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In a preview of his scheduled appearance tonight before the Paris City Council, Dr. Richard Swint told the Paris Rotary Club that Lamar County and City of Paris officials cannot be trusted to make sound economic development decisions.
“Paris has a national reputation that it is vulnerable to con men from within and without our city,” Swint said Friday in remarks prepared for delivery to Rotarians.
Swint and his wife, Susan, presented the Paris City Council last month a $100,000 check for restoration of Lake Crook Park, which they noted has fallen in disrepair since the lake was created in the early 1920′s.
“When I made my donation, I wrote that it comes with the requirement the City of Paris undertake the restoration without hiring any consultants, planners or architects,” Swint said. “There’s worlds of evidence that our county and city have wasted untold amounts of money on studying everything with nothing being done.”
Swint is on tonight’s council agenda because of a misunderstanding on the extent of that stipulation, Mayor AJ Hashmi said. The council thought the comment concerned only the general area where a fishing pier and band stand were once located — not the entire lake, he said
In recent months, the council has begun targeting Lake Crook and Cox Field Airport more aggressively for economic development. Swint said city and county leaders have made one bad decision after another in economic development.
Swint gave examples of what he said were disastrous economic development decisions by city and county officials:
“The list goes on and on,” Swint said.
The ice storm that hit Paris and Lamar County two months ago was a recent indication of a poor decision by city and county officials, he said.
“Have you ever seen anyone get ahead who was on welfare? Welfare destroys initiative. I thought of this after the ice storm, the city and county waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Administration. And so they waited and waited, and FEMA didn’t occur. That’s waiting for welfare.”
In the 1900′s, the community was very progressive, and overcame the Great Fire of 1916, Swint said. The community also got through the Great Depression without much trouble, he said.
“And in the 1940′s, a very intuitive man with a future named LeTourneau investigated Paris to build his manufacturing business for giant machines on Camp Maxey land vacated after World War II,” Swint said.
“LeTourneau went to Longview. Longview has grown 14 times since 1920 and has a university. Paris has grown 1.6 times and still has a junior college. The actual population of all the little communities outside of Paris has decreased 10 percent since 1920. There have been a lot of choices that were not beneficial to Paris and Lamar County. “
Lately, the mayor “has whispered in many people’s ear,” Swint said in his Friday talk, that “something big” is in the works for Lake Crook.
Whoever is in the wings to develop Lake Crook, “They do not want your money. All they want is your inheritance. They want the farm you have let grow up in weeds,” Swint said.
“The City Council needs a lot of money to make up for the money that councils have wasted, so they have approved a scheme by Dr. Hashmi to sell the farm. The next time the council wants money, what will they sell?”
There is talk that Hashmi has been talking about leasing land at Lake Crook for development as a theme park, Swint said.
Bad idea, he said.
“Paris has turbulent weather. Unpredictably hot, unpredictably cold. We have a lot of weather that is not conducive to large masses of people in outdoor activities. Paris is not on the edge of a big metropolitan area with masses of people,” Swint told Rotarians.
“There are a lot of reasons this business venture may not really be viable in Paris, Texas,” he said.
Any decision to bring in major development to Lake Crook should have to be approved by the people in an election he said.
“This proposal, which some say now is to lease the property, or to sell it — is this an opportunity or not? Is this a Bitco and C-Tech? Or is this a LeTourneau? You have to decide. And it’s hard to know which one is correct, but the people should decide.”
He said it’s time that citizens participate more actively in the city and county government.
“We elect people and we turn our backs and never look again,” he said.
Swint said Lake Crook can be turned into a resource that would pay for itself.
“If we build 25 cabins, in a cluster, at an average rental of $150, that would raise over $500,000 a year, even if they were rented less than 50 percent of the time. If we built 25 cabins at the four entrances, that would bring in $2 million a year. Beaver’s Bend does it. We could have the park that could do that,” he said.
“So answer this. We have the biggest park owned by a city in the whole state of Texas, and we have the biggest lake owned by a city. We have a lot of opportunity, and it’s been allowed to grow up in weeds. Do you sell the farm, or do you go out and work the farm for what you can produce out of it?”
Swint said he has in mind for Lake Crook a restoration that would return the lake to the peaceful setting that many remember from decades ago.
He had a computerized slide show presentation of “things we could have at Lake Crook without much trouble, without much expense.”
“We could have sidewalks for children to ride their bicycles on … a big rock for people to climb or sit on … maybe a rack of tires for kids to climb on … little ponds for children to fish out of … children love to climb on old tractors and things … places that children could have pony rides … floral gardens for people to walk through and hike through … bicycle trails … horse riding trails … all kinds of flowers that you can plant once and they will come back year after year … you could have rose gardens … you could have crape myrtles … and a persimmon tree … trees that bear fruit … crape myrtle trails and sugar maple trails and sweet gum trails … you can plant pecan trees in a lot of these areas, which feed the animals and it’s OK for people to take them … and here’s more fall foliage, and you would have people who would like to come, I think, from Dallas and walk through a pleasant quiet, picturesque, wood scene or nature field.”
Swint showed a picture of a sunset at Lake Crook.
“And I will say, that if people do not wake up, that will be the last sunset at the lake. Somebody else will own it,” he said.
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra