(Background on Events Leading Up to Legal Action by the City of Dallas)
Last Updated September 27, 2011
Much has been made about the Railroad Museum’s impending move to Frisco. The following is intended to clear the air on some issues with the City of Dallas and address several recent false statements.
The City has filed suit against the Museum alleging trespass and accusing it of being a public nuisance. This, after forty-seven years of non-profit service to Dallas at the same Fair Park location. The suit is ostensibly in response to the Museum’s refusal to sign agreements presented by the City that were unreasonable and punitive. The Museum’s leadership stands behind its decision to withhold a signature on agreements that would put the very existence of its collection of historic trains and landmark structures in grave jeopardy. We are, however, willing to enter into an agreement with the City that is mutually acceptable and transitions us out of Fair Park in a reasonable amount of time – but no such agreement has been presented. The City seeks to change the entire nature of its relationship with the Museum after forty-seven years. This puts the Museum in a very difficult position.
First, some background regarding the Museum and its relationship with the City of Dallas. The Museum of the American Railroad is a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit Texas Corporation that was founded in 1962 by the late Everett DeGolyer, Jr. of Dallas. The Corporation was originally chartered as the Southwest Railroad Historical Society (SRHS), later doing business as the Age of Steam Railroad Museum. The Museum collection itself is an outgrowth of an exhibit that was originally started in 1963 by the State Fair of Texas in partnership with the SRHS. The SRHS underwent a name change in 2006 when the corporate name and d/b/a were changed to Museum of the American Railroad.
The Museum is governed by a ten member board of trustees that employs a three member paid professional staff. The Museum strives to adhere to American Association of Museums (AAM) accreditation guidelines and Association of Railway Museums (ARM) standards and practices. We are a member in good standing of both organizations.
The beginnings of a train exhibit go back to 1949 when the Texas & Pacific Railway gave the City of Dallas a retired steam locomotive for permanent display at Fair Park. This gift was accepted on behalf of the City by the State Fair of Texas and displayed at what is now our site within the Park. The locomotive fell into disrepair and was subsequently scrapped in 1955, amid much public outcry. Dallas was criticized in the media for not taking care of its past. In contrast, the City of Fort Worth was given a sister engine from the Texas & Pacific Railway that still survives today. The loss of the Dallas engine, and a mandate to replace it, was the genesis of the Museum that exists today. Everett DeGolyer worked in concert with State Fair management to assemble a small collection of steam era trains to create a new exhibit known as the “Age of Steam.” This Exhibit debuted at the 1963 State Fair of Texas and was well received by visitors. The State Fair and the SRHS improved and expanded the exhibit in subsequent years, which became an annual favorite among Fairgoers.
The State Fair operated the Exhibit during the Fair dates, however, the SRHS maintained the trains and provided volunteer support on a year-round basis. This relationship continued until the mid-1970s. Mr. DeGolyer’s death and a change in State Fair management signaled an end to the original partnership and left the Exhibit an orphan by 1977.
In an effort to prevent the trains from falling into disrepair, our organization took on an increased role in providing for their stewardship. The State Fair and the City of Dallas continued to provide the land and utilities at no cost to the SRHS, but made no further investment in the Exhibit. The Fair and the City also made it clear that no additional land would be available for future expansion.
In 1987, through a new management agreement with the State Fair, the City of Dallas assumed responsibility for the management of Fair Park during non-Fair periods. In 1990, the State Fair quitclaimed the aging collection of railroad history to the SRHS. The City of Dallas made no claims to the collection. Seeing no other suitors, Museum leaders approved the quitclaim and essentially adopted the trains. Our organization found itself the sole proprietor of the Exhibit and the steward of a collection that was unwanted by the Fair or the City. Our volunteers worked tirelessly to operate and maintain the exhibit – often financing projects with their own funds. The Museum provided for the conservation and preservation of the trains and related structures at no expense to the City. This arrangement stood for another two decades.
The City of Dallas had no plans to invest in the Museum, but agreed to cover its utilities. This was a concession by the City, since, unlike other Fair Park institutions, the Museum was responsible for maintaining its own buildings and grounds. The utilities provided lighting for exhibits, heated & cooled the museum’s 1,600 square foot depot, and Parlor car, and fired a small boiler to demonstrate steam whistles at Fair time. The Museum continued to rely on admissions receipts, donations, and grants from local foundations to operate and maintain the collection. However, we were not satisfied with the quality of care or presentation of the Exhibit.
In 1986, a portion of the Museum’s admission proceeds was allocated to create a part-time paid executive director position. The term “exhibit” was dropped in favor of “museum” and the organization’s bylaws were updated to reflect these changes. But much more was still needed. The Museum’s operations and programs were expanded and enhanced in accordance with professional museum standards. These improvements resulted in the Museum becoming one of the preferred educational destinations for DISD and suburban school study trips. The Museum became a voting member of the Partnership for Arts Culture & Education and later Art Reach and Arts Partners.
The Museum also developed programs that complied with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) requirements, which were updated annually. The Museum continues to develop new programs that serve the curricula needs of North Texas schools.
In 2003, the Museum of the American Railroad contracted with the City of Dallas to provide cultural programming through its Office of Cultural Affairs’ (OCA) Cultural Organizations Program (COP). The Museum scored in the upper percentile, (82.5), in the OCA Peer Review process during its first year – several points ahead of older, well-funded museums in Dallas.
In response to a growing need to preserve the aging collection of trains that lacked major capital funding, the Museum underwent significant organizational changes in 2004. We adopted a new form of governance and set out to create a more diverse board of trustees that better represented our potential audience and stakeholders. In 2006, we hired a professional museum planner to prepare a Strategic Plan that provided for long-term growth and sustainability. The Plan placed an emphasis on the collection’s value as a cultural asset and its potential as an educational resource in the community.
Prepared by M. Goodwin Associates of Los Angeles, the Plan outlined several important steps for making the collection a major attraction in North Texas. It also identified several challenges if the collection were to remain in Fair Park. The Plan confirmed what we had long suspected – the Museum had reached the point of diminishing returns several years prior, due to location and space restrictions at Fair Park. The Plan, which took several months to prepare, provided an exciting vision and a realistic strategic approach to achieving its goals. The Plan was adopted by the Museum’s Board of Trustees, and presented to stakeholders in November of 2006.
The Plan called for a venue of no less than nine acres, with 15 acres optimal. And, while not site-specific, the Plan identified four locations that were considered ideal for a railroad museum. Two sites were in Fort Worth, while two others were located in Dallas. The Museum’s present location at Fair Park was not on the list since expansion to nine or more acres was ruled out years earlier.
Late in the planning process, the Museum experienced conflicts with the State Fair of Texas over the use of the track that provided rail access to Fair Park. This line was essential to the Museum, as it was the only way in and out of the site. DART had sold and leased various sections of the 1.5 mile line to the State Fair for parking. The Museum was not informed of the sale and rail access was challenged by the State Fair following the transaction. The Museum carries the same designation as an online shipper and has certain rights of access to the general system of rail lines. The Museum also had a Track License Agreement with the line’s former owner, the Union Pacific Railroad, for temporary storage of its cars.
The track issue came to a head when the Museum added five historic cars to its collection and temporarily parked them on the tail end of the line until they could be consolidated into the Museum’s site. The Fair responded by placing a two-ton block of concrete on the track at the line’s entrance to prevent any further movements in or out of the Museum. The Fair also contacted one of the local railroads to haul the Museum’s cars off and dispose of them. In deference to the Museum, the railroad refused to move the cars.
In response to the access and other spatial issues with the State Fair, the City of Dallas, through the efforts of Councilman Ron Natinsky, developed a plan to address the problem. As a result, the City allocated $2.75 million in bond funds to purchase 1.4 acres of land adjacent to Fair Park for relocation of the Museum. The Museum was required to privately raise $2.75 million in matching funds in order for the City to purchase the land and then condemn and remove an active business. The land was adjacent to a 1.9 acre tract that the State Fair offered to swap for the Museum’s present site, making a total of 3.3 acres.
The 3.3 acres was far short of the Museum’s nine acre minimum, and the property was not in a shape that was conducive to a rail yard. While some at the City may have been well-intentioned and considered the bond funds a gift, the proposed solution did not adequately address the Museum’s present and future spatial needs. The Museum, however, agreed to the relocation effort and cooperated with the City of Dallas, asking for the Council’s support to add the project to the overall 2006 bond package. The Museum and the City had an understanding that the $2.75 million in bond funds would be used for another project in Fair Park if the Museum failed to raise the matching funds.
Upon passage of the bond measure, the Museum was expected to raise its share of the funds for purchase of the property and condemnation of the present business. The City would own the property and any improvements made by the Museum. There were no funds allocated toward actually moving the Museum or creating new facilities at the site.
Several months later, the Museum was strongly urged by City officials to move to the 1.9 acre tract that the State Fair had offered to swap for the present site, and pare down its collection in order to make it fit. The Museum was encouraged to do this prior to raising any matching funds toward purchasing the adjacent 1.4 acre parcel on which the present business was growing increasingly concerned about condemnation.
It was apparent that the State Fair was behind the City’s urgency for the Museum to move – the State Fair had coveted the Museum’s site for many years. It was also apparent that the Museum was being relegated to no more than 3.3 acres outside the present boundary of Fair Park where the Museum would continue to languish. There was some discussion about additional land to the east, but no definite plans or funds were ever identified.
Enter Frisco. In July 2007, the City of Frisco contacted the Museum and expressed an interest in relocating the Museum to its community. The Museum and Frisco entered into discussions later that month which revolved around meeting the basic tenets of the 2006 Strategic Plan. Within a few weeks, the City of Frisco was prepared to offer the museum 12.34 acres of land and up to $1 million in funds to relocate the Museum. The site was located along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway main line and situated between the new Heritage Center and the proposed Grand Park. Frisco’s offer met nearly every aspect of the Museum’s criteria for a new site.
In August 2007, the Museum made Dallas aware of its conversations with Frisco, but that no agreement had been made. During the next few months, several candid discussions took place separately between the Museum and both cities. Every effort was made to remain as transparent and open as possible during these discussions while acting in the best interest of the Museum’s mission and collection. In September 2007, at the request of the the City of Dallas’s Mayor, Museum leaders met with Dallas city officials and representatives from the State Fair. What the museum’s leadership naively thought was a meeting to ensure its future in Dallas was nothing short of an ambush. In hindsight, and in light of recent events, it is apparent that the intent of the meeting was to force the Museum’s decision to move to Frisco and hasten its departure. The State Fair’s management looked on as Dallas’s top leaders berated Museum officials: “What’s it gonna be guys? If you’re gonna go, go!”
In December 2007, the Museum’s Board of Trustees requested a meeting with Councilman Ron Natinsky as one last attempt to address the Museum’s needs in Fair Park. The Board followed up with a letter in February of 2008 reiterating the Museum’s interest in remaining in Fair Park and outlined the Museum’s needs. However, by March, it was apparent that the City of Dallas would not address our needs beyond what had been allocated in the 2006 bond package. If there was any hesitancy on the Museum’s part to accept Frisco’s offer, it was gone following the acrimonious September 2007 meeting with the City of Dallas and the out-of-hand rejection of the February 2008 letter to Natinsky.
On April 2, 2008, nine months after initial discussions began; the Museum entered into a preliminary agreement with the City of Frisco. The agreement was unanimously approved by the Frisco City Council and provided for 12.34 acres of land and $1 million as the City’s contribution toward relocating the Museum’s collection and operations to that city.
Another year passed while the Museum and the City of Frisco continued discussions and negotiations toward a formal agreement to establish the new Museum. The Museum compiled marketing and demographic information, developed preliminary spatial and programming criteria, and created a Conceptual Engineering Plan for the site. The City of Dallas was kept apprised of the Museum’s discussions and developments periodically throughout the year.
Finally, on May 5, 2009, the Museum entered into a formal Development Agreement and Lease with the City of Frisco, which was unanimously approved by the City Council. All parties involved, including the City of Dallas, were made aware on numerous occasions that this would be a massive project, unprecedented, with the exception of the movement of a collection from Vermont to Pennsylvania that ultimately resulted in the creation of the Steamtown National Historic Site. In short, the Museum would have to construct facilities and infrastructure in Frisco and then move 4,250 tons of historic trains stretching over half a mile in length.
The Frisco site was nearly seven times larger than the Museum’s footprint at Fair Park and more than three-and-a-half times the size of the proposed site outside the Park that required bond funds for purchase. The Frisco site, however, posed some engineering challenges due to its shape and its proximity to a nearby creek. These challenges were overcome and, following six months of engineering, the Museum’s Site Plan was finalized and approved by the City of Frisco’s Planning & Zoning Commission in October 2009. It included over one mile of initial trackage on the site, and preliminary engineering for additional track and permanent structures to be constructed at a later date. The City of Dallas was kept apprised of the progress toward finalizing the engineering and construction specifications for the Frisco project. By the end of 2009, the Museum had estimated that the completion of basic track and facilities in Frisco and preparation of its rolling stock for movement would be completed sometime in late 2010, early 2011.
On January 26, 2010, the City of Dallas filed suit against the Museum of the American Railroad in the Dallas County District Courts, alleging trespass and public nuisance. As part of the allegations, the Museum was charged with operating without a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) – something the State Fair would have obtained in 1963 and apparently could not produce.
On February 22, 2010, the Museum filed counterclaims in the 68th District court for Breach of Implied Contract and Promissory Estoppel in addition to a Request for Injunctive Relief. The Museum was granted a temporary restraining order against the City on February 23, 2010, and the restraining order subsequently became an agreement between the City and the Museum in which the City agreed not to harass the Museum.
We offer this information in an effort to clear the air on the issue with the City of Dallas and refute any misinformation intended to embarrass and discredit the Museum. We also feel it is important to provide some background on the events that led up to the Museum’s decision to move to Frisco that resulted in the response by the City of Dallas. We provide this information in no way to disparage the City of Dallas, but to stand behind our 48 years of non-profit service in this community.
Our sincere thanks to the many organizations and individuals for their outpouring of support. We have received encouragement from the broader museum community, as well as folks throughout the nation. We want to reiterate our commitment to realizing the greatest potential of the Museum and its collection. We would also like to assure our stakeholders and supporters that we will fulfill our mission and continue improving our service as an educational and entertaining destination in North Texas.
On May 7, 2010, the Museum was issued a Certificate of Occupancy by the City of Dallas. The Museum continues to work with the City to affect a timely and orderly transition from Fair Park to Frisco.
In May, 2011 the Museum and the City of Dallas completed additional mediation efforts and the attorneys for both sides agreed to continue the trial date that had been set by the court for June 21, 2011. The Court removed the trial setting. A settlement agreement was drafted and approved by the Museum's Board of Trustees, the Dallas City Council, and the Parks & Recreation Board. The Court set the matter for its dismissal docket on September 12
On September 12, 2011, Judge Martin Hoffman of the 68th District Court ordered dismissal of the suit. "We are glad to finally have this behind us. The Museum can now devote all of its resources to constructing its new home and moving to Frisco" - William Brotherton, Attorney for the Museum of the American Railroad.
The Museum is open at Fair Park and doing business as usual, providing programming to general visitors and educational study tours & outreach for area schools. Construction is underway at the Museum's new site in Frisco and movement of the collection from Fair Park is anticipated in late 2011.