A land bridge across Beckley Avenue will offer a distinctive entrance to the 250-acre Harold Simmons Park's West Overlook. Courtesy of Trinity Park Conservancy.

June 4, 2024

A park along the Trinity River in downtown Dallas appears to be finally becoming a reality after more than 25 years in the planning stage.

The 250-acre Harold Simmons Park is slated to break ground later this year.

The Simmons Park plans were unveiled in December but the project dates back to 1998, when voters first approved a park.

“This started out as a dream quite a few years back,” said Tony Moore, CEO of the Trinity Park Conservatory, which is overseeing the project. 

The park will be located between the two Margarets — The Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge on the north end, and the Margaret McDermott Bridge at the South end.

Harold Simmons Park in downtown Dallas will feature five overlook parks. A nature preserve will be located along the floodway. Courtesy of Trinity Park Conservatory.

WATER UNDER THE BRIDGE

The green space is named for the late husband of donor Annette Simmons, who gave $50 million to the project in honor of her spouse Harold Simmons, the founder of Waste Control Specialists. According to Trinity Park Conservatory, the gift was the largest private donation to a city project in Dallas history.

The venture had a rocky start.

In the early 2000s, the plan included a controversial toll road built in the flood plain. A coalition fought against the tollway for a decade, finally defeating it in 2017.

Critics were also vocal about planned park features to be built inside the flood plain.

"The notion of a park in the Trinity River floodway, since its inception, has always been at odds with an inconvenient reality," wrote Peter Simak in D Magazine in 2021. "That large green space between the levees is not a blank slate. It is a functioning flood mitigation tool with a delicate ecology."

Eventually, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers forced planners to go back to the drawing board when it signaled it would not approve any built additions in the flood zone, according to NBCDFW.

“The design has evolved from having the built environment inside the levees,” Moore explained. “Now we have built environments that create gateways to the flood plain.” 

The final plan now calls for a series of parks, each with unique features, that overlook a restored nature preserve inside the flood plain with trails.

The West Overlook park is the largest of the five gateway parks. Pictured, a rendering of the Shed, a former industrial structure to be used for pop-up markets. Courtesy of Trinity Park Conservatory.

MASTER PLAN

To get to the final design, the city worked with landscape architect, Michael Van Valkenburgh and Associates, a company that focuses on sustainability and conservation-based design. Lake Flato Architects are designing the park buildings and an industrial structure is being updated by Wernerfield architects. 

Estimated cost of the project is $325 million.

Moore said community input has been at the forefront of the project from the start. 

“Before my time, my predecessor Brent Brown spent a lot of time in the community,” said Moore. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve spent quite a bit of time in homes, in schools, in community centers.”

The master plan encompasses 250 acres, with the Trinity River and the floodplain making up 200 acres of the park, which Moore calls the “heart” of the park. The floodplain will be naturalized, exposing visitors to biodiversity, aquatic environments and migratory birds.

“We think there’s this opportunity to bring our visitors to nature,” said Moore.

BUILT ENVIRONMENT

A rendering of the West Overlook, which has 12 distinct attractions. Courtesy of Trinity Park Conservatory. See interactive map.

The built environment outside the floodway amounts to 50 acres.

The 22-acre West Overlook, near Commerce and Beckley, is the largest of the five overlook parks. The West Overlook includes 12 major features, including a landscaped land bridge that allows visitors to cross Beckley Avenue into the park; a state-of-the-art event center; a cafe; a skate and bike park; and a splash pad, which was requested by the community to combat the heat.

Expected to be a popular attraction for families is the Play Cove, a playground featuring interactive two-story towers, bridges, a canal and a kid-friendly cable ferry, which harkens back to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn when they'd cross the river using a pulley system and a barge, Moore said.

“It’s designed on a safe cable system that you simply step on and just pull yourself along from one bank to the other,” Moore explained.

In addition, a 40,000-square-foot event lawn is designed to hold up to 3,000 visitors.

The Play Cove includes two-story towers, bridges and a kid-friendly cable ferry. Courtesy of Trinity Park Conservatory.

GREEN FEATURES

In addition to establishing a nature preserve in the flood plain, the master plan includes some other green features of note: 

Water from the splash pad is recycled and used for irrigation for the park. 

Another recycled feature of the park is a 1,000-foot industrial reused structure called "The Shed," which will provide covered seating and be used for events such as farmers markets and art programming. 

Also a Filter Garden will be installed with aquatic plants that act as biofilters. 

The Filter Garden's aquatic plants serve a biofilters. Courtesy of Trinity Park Conservatory.

The Urban Heat Island effect is also something addressed in the park design with the planting of more than 1,500 mature trees and 3,000 shrubs — altogether more than 100,000 plants incorporated into the design, according to Moore. 

“All this foliage will help reduce the heat island impact and make it a very cool place.” Moore said. “After last July being the hottest July on record, we just started going back and looking at different applications of cooling down.”

These cooling features include sprinkler and misting systems, the Shed and the splash pad already mentioned, however, Moore explains that the best cooling system is foliage. 

“We’re going to be very intentional with the native and adaptable plants that we will plant in the park.”

Meanwhile, the six-acre Felix Lozada overlook, near the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and Beckley, is the second largest and will feature four sport courts and a roller rink.

Construction for the park will start later this year. More details will be announced at a later date. 

Julie Thibodeaux contributed to this article.


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