It's easy to drive by the lot on Martin Luther King Boulevard at Holmes Street and Dallas and not see the change and miss the opportunity -- but it's there.
"We are focused on turning this lot into a food park this week," said Krista Nightengale, the executive director of nonprofit The Better Block Foundation. "Creative seating, green spaces and more healthy options for eating, and even some sit down options. We're trying to bring all those elements into this space."
Better Block and The Real Estate Council are the lead partners behind the MLK Food Park, opening Friday as part of a monthlong pop-up event in the Forest district of South Dallas.
"It was a hallelujah moment when we figured out that these thoughts and ideas that we've been talking about for seven, 10, 12 years are now coming about," said Donald Wesson with Cornerstone Community Development Corporation. "It's sorely needed. It's a forgotten neighborhood in South Dallas that's lacking the infrastructure of building a community. We don't have the coffee shops or the parks, but have a lot of liquor stores."
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Wesson was among those at the lot on a sunny Monday morning helping to transform it into a vibrant space where vendors will sell food and families will gather.
"It's kinda the kick-off of the visible transformation that is starting to happen in the Forest district. And for many of the residents here, it's the first time they're going to see some of those tangible changes coming to life," said Kristen Leiber, The Better Block's senior project manager.
Better Block is a nonprofit in Oak Cliff that uses design to activate spaces and bring people together. The group surveyed residents in the Forest District and designed a plan based on what they said they wanted.
"We want to know what they want to see and why. And one of the top things requested was art, music and landscaping in this space. So, we wanted to bring the greenery to them. We wanted to bring the sights and sounds they wanted to see. So, we've got lighting. We've got art. We've got sculpture," Leiber said.
The food park will open on weekends and feature a weekly rotation of food trucks and trailers, vendors, and musicians and entertainers. Every slot is filled.
"There's no fee for them to be part of this. They do have to go through permitting," Nightengale said.
The funding to get it all done comes from The Real Estate Council. Linda McMahon, TREC’s CEO said in a statement, "In 2019 TREC Community Investors Dallas Catalyst Project made a grant to Better Block for $65,000 – initially it was to be used for a streetscape demonstration project but during COVID we pivoted to organizing a Food Trailer Park event. TREC member volunteers, staff and Better Block have been planning this since last year and the total cost for the event will exceed that – for which TREC Community Investors will be managing. Additionally, Matthews Southwest has donated their property, and additional costs associated with the event. The estimated value of the project over the 4 week period will exceed a $100K investment in the Forest District.”
The temporary food park will also provide critical information. It will serve as a testing ground to see if Dallas is ready to expand policy about mobile food vendors.
"The policies we have in place right now regarding mobile food vending are mainly food trucks. And food trucks are great, but they do have a higher entry-level. It's around $50,000 to $250,000 to do a food truck. With food trailers, it's more like $25,000. So, the city is starting to allow food trailers. And we just want to show folks what it could look like if we have a whole food park that's built around different forms of mobile food vending," Nightengale explained.
"This has always been something we wanted for the community. Food and food business, not only to provide fresh nutrition and food access but to provide the jobs associated with food," said Wesson, who runs the nonprofit arm of the Cornerstone Baptist Church. The congregation houses a community kitchen and will allow some of the food vendors to use the space.
For 30 days, the empty lot will bloom into a vibrant space for families, food and fellowship. The hope is that all will see what's built and tested can work - and it can work in South Dallas.
"We want to test concepts and then, there are lessons to be learned from those. So, we set things to come up and tear down. Some people wish they'd stay. Some people want to tweak, and that's kind of the beauty in what we do," Leiber said. "It's a quick win for the community. It's a fast build, and it helps people envision more permanent items."
Wesson believes the community will embrace the transformation and lasting change will result.
"We act on faith and belief and something greater and bigger than us. And, we also realize to make an omelet, we're gonna have to crack eggs to get there," Wesson smiled.
"People will be so excited. We have so many incredible vendors that I think people are gonna be excited to come here and see the possibility." Nightengale said.
MLK FOOD PARK
1611 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
April 9 - May 2, 2021
Fridays: 6 p.m. - 8 p.m.
Saturdays & Sundays: 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.