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South Dallas Residents Say The Community Should Be Involved In Fair Park's Future

Stephanie Kuo
The panel discussion at the Hall of State, "Making Fair Park Work," was standing room only.

Fair Park is packed during the fall thanks to the State Fair of Texas, but for decades people have talked about how to make the 277-acre fairground a year-round destination to help revitalize the area.

At a panel discussion Tuesday night, hosted by the Dallas Architecture Forum and the Dallas Festival of Ideas, hundreds of people came to discuss what the future of Fair Park could look like. They learned that drafting a concrete plan was still far into the future. 

The Dallas residents who showed up at the Hall of State auditorium at Fair Park had plenty of ideas.

Some suggested turning the massive parking lots into open green spaces in the off-season -- something along the lines of the popular Klyde Warren Park. Others considered tearing down the fences to make Fair Park more accessible.

Some even proposed converting some of the buildings into a school or a shared office space for startups. South Dallas resident Tammy Johnston said that ultimately city officials should turn to the community frequently as they make plans for the future.

“The community has ideas. The community knows what’s best for the community and can offer invaluable information and support,” Johnston said. “It may be a little bit hard to realize the park being utilized differently than how it has traditionally been, but times have changed.”

In late 2013, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings convened a nine-member task force to map out Fair Park’s future. Shortly after, the group suggested forming an independent nonprofit, called the Fair Park Texas Foundation, which would oversee park planning and development.

However, some members of the Dallas City Council have been hesitant to turn the park over to the nonprofit, citing large city investments and lack of control. 

Prominent Dallas businessman Walt Humann, who spearheaded the creation of DART, was brought on by Rawlings to study the task force’s recommendations. He said Fair Park is at a crossroads. 

“One road we can take is to continue what we’re doing now -- underfunding this thing, not managing it as it should be managed, and the rest of the year, Fair Park is going to be a desert,” Humann said. “So there’s the path less traveled, and that is to put the financial, the management and the marketing resources into Fair Park, get people’s opinions and ideas and really develop this into one of the top parks in the world.”

Humann told the City Council in November that Fair Park’s aging Art Deco buildings need about $500 million worth of repairs, and proposed using bond funds to cover the cost.

It’ll still be a while until a plan is in place, but the next step will be a special Dallas City Council meeting on Feb. 8, where residents can give feedback on what they want to see done with Fair Park.