NORTH PORT — Amid the rumors and social media speculation has surfaced this fact: No one is sure what will happen to the city's Dallas White Park, 19 acres of city-owned playgrounds and monkey bars and ball fields off Tamiami Trail.
But its future cleared a bit Wednesday in a video conferencing roundtable with individual city officials and Colliers International, a firm marketing Dallas White Park as a possible commercial/cultural center to potential suitors. North Port approved a brokerage deal with Colliers in March.
Wednesday's conferencing was to clarify what North Port economic, recreation and community planners had pictured for Dallas White Park, a large area that also has tennis courts, the North Port Art Center, a nonprofit clothing shop, the now vacant former SKY Family YMCA, and a boat launch on the Cocoplum Waterway, a 13-mile stretch within the Myakka River Watershed.
City leadership had met pre-COVID-19 with Colliers to brainstorm ideas for the park, which sits just off Tamiami Trail and North Port Boulevard. The company then built an investor profile of Dallas White and wanted feedback Wednesday from North Port's decision-makers.
North Port marketing Dallas White had drawn some anger, that the city was selling out to profiteers. The city's mayor, however, took to social media to help clear the air.
“Rumor control,” Debbie McDowell posted on a community social media page, “the city is NOT selling the property,” adding that “we realize the Dallas White area is not maximizing its full potential. The buildings are old and in need of serious repairs. Therefore, we hired a marketing firm, Colliers International, to help us find a private partner who would create a mix-use, multi-functional space that can be used for all ages.”
What would the surrounding neighborhood look like and need in the next generation, was the question those at the meeting discussed and planned for, said Mel Thomas, the city's Economic Development director.
“The community,” Thomas said, “is desirous of a place to live, work and play. We need to get creative to do that.”
Vice Mayor Jill Luke had pictured a cultural hotspot at Dallas White, perhaps cafes or niche shops centered on the Cocoplum Waterway, she said, a sort of mini-riverwalk district, while keeping the park's recreational amenities intact.
“We want to keep the park a park,” she said. “But find a way to utilize the water.”
Commissioner Pete Emrich envisioned Dallas White with more space for nonprofits such as the North Port Art Center.
“We're trying to get from Point A to Point B,” Emrich said. “It's 100% negotiable … we're offering up the property to see what comes in.”