Hundreds Pack Meeting on Future of Fair Park

Controversy over Mayor's plan

Hundreds of people turned out Monday night to voice their thoughts on the future of Dallas Fair Park.

Mayor Mike Rawlings said the special Dallas City Council meeting was held at the Hall of State in the park to make it easier for neighbors to attend.

The mayor's plan for the park calls for a public/private partnership with public investment and private foundation management. Energy executive Walt Humann has volunteered to run the foundation.

"It's worked for the Dallas Zoo. We have one of the best zoos in the nation now. It's worked for the Dallas Arboretum, which is one of the most important sites in America for flower lovers and for nature," Rawlings said.

The Monday night meeting was reserved for public speakers and many supported the plan.

"I think it's a great plan," said the Rev. Donald Parrish, pastor of True Lee Missionary Baptist Church near Fair Park. "I think a lot of thought went into it and I don't think you could pick a better person to lead this charge on."

But Parrish said neighborhoods around the park have been overlooked and must prosper along with the revitalized park.

"To go forward with a plan and not include a significant investment and reinvestment in this community would be a tragic mistake," Parrish said.

Former Dallas City Council Member Diane Ragsdale was a member of the mayor's Fair Park Task Force that developed the plan.

Ragsdale said neighbors want fences removed to make the park accessible to the surrounding community when the State Fair of Texas is not underway.

"Millions of dollars should be allocated for the renovation of the buildings and millions of dollars should be allocated for the neighborhoods," Ragsdale said.

Some speakers strongly opposed the private management plan.

Arboretum neighbor Carol Bell-Walton said the Arboretum is not a good neighbor.

"When I see a foundation that's private that wants $35 million a year, the hair on the back of my neck stands up," Bell-Walton said. "Why don't we get somebody who can develop a park to develop the park? Why don't we get a professional and not an oil and gas executive?"

No decisions were made at the special Dallas City Council meeting Monday night. Rawlings has said decisions must come soon.

"It's an important decision. It's expensive. It's not going to be easy. But it's here now. If we just take it to the next level and pass it on to the next generation," Rawlings said.

The mayor wants Fair Park improvements included in a proposed 2017 capital improvement bond referendum being crafted at Dallas City Hall now. The private foundation, if created, would be expected to raise substantial investment and donations to improve park operations.

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