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What You Should Know About The Proposal That Would Change Dallas' Fair Park

Sheri Hall
Dallas city officials say it would cost about $500 million to make repairs at Fair Park.

On Wednesday, Dallas City Council members discussed the future of Fair Park -- specifically a proposal to have a nonprofit group manage the park. Here’s what you should know about the plans for Fair Park’s future.

If the proposal eventually passes, how would the private-public partnership work?

Supporters of this plan say the city of Dallas needs to back off from running Fair Park. Some say Dallas City Hall is just too big, too complicated and too bureaucratic to make any significant changes at Fair Park.

For years, people have wanted to make Fair Park a year-round destination, not just the place to be when the State Fair of Texas is up and running.

The city would still own Fair Park – this nonprofit group would manage the park and help market it. The nonprofit group would be able to do fundraising and pump in more money to boost the place.

The proposal calls for the city to kick in money – there would be a so-called management fee of $25 to $35 million each year. And during the next bond programs the city would provide up to $175 million for Fair Park improvements.

There’s a track record of private-public partnerships around Dallas.

The Dallas Zoo was privatized – and that’s been considered a success. Then there’s Klyde Warren Park, which is owned by the city and managed by a private foundation.

“I think creating a public-private partnership is the right way to go,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said at the council meeting. “I don’t know why we talk about this anymore. We’ve got four to five examples. It’s working. We should be rushing towards this issue.”

One issue, though, is Fair Park is huge – and changing the setup affects several groups that operate at Fair Park, such as the State Fair of Texas. Some say privatizing Fair Park would be more complicated than what happened at the zoo or Klyde Warren Park.

There are many issues at Fair Park.

Fair Park has all of those distinctive art-deco buildings. Many are in disrepair. They were built or renovated in a rush leading up to the 1936 Texas Centennial exposition – those buildings weren’t designed to last 80 years.

The city says it needs $500 million to fix everything at Fair Park.

Tiffinni Young is the City Council member who represents the Fair Park area. She supports a public-private partnership in part because it could help with the maintenance issues.

She says residents are telling her they want to see Fair Park come alive throughout the year.

“The feel in the community and what I’ve heard is a year-round destination, year-round programming, that’s what the community is expecting, that’s what the community wants, and that’s what I’m supportive of,” Young said at the council meeting.

Another issue for Fair Park: there’s a perception in North Texas that Fair Park isn’t safe. Young and Dallas officials are trying to combat that viewpoint. They say Fair Park is a safe place for visitors.

Who has concerns about a potential public-private partnership?

The city would have to fork over money – and some City Council members said they’re concerned about how the city would find that additional money in a city budget where funds are already spread thin. Some say there are lots of pressing concerns, including fixing potholes to street repairs around the city.

“We’re very short on money right now,” said council member Philip Kingston, whose district includes East Dallas and the Arts District. “Your proposal would take in excess of $10 million out of the streets budget for each council district in the next bond package. I don’t think there’s a political appetite for that.”

What happens next?

Rawlings says discussions will continue over the next six months.

He wants a public forum at some point so residents can sound off on the plans.

Those who are involved with the public-private proposal have been told to work with the Park Board to see how this could all work. The Park Board earlier this year said it was OK with a nonprofit running Fair Park.

There’s still a lot of questions – and a lot for city leaders to hammer out. 

Learn more

The Dallas Morning News has more details.

Photo: Sheri/Flickr

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.