A new proposal to build a game field at Willis Winters Park has some residents worried that it would disrupt the quiet nature of the neighborhood.
Community members discussed the plan Tuesday at a 90-minute virtual meeting. One hundred people attended, and it was moderated by Juliette Fowler Communities president Nicole Gann. Juliette Fowler’s facility is adjacent to the park.
The plan would create a new 2.2-acre park, install new amenities — such as trail lighting, security cameras and free public Wifi — on existing parkland and build a 4,000-seat game field for students at Woodrow Wilson High School and J.L. Long Middle School students.
In his support of the proposal, Santa Fe Avenue neighbor Ross Williams said the game field would fill a community need by providing more space for student activities. Four high school football teams, two middle school football teams, six high school soccer teams, four middle school soccer teams, two drill teams, two bands and neighborhood youth athletics currently share the park.
The stadium would also reduce travel costs, which in some cases, requires a U-Haul rental for equipment, Williams said.
“Our students have never experienced a ‘home’ game,” said Tony Benedetto, Woodrow’s athletic coordinator and football coach. “One thing we say at Woodrow is, ‘If it’s right for the kids, then it’s right,’ no matter what it takes for adults to make it happen. I support the proposal for a game field.”
If a home game is to be played at Winters Park, located on North Glasgow Drive across the street from Woodrow, there needs to be parking. Williams suggested using satellite parking within a half mile and busing fans to games. “No parking” signs could be installed in residential areas on game days, and violators should be towed, he said.
Located adjacent to the park is the Junius Heights Historic District. The president of the neighborhood association, Rene Schmidt, said residents opposed the proposal because of light pollution, noise and crowds that might gather.
Neighbor Tom Methvin, the meeting’s designated speaker against the proposal, said a new stadium isn’t needed. Despite an upcoming vote on the largest public school bond package in state history, Dallas ISD has not requested any dollars for new stadiums.
Not only would a stadium disrupt the beauty of the park, it could increase crime, Methvin said. Some studies suggest that violent crimes and property-related crimes increase near sporting venues on game days. That would detract from enhancements that Friends of Willis Winters Park and other community advocates have implemented in recent years, Methvin said.
“It’s possible to love Woodrow and hate the stadium,” he said.
District 14 Councilman David Blewett and District 2 school board trustee Dustin Marshall attended the meeting but did not issue a statement for or against the proposal.
“I’m really here just to listen,” Marshall said. “I am excited about the prospect of having an additional athletic facility at Woodrow, but I’m also eager to understand the concerns of neighbors around the proposed field. Tonight was a great start, and I appreciate the dialogue.”
The park and stadium projects are two separate concepts that are linked together because the proposal group has offered to pay for both of them as a package, District 14 Park and Recreation Board member Amanda Schulz said. The donors for the project are unclear.
Any proposal would be subject to the Park and Recreation Department’s request-for-proposals process. If a community consensus cannot be reached after two department-led community input sessions, the proposal is not likely to move forward to more advanced phases, Schulz said.
No formal proposal has been submitted, and the department has no change-of-use or construction plans for the park, board president Calvert Collins-Bratton said.
The idea for an athletic facility at the park has been floated for years, most recently in 2017. However, none of the proposals has come to fruition.
Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.