Spotlight on Community
Visions of Bayside Danced in our Heads
If you want to boost the attendance at a local MLS meeting, have someone from the city of Rowlett come talk about Bayside. At least, that's what I've observed over the last few years. Way back in August of 2017, Spot On Images had just joined MetroTex and I attended my first Rockwall MLS meeting. I sat transfixed as the Bayside developer shared his vision. It was amazing, but there was also a faint hint of snake oil in the air. Developers are salesmen before they are anything else.
I dutifully shared what I had learned here on the blog and I was very enthusiastic about it, but I wondered if they could actually turn little old Rowlett into an entertainment destination. I'd watched the Kemah Boardwalk grow from nothing into something. The same thing had happened at Lakeway near Austin. But Kemah came in on the coattails of Galveston, which was already a tourist draw and Lakeway had Austin, live music capitol of the Southwest. Would the DFW Metroplex be able to pull off the same sort of miracle?
We were told the first phase of the project would be the residential portion of Bayside on the north side of I-30. This would create income to fund the building of the entertainment district on the south side. Things seemed to move more slowly than the developer had promised, but eventually we did begin to see dirt move.
Then the Grinch Stole Our Lagoon
By February of 2018, there were already rumors floating around that Bayside was in trouble. The promised Las Vegas style fountain was the first victim and soon our Crystal Lagoon was also on the chopping block. By April a new man was heading up the development team. He was "digging deeper," and using words like "trends" "market-driven" and "sustainable."
I'm no market specialist, but last time I checked the fountains in Vegas hadn't lost any of their popularity and neither have beaches. This guy was talking typical "mixed use development." News flash!! This is DFW. Try driving in any direction without running into the latest "mixed use development" with commercial and residential spaces flourishing and some restaurants thrown in for fun. Oh and a dog park. Metroplex folks love their dogs.
For all the talking, the progress we were seeing on the north side was not very reassuring. Land development, in the early stages, has a lot in common with drying paint. Trailers were set up and equipment could be seen moving about, but from our vantage point, whizzing by on the I-30 bridge, it didn't exactly look like a community, yet. The first structure to go up was appalling. There on a beautiful hill that was once stretch of inviting green grass, we now had a parking structure going up. Joni Mitchell's anthem was happening in our front yard, "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."
Stand by Your Lagoon
Then in July of 2018 MetroTex members heard from the mayor of Rowlett. She was polite and professional. After all, the Bayside developers were busy building apartments and a park on the north side of I-30 for her city. So far, with the green backer board walls it looked a little like a Soviet apartment block with an unfortunate color choice, but we were reassured it was going to be lovely when they were through. However, she was also deadly serious, Rowlett didn't want another multi-use development, they wanted an entertainment district and they intended to get it. You go, Mayor Lady! I shared that bit of news here, too.
Sometimes developers' dreams are chewed up and spit out by city governments. There's a good example right here in Heath. The original vision for the Heath Yacht and Boat Club included a canal and homes with boat docks. I don't know all the details of the death of that dream, but there will be no canals. I can only imagine how disappointed the developer was with that dream died. Rowlett was determined to get its dream.
A few weeks later, we also had an opportunity to hear from the developer, but I didn't report on that at all. Instead of the guy in charge, we got some ladies from the marketing department and a video. The video was shot from near ground level looking through heads of prairie grass. The whole thing was presented as an environmental favor the developer was doing for the community. We were warned we couldn't ask any questions about the south side of Bayside, because there was a legal battle going on. Since the south side is what everyone really cared about, it wasn't a satisfying meeting at all.
I felt like the developer's representatives had taken me on a visit to Spin City. There was a sort of smugness about it - like even though they weren't saying so, we might as well kiss our fountain and lagoon bye-bye. These people had their environmental studies and millennial market surveys. They were going to win and we might as well start appreciating our environmentally-sustainable prairie grass. My money was on the mayor lady, even though it felt like a long shot.
Fast forward to the July MLS meeting in Rockwall, which by the way is at The Landing, looking right across to the lagoon's battleground. Brian Funderburk, Rowlett City Manager, was the speaker. That was one happy man. He had a lot to talk about. He gave us some final facts and figures about the tornado Rowlett, from which Rowlett had finally recovered. He bragged on Rowlett for having the foresight to sign a disaster assistance agreement with other local communities, which turned an estimated $7 million clean-up into a half-million dollar job. He was very proud of the way developments around the city were progressing, both in new projects and in upwardly spiraling success.
He saved his biggest grin for Bayside. We'd all heard about the legal wranglings between the developer and the city. We imagined it going on for decades while the south rotted away and its chain link fences sagged, but Mr. Funderburk had good news.
A real estate deal should be closing by the end of July. The current development on the north side with its sustainable prairie grass will remain in the hands that started the project. The original vision of the south side will be resurrected by a completely different development company, which will have to come up with a new name. He couldn't give us details, but he about busted the buttons off his shirt when he announced, "There will be a lagoon." It was a Hallelujah Morning!
My small protest against the prairie grass, the Soviet apartment buildings and the typical multi-use development, had been to refuse to even enter the north side development. Certainly no one actually cared that I didn't visit, but it somehow made me feel better.
After the Hallelujah Morning, Bill and I decided to go take a look. I take back what I said about the Soviet apartment bloc. The finished product is looking very nice and quite frankly we were impressed with the park - prairie grass and all. There are also houses going up - small millennial directed spaces next to the lake. The developer had talked about weekend residences and retirement homes, but with all those steps and no room for the silver, I'm thinking yuppiesville - millennial style.
What's Up Pussycat?
So, now we wait. Will the big real estate deal go through? We're all cheering for the team who promises us a lagoon, but will we ever, in fact, see it. Will the south side actually become an entertainment district?
Bill guesses the original developer is probably crying all the way to the bank. They'd managed to create a vision which gave them access to the north side, which is where the profit was. They're sitting pretty on their, amongst all their sustainable prairie grass and they have a dog park. How will developer number two support the building of the south side without the income from the north side? Are they biting off more than they can chew, leaving our community with a pile of promises and no entertainment district?
What's up Pussycat? We'll just have to wait and see.