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Southlake Style

Southlake Park Renaissance

Dec 01, 2015 05:19PM ● By Dia

By Lori Stacy 

Photography by Tommy Pennington

Sometimes communities grow at the expense of parks and open spaces. Fortunately, that is not the case in Southlake. Though the town is expected to see an increase in population of 17 percent from 2005 numbers, the parks and recreation options here have not only continued to grow, they have flourished.

The list of parks, recreation areas and open spaces in this community is remark- ably diverse. The Bob Jones Nature Center and Preserve offers a chance to explore and appreciate the local ecosystem; the impressive lacrosse fields at North Park have welcomed colleges and high schools for playoff games; and the recently opened playground at Bicentennial Park, with its dragon theme and innovative equipment, plays host throughout the days to young children and home-school recreation groups.

For those seeking history and lore, Royal and Annie Smith Park includes a hand-dug well rumored to be the final resting place of a notorious gangster named Pinky. In a league of its own is Texas Rangers Miracle League Field, which opened in September and is the backdrop for the Southlake Miracle League, enabling those with disabilities the chance to play baseball.

And this month the city will reach an- other milestone with the opening of “Legends Hall,” Phase I of The Marq Southlake, a premier community recreation center that will house the senior center, an events hall, multipurpose conference and meeting spaces, a club lounge, catering kitchen and an outdoor amphitheater and events space. Construction for Phase II, which will include the fitness and recreation center, indoor aquatics, an indoor playground and multipurpose classrooms for programs, begins in 2016.  

For a town that had just one park two decades ago to be where it is today requires not only community support and involvement but also the effort and planning of the city leadership.

Former mayor John Terrell has been one of those driving forces. He was mayor from 2009 until 2015 and has been actively involved in Southlake politics and community service for the past 16 years, meaning he has not only been involved in the planning and development of The Marq from the beginning, but has also witnessed and been a part of a parks renaissance in this city.

“We have one of the best park systems in the entire Southwest,” says Terrell, who credits a community and leaders who have not ever strayed from the goal of making Southlake one of the most desirable places to live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“City leaders had a vision for a number of years about making sure the park system was the highest quality,” says Terrell. This included buying land for parks, recreation and open use and developing a long-term master plan for the area’s outdoor—and indoor—community spaces. A plan that was put in place for the city in 1992 has been mod- ified throughout the years to meet the growing needs of a growing community.

“What’s interesting is that these kinds of visions can’t be a success without continuity,” says Terrell. “That we’ve kept this vision for so many years is rare and unique.”

Terrell is quick to point out that the city’s impressive park system isn’t the work or the vision of just a few people. “Many people were involved from early on,” he says, adding that community support has been key in executing the vision. “Our entire city buys into this quality of life.”

“Our main goal is to continue to provide the park opportunities our residents tell us they desire while maintaining the environmental integrity of the gifts we have been given in this beautiful city,” says Tina Wasserman, chairperson of the Parks and Recreation Board. “As a parks board, we are tasked with balancing many aspects of parks, from large active parks such as Bicentennial Park, Bob Jones Nature Center and North Park, to smaller passive parks, to neighborhood parks and open spaces. I feel our city has done a tremendous job of balancing the need for very active parks for youth and adult activities, to passive parks for walks and enjoying nature. We have places you can go in our city to meet all of your needs.”

Says current mayor Laura Hill, “From the day anyone gets involved in Southlake politics, you know right away how important the parks, open spaces and preserving trees is to the city.“We’re so familycentric,” says Hill. “People here prioritize enjoyment with the family. You see that with the parks.”

Indeed, on most mornings you can find Mayor Hill taking advantage of one of the city’s parks with her four-legged family member. Hill has been taking Emma, a four-year-old Rottweiler, to her office in Southlake since the dog was just 12 weeks old. Most mornings, the pair stops at Liberty Park at Sheltonwood to get a walk in before work.

Neighborhood parks such as Liberty Park reflect what Hill says has been a deliberate effort by the city to hold developers to a higher stan- dard, ensuring that new communities in Southlake preserve green spaces and set neighborhoods back from the street. So even as the population increases and new neighborhoods are built, the charm of the city has not been lost. 

A Look Back

In 1992, Southlake had a population of 8,000 and 14 acres of parkland, all in Bicentennial Park. The city was expected to grow to 48,000 residents (a third more than the current forecast), and the recommended park acreage per 1,000 residents was six to 10, detailed in what the city called the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan. Four years later, city officials changed that number to 21 acres per thousand residents, almost double the regional standard, and saw the opening of two additional parks and the expansion of Bicentennial Park to 41 acres.

Since then, the city has welcomed additional parks and open space that have brought the total acreage up to 1,205. This number includes small neighborhood parks and the more than eight acres of parks and open spaces within Southlake Town Square, areas that people might not recog- nize immediately as city parks but that contribute signifi- cantly to the beauty and quality of life in Southlake.

In 2013, when Terrell was serving as mayor, the city updated the Parks, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan and adopted what they call the “Southlake 2030 Comprehensive Master Plan,” to focus on the future of the city’s parks. The plan emphasizes how important parks, recreation programs and open spaces are to the city, stating that, “accessible parks provide a place to play, exercise, spend time with friends and neighbors, or to just relax and recuperate. Trails serve an important recreational function while also creating opportunities for connections throughout the community. These walking, hiking, running, biking, and equestrian trails connect neighborhoods, parks, schools, places of employment and activity centers, and create mobility opportunities for residents of all ages.”

Perhaps the most significant addition to the plan, though, was the inclusion of a community facilities element, one that would encourage residents of all ages to participate in recreational, educational and sports-related classes and activities. The plan emphasized that “such access also increases opportunities for interaction among all members of the community, which can lead to stronger community ties and an improved sense of connectedness.”

Next Up: The Marq 

When The Marq opens later this month, that part of the plan will be realized and Southlake’s citizens will have a central location to meet, enjoy classes and activities or just relax with friends and neighbors.

“We are excited to see the dream of a community center come to life with The Marq,” says Wasserman.

Mayor Hill agrees. “It’s the bow on the package,” she says, referring to how The Marq fits into the city’s overall parks, recreation and outdoor spaces plan. “And,” she adds, “it’s paid for.”

The $15 million facility was funded entirely by a half- cent sales tax, meaning that not only was Phase I completely funded but the impact on Southlake’s citizens was minimal. “Seventy-five percent of that revenue comes from people who don’t live in Southlake,” Chris Tribble, Director of Community Services for the city, points out. 

Building a Better Senior Center

The Senior Center inside the Marq is particularly impressive, with a library, lounges, a café area and a kitchen. But Terrell admits that it wasn’t an easy sell to the area’s seniors.

“At first seniors were totally against locating [the senior center] in The Marq,” says Terrell. “They wanted to upgrade the existing facility where it was.”

Terrell read an article about the City of Euless’ new senior center, which had been built in the city’s rec center even though the seniors had been hesitant. But after the center opened, Euless’ older citizens loved the facility and its location, and participation by seniors went up by an astounding 2,000 percent.

“So we loaded up a bus with Southlake seniors and took them to visit the new Euless senior center,” says Terrell. “We let their seniors tell our seniors how good it was to be located in a rec center.”

After that visit, Southlake’s seniors were wholeheartedly on board for what is to be one of the premier centers of its kind in the area. “I am extremely glad we have been able to meet a need for our seniors,” Terrell adds.

The opening of the senior center, though, is bittersweet for Terrell. He worked hand in hand with the longtime chair of the Southlake Senior Advisory Commission, Dick McAuley, who passed away in April 2014—before McAuley was able to see his efforts on the new senior center real- ized. “He was so, so important,” Terrell says of McAuley’s involvement with the senior center. “He at least knew, though, that it was approved.”

A Leader With Impact

Though Terrell, who is vice president of commercial development for DFW Airport, no longer holds an official position with the city, he is still involved in the community. “I’ll never stop doing things for the city; I love this city.”

He and his wife aren’t quite empty nesters yet (they have two children—Jacob, 18, a student at Texas A&M, and Jordan, 14, a freshman at Carroll High), but that doesn’t mean Terrell doesn’t derive just as much enjoyment from Southlake’s parks as a family with young children. He enjoys taking walks through Bob Jones Nature Center and Preserve and considers a great day to be one that includes an outing to Southlake’s Texas Rangers Miracle League Field to watch a game and cheer on the children.

“It’s an inspiration to watch these kids play baseball, many for the first time,” says Terrell, whose wife Joanne is currently on the board of the Miracle League.

While Terrell is quick to spread credit for the advances the city has made with its parks, recreation and outdoor spaces—and indeed it has been a community effort that the city’s many leaders have executed—Terrell’s role as a city leader over the past 16 years and his support of Southlake’s impressive park system can’t be minimized. During his tenure, more than 11 miles of new sidewalks and trails were created, and he also helped the city welcome the arrival of Miracle Field, calling it one of the projects he took most pride in as a city leader. Terrell has been involved with the development of The Marq, which has been in the works for 10 to 12 years, since its inception.

Says Mayor Hill, “The Marq would not have happened without John Terrell’s strong leadership and fiscal stew- ardship. I am still amazed that Phase I was built with cash and that John worked with city staff to ensure that Phase II would be built without asking Southlake residents to foot the bill. He had a strong vision for our city parks and you can see his influence in dozens of our parks.”

So while we celebrate the opening of The Marq Southlake and reflect on the growth and improvement of the area’s parks and outdoor spaces, we at Southlake Style would also like to celebrate John Terrell as our 7th annual Community Impact Award winner. It’s an honor most deserved. 

Some notable achievements of John Terrell, our 2015 Community Impact Award winner.

Some notable achievements of John Terrell, our 2015 Community Impact Award winner.Served as a city leader in Southlake for 16 years.  Served as Mayor of Southlake from 2009 to 2015.

Appointed to Southlake’s Zoning Board of Adjustment in 1999 and to the Plan- ning and Zoning Commission in 2000

Helped set up the Crime Control Protection District (CCPD) tax that paid for new DPS facilities

Added more than 11 miles of new sidewalks and trails to Southlake

Helped lead the charge for Texas Rangers Miracle League Field

Was a driving force behind the development of The Marq 


In 1992, Southlake had 14 acres of parkland, all in Bicentennial Park.

At that time, the recommended park acreage per 1,000 residents was six to 10.

This number then changed to 21 acres per 1,000 residents – almost double the regional standard.

Today, the city has 1,205 acres of parks and open spaces.

Concept plans are currently in place for the following city parks:

Bicentennial Park
Bob Jones Park Chesapeake Park
The Cliffs Park
Coker Hike and Bike Park Gateway Park

Haven Park
Johnson Place Park Kirkwood-Sabre Linear Park Koalaty Park
Liberty Park at Sheltonwood Lonesome Dove Park
Noble Oaks Park
North Park
Oak Pointe Park
Royal and Annie Smith Park 

Southlake Sports Complex.