A major upgrade was proposed Wednesday for Dallas Fair Park and it may be very expensive.
A briefing for the Dallas city council said the park needs $494 million in work. Many buildings date back to the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition and they have been neglected.
The briefing suggests $125 million to $175 million be included for the park in each of several future capital improvement bond referendums.
It recommends city maintenance funding for the park be increased to at least $25 million dollars a year from the $11 million city hall contributes now.
Mayor Mike Rawlings supports a new non-profit foundation to oversee management and help raise private contributions for Fair Park.
“If we can’t have both, I’m going to be backing off,” Rawlings said. “We’ve got to spend the money and we’ve got to have a public, private partnership.”
Civic leader Walt Humann presented the briefing Wednesday. He is volunteering to serve free for three years as Chief Executive Officer of a Fair Park Foundation to execute the vision.
“Fair Park becomes one of the world’s premier parks, not just the United States,” Humann said.
Humann said the park must correct ‘myths’ about crime and safety problems.
Council members were mostly supportive, but some voiced concerns.
Councilman Rickey Callahan said Fair Park has already lost the Cotton Bowl game to Arlington and risks departure of the State Fair of Texas and competition for the 2036 Texas Bi-Centennial celebration.
“We can be shrinking violets or we can be like at turtle and just pull our head back in the shell, but that is not going to solve the problem,” Callahan said. “If we wait, some other city will say, ‘hey, we’ve got the money, we’ve got the ideas, we’ll take it.’ Dallas, don’t take that risk.”
Councilman Lee Kleinman is a former member of the Dallas Parks Board, which currently oversees Fair Park. He said the non-profit foundation structure has been very successful for the Dallas Arboretum and Dallas Zoo.
“And just this year, the zoo broke the one-million visitor mark, an incredible milestone for this city and for that zoo,” Kleinman said.
Councilwoman Tiffanni Young represents the Fair Park neighborhood. She said residents want the park to be made more accessible to the community and to become a year-round attraction.
“And that’s what the community is expecting, that’s what the community wants, and that’s what I am supportive of,” Young said.
Councilman Philip Kingston said extra bond funding for Fair Park would conflict with other major Dallas needs, including street repair.
“I don’t think there’s a political appetite for that,” Kingston said. “We’re very short on money right now.”
Councilman Mark Clayton questioned public input with a non-profit operating the city owned park. He said the return on such a major investment is not clear.
“If I took this presentation to a bank, I could not get a loan,” Clayton said.
Former Dallas Councilwoman Diane Ragsdale once represented the Fair Park area on the council and now leads a Community Development Corporation that’s built new homes near the park.
She also served on the Mayor’s Fair Park Task Force.
“I’m glad that the mayor has begun to put the spotlight on Fair Park because it can be an entity to benefit all of the city. But in the right way, it can benefit this immediate neighborhood, too,” Ragsdale said.
City council vote on the plan will come in the future.