Controversial Dallas Fair Park Plan Gets Mixed Reviews at City Council

An extremely controversial plan to put Dallas Fair Park in the hands of a new foundation received mixed reviews as it reached the Dallas City Council Monday.

The plan is the result of a year of community meetings and review by the Dallas Parks Board.

“I think it’s good work and a good foundation,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings.

The new foundation would take over management and raise private funds to help improve the aging home of the State Fair of Texas.

“I would love to see us go forward and have this new vision,” said Councilman Rickey Callahan. “I think that’s what the citizens really want.”

Rawlings tapped Park Cities’ businessman Walt Humann to chair the planned foundation.

It’s a similar arrangement as management of the Dallas Zoo and Arboretum.

Humann said a Fair Park Foundation can accomplish things city management has been unable to achieve in preserving the park’s historic buildings, but also adding new features.

“Fair Park becomes one of the premier parks in the nation, if not the world,” Humann said.

To do it, Humann is asking the city to increase the $11.1 million it currently spends to operate Fair Park to $16.7 million in 2017 and $18.7 million in 2018. The plan also calls for $75 million from a proposed 2017 capital improvement bond referendum to be matched with $50 million in private donations to be raised by the foundation.

Councilman Philip Kingston said a request for proposals should be issued to determine if a better deal could be found from other private parties.

“Open government requires sunshine and it requires competition. I think that we always do better when we have competition,” Kingston said.

Councilman Scott Griggs said Southern Dallas residents and neighbors want assurances of representation on a new Fair Park Board, especially since Humann lives in the Park Cities.

“We’ve got to get that kind of buy in. It can’t be just people coming down, passing the river and going back home,” Griggs said. “Over time, the city of Dallas and State Fair have failed Fair Park.”

Humann said the new plan includes a major new community park on the Fair Park site, to be designed within two years and constructed with donated money. The new foundation would be subject to the city’s minority business inclusion and open meetings rules.

Councilman Mark Clayton complained the new community park depends on raising donations while the city is still being asked to invest far more taxpayer money.

“All the citizens who live around the area are going to get is the same as they’ve always gotten,” Clayton said.

Most council members voiced concerns but also voiced a desire to see progress at Fair Park.

“We just have to decide, 'is this the best way to make that happen?,'” Councilwoman Jennifer Gates said.

The council chamber was filled with demonstrators on both sides for the single issue meeting Monday afternoon. Many of the people wore t-shirts with slogans for or against the foundation plan.

Rawlings wants it approved next month to put Fair Park in foundation control in January.

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