DALLAS -- Dallas City Council could be just weeks away from deciding the future of Fair Park. Monday, they'll meet to review the plan.

The plan is this, to put the "park" back in Fair Park and turn operations over to a non-profit entity.

But critics say the proposal on the table now does little more than repair existing buildings and maintain the status quo.

The Fair Park grounds Thursday were a beehive of activity, with mostly construction workers hustling to ready the site for the State Fair of Texas in a few weeks. But it's what happens there the other 49 weeks of the year that has civic leaders and politicians both together and at odds.

Most of the focus is on the lack of activity and the empty buildings that Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings wants to see filled.

"We've got to change the whole dynamic of Fair Park," he said.

A locked gate at Dallas' Fair Park.
A locked gate at Dallas' Fair Park.

So Mayor Rawlings has come up with a plan that involves renovating the historic, dilapidated art deco buildings and transforming Fair Park into more of a year round attraction.

"We have the oldest collection of art deco buildings in the nation and that is a real gift that our for fathers gave us," Rawlings said. "At the same time we've got to build a brand new park that reaches out to the community, push the perimeter fence back, open up the park to everybody."

Spearheading the project is respected civic leader Walt Humann, whom the Mayor has selected to run the non-profit organization, Fair Park Texas Foundation.

Humann's management agreement with the city is about to be voted on by Dallas City Council.

Some say that's all well and good, except for one thing.

"You look at the fine print and the park is nowhere near a priority," said Dallas City Councilmember Scott Griggs.

Griggs is perhaps the most vocal opponent to the plan, mainly because of the 100-plus pages in the proposed plan, the only meaningful mention of creating a new park-like atmosphere, is section 6.16, a one-paragraph narrative calling for a "Community Park."

"It's supposed to be the reason we are here having this conversation," Griggs said. "It's in the water colors, it's what we heard from the community, it's what we heard early on. It really feels like a bait and switch."

Dallas' Fair Park
Dallas' Fair Park

Included in the management agreement is a "Capital Needs Inventory." Worth noting, most of the buildings get little use outside of the three week State Fair. Among the $240-million in prospective projects listed;

  • $10 million for the Automobile Building
  • $12 million for the Centennial Building
  • $ 9 million for the Coliseum.
  • $21 million for the Science Place
  • $7 million dollars to make structural repairs to the Swine Building.

"It is a lot of money," said Dee Ann Hirsch, senior park manager.

But Hirsch says the Swine Building is another historic art deco style architecture building that deserves to be preserved, despite its limited use.

"Right now this facility is primarily used during State Fair time," Hirsch said.

0504 fair park future 3
The Hall of State in Fair Park has seen better days.

One of the more unique proposals is also the most secretive, mainly because it's below ground under what's known as Science Place 2.

It's the city of Dallas' old command center and fallout shelter. It's slated for a $2.3 million renovation and transformation into a museum. Mayor Rawlings says the proposals are just needs that must be addressed but not set in concrete. He promises the true park transformation plan will come later.

Opponents fear more concrete is exactly what they will end up getting.