The Dallas Morning News
Cuts out for golf, tennis
Word on the circuit is that the city of Dallas is going to shutter all five of its tennis centers as a way to save a few shekels, maybe as soon as a vote of the City Council on Wednesday. In the immortal words of John McEnroe: You cannot be serious.
But before you take your rackets to City Hall, hold up: It’s not true. Not even close.
I hesitate to call it a rumor, because the panic that prompted — no joke — a few hundred emails and calls to City Hall this week didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. There was, in fact, a discussion just last week at 1500 Marilla that looked at shuttering Fretz Tennis Center, L.B. Houston Tennis Center, Fair Oaks Tennis Center, Kiest Tennis Center and Samuell Grand Tennis Center.
But it was only a hypothetical, a budget exercise — a worst-case-scenario what-if. And even then, at the end of the discussion everyone agreed that closing the tennis centers, which are used by tens of thousands annually, was a very, very bad idea.
Still, the people panicked, and they believed the worst. Because these days, when people swallow everything they see on Facebook or Nextdoor or YouTube, rage is all the rage.
“The public wants answers so quickly now they’re willing to take the wrong one as long as it comes quickly,” said Bobby Abtahi, newly installed president of the Park and Recreation Board.
The reason I bugged Abtahi was because this whole panic at the tennis court started at the park board, where, over the last couple of weeks,
they’ve been debating how to spend dollars in next fiscal year’s budget, which won’t even be voted on until the end of September.
Turns out, Dallas’ new city manager, T.C. Broadnax, asked the park department — along with every other department at City Hall — to come up with three different budgets, a marked change from the way his predecessors used to conduct business.
It used to be that a city manager would spring a budget on the council shortly before summer break, claim it was tens of millions short, and cause a mass panic by insisting we’ll need to close libraries and burn books, replace streets with potholes, and deputize the loose dogs, who will have to replace the cops fleeing a city that pays them in wooden nickels.
Then the city manager, making hundreds of thousands of dollars, would force council members to gut the sucker so they could take the fall.
Now that he’s in charge, Broadnax is asking every department for three variations on a theme, due April 21.
First he wants a baseline budget, which asks how much it will cost next year to stick with what was funded this year. He’s also asking department heads for enhanced budgets, which ask them what they would do with extra dollar bills, if only. And, finally, he wants a reduction budget that cuts 5 percent from this year’s operating budget, just in case revenues tank — or, I guess, we wind up footing the bill for the police and fire pension, lose those back-pay lawsuits, and/or have to fill potholes with feral hogs.
Willis Winters, the architect who runs parks, said Tuesday that Broadnax’s office told him to include the municipal golf courses and tennis centers among the could-be cuts in the reduction budget. But it would be up to the park board to prioritize those cuts. And out of the 16 possible trims, tennis centers came in at No. 15; the golf courses, dead last.
“So right now,” Winters said, “it’s safe to say the park board has determined there will be no cuts to golf and tennis.”
Mostly because it wouldn’t make any sense: The tennis centers cost the city around $157,000 annually. That’s combined. And they generate around $97,000 in revenue annually. When you’re being asked to cut around $4.6 million from your annual operating budget, $60,000 ain’t a whole lot of help. Especially when the cuts would impact around 100,000 players, per city officials. “Doesn’t even dent it,” Abtahi said. So after a brief but spirited discussion at the end of last Thursday’s meeting about what they might have to cut, including everything from aquatics centers to rec center hours, park board members buried the proposed cut at the bottom of the list of hypotheticals and moved on. Talkÿof closingÿtheÿcourts
But between then and now, word spread that tennis centers were about to get their nets cut down.
Heather Stevens, executive director of the Dallas Tennis Association, blamed it Tuesday on a lack of communication from City Hall and some “miscommunication” spread via Facebook and Nextdoor comments.
That’s why she sent a lengthy missive to Mayor Mike Rawlings and the council on Monday capped with this dramatic plea: “We urge you to reconsider closing the tennis centers. This would have a drastic impact on our city and the physical and mental well-being of Dallas citizens.”
By Tuesday afternoon, Stevens sent DTA members an update noting that this was just a budget exercise and that the park department was “hopeful” this would be the end of it. “But that is not a given,” she added. Duey Evans, the pro at Samuell Grand Tennis Center, said he was told by the DTA that the council was going to vote Wednesday to kill the tennis centers. That’s why he made a video, posted Tuesday, titled “Save Dallas Tennis Centers” in which he says that “closing the city of Dallas municipal tennis centers would do irrevocable harm to the community.”
When we spoke Tuesday afternoon, he, too, blamed it on “misinformation.”
The fact is, he said, “I don’t believe the park department or the City Council have an appetite to close the five tennis facilities.” But just in case, he’s leaving the video up.
Council member Philip Kingston took to Facebook on Tuesday morning to vow that the only way the city would shutter the tennis centers is “if the Council loses its collective mind and cuts Parks funding, which it’s not going to do.”
But as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, this note from L.B. Houston’s pro Andrea Rains still topped its website: “This is to notify the patrons of L.B. Houston Tennis Center and all other City of Dallas Tennis Centers that the Park Department is proposing that as of October 1, 2017 all five of their Tennis Centers be closed.”
Rains said she didn’t know it was just a budget exercise until I called her. She was relieved but warned that tennis players are worried the end is near, “and they’re stepping up to bat and getting involved. And that’s good. The city needs to see that.”
Pretty sure City Hall’s seen that. Heard it, too: Late Tuesday, Winters sent the mayor and the council an email letting them know his people were responding to those angry calls and emails they were getting.
Wrote Winters, “We recognize the importance of Dallas tennis centers in contributing to active, healthy lifestyles and continue to support them as vital recreation components of our city.”
Game, set, match.