Irving citizens learn about concerns related to Irving Entertainment Center

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Anthony Bond addresses concerned Irving citizens during a meeting after the closing of Big Beat Dallas, while (foreground, left to right) A.D. Jenkins, Abdel Khreiwesh, (background, left to right) Marina Ecolatino and Makini Shakur listen on. (Photo: Rachel Hawkins / NDG)

By: Rachel Hawkins, NDG Staff Writer

Concerned citizens of Irving met on Thursday, June 28 at Red Lobster to discuss several aspects that led to the closing of Big Beat Dallas at the Toyota Music Factory. Also in attendance at the meeting were representatives of Billy Bob Barnett, Big Beat Dallas owner. The primary goal of this meeting was to inform the citizens of recent behind the scenes activity related to Big Beat’s closure and related lawsuit.

Reportedly, Billy Bob brought the entertainment concept to Irving in 2006. A referendum went before the citizens of Irving and was passed in 2007 by voters in support of building the entertainment center.

Therefore, many were surprised at the abrupt closing of Big Beat Dallas on May 29, following advice from his legal advisors.

“This is personal to me,” Anthony Bond said at last week’s meeting. “Behind the scenes, it’s a complete mess, and the citizens of Irving don’t have a clue,” he shared adding his chief concern is what is in the best interest of the Irving citizens. “We need for everyone who was involved, to tell the truth, and let’s do the best for the Toyota Music Factory.”

The City of Irving is slated to enter into mediation with the ARK Group on July 22 to decide if the requested $44 million should be paid based on a definition of completion. Currently, the definition of completion is in dispute.

“It’s a series of complicated issues, but we have reason to believe that the Irving entertainment center was not completed as it was supposed to be completed significantly,” Dan Phillips, advisor to Billy Bob stated.

“Originally we were supposed to open in February 2017.  The pavilion didn’t open until November 2017, and it was a disaster. They had 300 items on their punch list,” according to Phillips.

The city commissioned two independent surveys with each determining the parking is not adequate.

“What ARK has done in order to gain more square footage, they are trying to say that streets that run behind the Alamo and the pavilion, are counted as part of that plaza,” according to Phillips.

There were also allegations the project had a required completion date of  Feb. 28, 2018, to qualify for the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) grant. Part of the agreement stated nine restaurants were expected to be completed by this date, in addition to five thousand square feet of retail space.

One of the allegations is ARK played musical chairs with the accessories, including toilets, countertops, etc. to gain Certificate of Occupancy (CO).

“They would put them into a venue to get their CO and the next day they would take it out,” Phillips said. “There is a long list of certification requirements, and they certified that they met all of them.”

Irving Mayor Rick S discusses the city’s concerns with the project during the recent Irving City Council meeting on June 28.

The video linked here features Mayor Rick Stopfer discussing his displeasure with how the city’s partnership with ARK Group has resulted in what he characterized as mistreatment of city staff and threats of lawsuits from parties representing the ARK Group.

The Irving Taxpayers Matter, an Irving-based 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation, filed a lawsuit last month seeking to prevent the City of Irving from releasing $44 million of taxpayer’s money requested by ARK for additional building expenses.

“We want the council to have the courage to do what they should do,” Phillips said. “If the council follows the contract and ARK doesn’t get the money, then it [the taxpayer lawsuit] goes away, and the money can be put to proper use at the Toyota Music Factory and be done with them,” he added.

“They didn’t do what they were supposed to do, and the council knows,” Phillips said. “They are afraid that they are going to get sued.

Additional concerns

There was a question raised by the language ARK included in the lease agreement regarding the type of music and the order of the music which the tenant could play in their restaurant. According to the petition included as a sidebar to this story:

“For example, is the following language racially discriminatory to a tenant at the Toyota Music Factory if this language is included in their lease agreement with the Ark Group?

‘A tenant shall not permit two(2) “hip-hop or Tejano” or “rap” music formatted songs to be played back to back.’”

“I knew that this would touch a chord with some people,” Bond stated.

Other concerns include the failure to meet other stated goals during the construction phase.

“The City of Irving, we forced them to sign an M/WBE (Minority and Women-Owned Business) policy and they endorsed it in 2007, but they didn’t adopt it until 2008,” according to Bond. The goal was to award 32 percent of the contracts to M/WBEs; however, reportedly the project did not reach the 20 percent benchmark.

Other speakers suggest the city is hesitant to engage in more lawsuits surrounding this project having lost an earlier case.

“That’s what the problem has been, the city is so afraid because they had actually lost that lawsuit and they are being sued again because they don’t have a proper legal standing to stand on and the actions have already been taken,” Sanko Prioleau II, candidate for the District 4 seat on the Irving Independent School District school board, said.

 

Citizens petition for Fairness at Irving Toyota Music Factory

Please see the text of the petition received by NDG from the community group:

“We the undersigned Irving Concerned Citizens for Fairness, are asking our Irving City Council can be emailed as a group [email protected]

We are asking the Irving City Council to conduct a thorough investigation surrounding the following concerns about practices by the Ark Groups at the Irving Toyota Music Factory before the disbursement of the pending $44 million TIF payment to the Ark Group, the developer of the Toyota Music Factory. Our concerns are as follows:

  1. Is Irving Mayor, Rick Stopher, right in saying that the Ark Group has threatened two of our current City Council members and threatened to sue the City of Irving  if this City Council does not vote ASAP to pay them the $44 Million TIF payment?
  2. Are we right in our understanding that this payment is to be made only upon completion of this project? We are concerned that the Completion Conditions have been falsified and therefore the February 15, 2018 finding by this Irving City Council that completion conditions have been satisfied by the Ark Group has still not been properly verified. This is crucial. completion of this project? We are concerned that the Completion Conditions have been falsified and therefore the February 15, 2018 finding by this Irving City Council that completion conditions have been satisfied by the Ark Group has still not been properly verified. This is crucial.
  3. Did Ark force tenants to sign leases that racially discriminate when it comes to the type of music a tenant can play in their venue?

For example; is the following language racially discriminatory to a tenant at the Toyota Music Factory if this language is included in their lease agreement with the Ark Group?

 “A tenant shall not permit two(2) “hip-hop or Tejano”or ” rap” music formatted songs to be played back to back.”

4. We want the Irving City Council to address our concerns that the Ark Group failed to meet our MWBE goals regarding equal and fairness in contracting opportunities in the construction of this 200 Million dollar Irving Music Factory. To date according to Open Records info provided to us by the City of Irving with a set goal of 32% ,the number of MWBE’s awarded contracts at the Irving Toyota Music Factory stands around 20%. This is very troubling in such a diverse city as Irving, Texas and our surrounding cities and communities. What happened and what enforcement tools does the City of Irving have to ensure we achieve our MWBE goals on such a huge project.

5. Did the architectural drawings call for a 50K sq. ft. outdoor, open-air Plaza at the Irving Toyota Music Factory? If so we want the Irving City Council to investigate our concerns that what we have in actuality is a reduced size Plaza.

6. Is there any evidence that fraud was committed in this project in the obtaining of the Certificates of Occupancy  for each tenant which denote that each tenant at the Irving Toyota Music Factory has passed all necessary City Inspections ?

Finally, in 2007, over 60% of Irving voters voted for a referendum saying we give the City of Irving our blessing to do what is necessary and legal to build us an Irving Entertainment Center. After nearly 12 years we now have the Irving Toyota Music Factory as our Entertainment Center. We want our concerns investigated fairly to all parties involved in the Irving Toyota Music Factory.

Sincerely!”