DALLAS — Opposition to a plan to revitalize Dallas Fair Park Monday forced Mayor Mike Rawlings to send the proposal back to be renegotiated.
That opposition surfaced at Dallas City Hall during a city council meeting designed to discuss and many hoped, move forward on a quick vote on the plan.
The revitalization plan overall was something most every politicians and civic leaders in the city wants to see. But it was the list of priorities that had opponents to the plan organizing and ultimately putting enough pressure on the mayor to reconsider.
The original concept of the Fair Park proposal was to turn it into more of a park by turning operations over to a non-profit foundation called Fair Park Texas Foundation, to be led by respected civic leader Walt Humann. But the plan Humann presented to the city council Monday proposed spending $125 million in bond funds on building and parking lot repairs, most of which would benefit Fair Park's largest tenant, The State Fair of Texas.
Council member Mark Clayton took Humann to task over the lack of public funds dedicated to creating a signature park.
"If we are really going to engage the community we should shift the focus back to creating a park," Clayton said. "We should apply this $9 million toward a signature park as opposed to fixing the swine building and the plaza in front of the Cotton Bowl."
Council member Scott Griggs picked up where Clayton left off, first challenging Humann over the scarcity of minorities on the Fair Park Foundation board. Griggs also pointed out that little or no money was dedicated to the creation of a signature park.
"Why don't we move the park to priority one and make it the most important thing," Griggs said. "People want a park and they want the gates and walls taken down. They want to be able to visit this park."
Mayor Rawlings, who appointed Walt Humann to head the foundation's efforts, rushed to Humann's defense and thanked him for taking on a largely thankless task for free. Rawlings also suggested that Humann could shift some money around and see to it that public money be used to pay for the signature park instead of used to repair historic buildings.
"Humann's belief is that we have a better chance to raise private money to pay for the park rather than pay to fix pipe," Rawlings said. "But if we don't get this done now it's not going to get done."
To salvage the project, Rawlings ended the proceedings and hastily called for a special negotiations committee to help reconcile all of the oppositions and competing alternative proposals.
Three council members have been appointed — Adam McGough, Tiffinni Young and Monica Alonzo. The mayor hopes the three can craft a final proposal that will gain council support this fall.
Humann sent a statement regarding Monday's meeting:
“It was a great pleasure to present plans for the Fair Park Texas Foundation to the Dallas City Council today. I appreciate all of the discussion and input, and look forward to continued negotiation.
“Today, I heard from people on all sides of the conversation. But I learned that we agree more than we disagree. We all agree - Fair Park is a jewel that is worth investing in.
“We all believe that green space should be a top priority. Plans for a grand family park and a community park will replace the halo of concrete surrounding Fair Park with free, open space for our citizens to enjoy year-round. We are talking about park space that is 60-70% larger than Klyde Warren Park. The green space is a personal passion point for me. When the Foundation is formed, we will engage the community and listen to what is needed. Then, we will get professional input. From there, we will secure funding. And finally, begin construction. This process is how we will handle all strategic planning and special projects. We will always begin with community engagement.
“This is not one singular plan, but rather a request for the tools needed to properly manage Fair Park. We need effective management through a private Foundation and adequate funding. A vote in favor of the Fair Park Foundation is a vote to begin the conversation on how we can take care of a great city treasure. We have a window of opportunity to reject the status quo in favor of progress.”
Fair Park Texas Foundation