Dallas Parks Board Approves Fair Park Privatization Plan Thursday

The city-owned park would be run by a newly-formed nonprofit foundation

Members of the Dallas Parks and Recreation board voted to approve a public-private partnership for management of Fair Park, and the measure now goes to the full City Council for consideration.

The vote came after a meeting that lasted nearly nine hours Thursday.

The proposal would authorize a 20-year agreement with the Fair Park Texas Foundation, Inc., a newly-formed nonprofit that has promised to make many millions of dollars in needed repairs to the 277-acre park.

Dozens stepped up to the microphone at Dallas City Hall in a final effort to make their opinions known on the future of the home of the State Fair of Texas.

The plan would create a public-private partnership with a newly formed entry called the Texas Fair Park Foundation, Inc.

The nonprofit, under the leadership of Walt Humann, has promised to make many millions of dollars in needed repairs to the 277-acre park under a proposed 20-year agreement that would privatize the park.

The foundation would raise millions in private funds to work in conjunction with public money; at least $403,825,000 over the life of the agreement.

"If the city will come through in the (2017) bond program and in operating funding I think we have a very good chance of tapping into the private sector," Humann said. "This is a historical event."

The discussion on the plan has been heated, though.

Five members of the parks board walked out of a recent meeting about the transition of power, concerned that much of this deal has been worked out behind closed doors.

The situation has also been met with support and criticism on social media and again Thursday morning during the public input section of the meeting.

Speakers at the meeting were fairly split on the topic.

Several spoke highly of Humann and said that the plan was a long-overdue solution to the problems at the park; one said it’s simply time to make a decision.

Others disagreed, though, urging board members not to push through the situation without due diligence on the topic.

Some echoed the concerns that there was not enough transparency during the creation of the deal and that it didn’t provide enough details or guarantees that significant changes would be made with the large contribution of tax payer funds.

Several people in the crowd even held signs that said “Delay Your Vote” while others wore stickers on their shirt in support of the nonprofit.

"Everyody who don't want to see this succeeed does not live in the community," said Parks Board member Yolanda Williams.

Public comment on the situation closed at about 10 a.m. and the Parks Board began going over the proposal page by page and preparing discussions and amendments.

“Let’s really focus on the ‘why’ versus the ‘whos’ and ‘whats’,” said Board Member Sean Johnson as that phase began. “We have a jewel in Fair Park and something needs to be done.”

The board does plan to vote on the proposal Thursday, but there’s no indicator how long it may take to get to that point.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has been a leading voice in favor of the transition of power, and at a news conference earlier this week he urged parks board members to approve the proposal Thursday.

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