland between a new 7-Eleven and a restored Longhorn Ballroom. Especially since the developers aren't asking for a dime from the city.
So no wonder, then, that city plan commissioners gave the project their wholehearted, full-throated blessings — save for one, Philip Kingston's appointee Paul Ridley, who said he remains convinced the Texas Odyssey will be "an eyesore on the skyline of the city."
But his colleagues could not rave long enough or loud enough about the project. Some said they were impressed with how developer Taggart met — some 20 to 25 times, by his estimation — with nearby residents who might object to a garish spinning wheel ruining their view of downtown. Some said they were thrilled at the prospect of such a neat something — "iconic" was the word most often used — going in where there was nothing now. And others said it was about time the hind end of Riverfront was given a makeover.
"As a kid that grew up in southern Dallas," said Christoper Lewis, Tennell Atkins' new appointee, "we never had a big draw in southern Dallas — no real aspirations. We always talked negatively about southern Dallas, and for the first time in a long time we have something to talk about positively."
Taggart told me later that after three trips to plan commission, yeah, he was relieved to be done with this first step. "Because any time you have a big object over a certain height with lights on it," he said, "there's going to be a certain amount of reticence and consternation." But, clearly, the worries were unfounded.
The Texas Odyssey is at best still more than a year away from a construction start date. It hasn't been designed, which means there's no price tag. Investors are lined up, but an Allyn Media rep says "nothing will close until zoning, design and cost are finalized." And it still needs council's OK — which I'm sure it'll get, since Adam Medrano, the Cedars' rep, raved about it in a press release, and his appointee Mark Rieves sailed it through plan commission like an investor making a pitch, referring to it as a "landmark project."
And believe it or not, the Cedars Neighborhood Association is all for it, too — and that is a picky lot, dating back to long-ago concerns over Lee Harvey's. But sure enough, Michael Przekwas, the CNA's City Hall liaison, was there Thursday to lend his support. I grabbed him afterward and asked, Are you sure about this?
"I know — I laughed out loud, too, when I first heard about it," he said. "I thought Adam [Medrano] was kidding me. I really did. [But] it would be a great development to activate the Trinity, the Santa Fe Trestle, the connection to Oak Cliff and the connection to the neighborhood. And it's a new idea, something that would be ours."
So there. Now, about that monorail.
Robert Wilonsky, City Columnist
(Picture Courtesy Eye of Texas, LLC/Via Allyn Media)