The third group that came forward with a bid to manage Dallas Fair Park received the recommendation Friday after a lengthy city selection process and two years of controversy.
The group called “Fair Park First” includes a management firm called “Spectra,” which is owned by Comcast, the parent company of NBC5.
“This is going to be the biggest thing to happen to the area since the park was built. I think it’s going to be transformational. I think it’d going to be a catalyst for the area,” said City Council Member Kevin Felder who represents the Fair Park neighborhood.
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People visiting the park Friday said there is room for improvement.
“Right now there’s very not much to do, we’re just walking,” said Charles Durden from Sunnyvale, Texas. Durden said he once lived in the Fair Park neighborhood.
“There ought to be something going on continuously, the whole year, because I just don’t think we are getting the advantage of where we are. This is a luxury when you think about it,” Durden said.
Natalia Marshall and her family from McKinney visited the park Friday.
“When we come to Dallas, this is one of the places I like to bring them,” she said. “It’s unique and so small and free.”
Dallas city leaders want Fair Park to be a year round attraction, not just the home of the annual State Fair of Texas.
In 2016, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings tapped businessman Walt Humann to lead a private foundation to raise private money for park improvements. Rawlings said no one else had shown interest.
But opponents to the initial deal, including City Council Member Philip Kingston, said competitive bids should be solicited and city attorneys agreed.
Friday’s recommendation said Fair Park First management offered the best deal for Dallas. The park would remain city owned.
“I think what we all want is for this to be a vibrant, usable city asset,” Kingston said. “And more particularly, the neighbors who are closest to it have been the least listened to and the least served by the city’s efforts down here and that needs to change.”
Felder heard a detailed presentation about the Fair Park First plan on Friday and said he believes neighbors will benefit.
“It’s inclusive. They have good diversity. They have a track record,” Felder said.
A new park for the neighborhood on what currently are parking lots along Robert B. Cullum Boulevard is included in the plan, according to Felder.
After many years of neglected maintenance at Dallas Fair Park, some people suggested additional funding could allow the City to do a better job on its own.
Since an additional $16 million was added to the budget in 2017 in anticipation of Humann’s group taking over, the Dallas Parks Department began using that money for improved maintenance and programs.
Felder said he is ready to support the private group
“The City of Dallas has had a hundred years to get it right and they haven’t gotten it right,” Felder said.
The Dallas Park Board and then the Dallas City Council must still review and approve the deal.
“We need to hear from the people of Dallas, the people of this neighborhood, who will be impacted most by this. We need to make sure they understand what’s happening,” said Park Board President Bobby Abtahi.
State Fair of Texas spokesperson Karissa Condoianis said all three bidders met with fair officials and that the fair looks forward to being included in future city plans.
"The Fair supports third party management," Condoianis said.
The Park Board will hear a briefing from people involved with Fair Park First to begin the review process on Thursday.