DALLAS, TX (TIP): A nine-member task force on the future of Fair Park has been meeting privately for several months and is expected to issue recommendations to Mayor Mike Rawlings by May, according to a report in Dallas News. The task force, appointed by Rawlings, meets at 8 a.m. each Tuesday at offices of the Meadows Foundation.
The meetings are not open to the public, even though Rawlings might eventually submit task force recommendations to the Dallas City Council for action. “The purpose of this group is to give me dramatic ideas,” Rawlings said Thursday. “We may or may not do them. People have talked about how we get more people living and working down there. Within the park itself, how do we use that space?” Task force members contacted this week by The News were tight-lipped and hesitant to discuss any new ideas to pump life into the 277-acre park, which is best known for hosting the annual State Fair of Texas.
Linda Perryman Evans, the task force chairwoman, said she had nothing to report. “The issue is how to revitalize Fair Park and enjoy what is there,” said Evans, president and CEO of the Meadows Foundation. “It is a treasure for our city.” Currently, the city of Dallas owns and operates Fair Park. State Fair of Texas Inc., a tax-exempt corporation, has a contract with the city to use the park for its annual event in September and October.
Many other community groups occupy space at Fair Park – WRR (101.1 FM), the city-owned classical music station; the Cotton Bowl; the African American Museum; the Music Hall at Fair Park; and the Children’s Aquarium, among others. The park is also home to annual festivals such as KwanzaaFest in December and the North Texas Irish Festival, which begins today and runs through this weekend. The task force’s work comes after news that Summer Adventures at Fair Park, an amusement park, will not return in 2014. The State Fair conceived of Summer Adventures as a way to make money and get more use out of the park.
Attendance was disappointing, however. Undoubtedly, the task force is reviewing whether city government should turn over management of Fair Park to a private company. Previous master plans speculated that a private not-for-profit company, an overarching commission or a separate taxing authority might be better management vehicles than city government. “I think before we are through, there will be a lot of discussion about who should manage the park,” said Max Wells, a task force member and president of the Dallas park board, one of the many boards and commissions that report to the City Council.
In recent years, city government has privatized operations at the Dallas Zoo. The city also sold the Dallas Farmers Market to private operators last June. Rawlings said city government is not going to sell Fair Park. “That option is not on the table,” he said. Other task force members echoed that sentiment. Diane Ragsdale, another task force member, is executive director of Innercity Community Development Corporation in South Dallas. She builds houses for lowincome people in the Fair Park area. “We are still struggling with the options for what recommendations to bring to the mayor,” said Ragsdale, who, like Wells, is a former City Council member.
“I don’t see any housing development in Fair Park. That is not one of our considerations.” Two other task force members, Mark Langdale and Jack Matthews, are highpowered real estate developers. The mayor’s task force is hardly the first effort to reimagine the park. Over the years, perceptions that the Fair Park area is not safe have hampered redevelopment plans in surrounding neighborhoods. Political divisions among the many groups with a stake in the park also make it difficult to bring forth bold change.
The City Council, the park board, the State Fair, state and local historic preservation societies are only a few of the groups that speak out on Fair Park issues. Protecting art deco buildings constructed for the Texas Centennial in 1936 – think Hall of State – is a top priority for preservationists. The late David Dillon, for years the respected architecture critic for The News, neatly summed up the problem in 1991: “Compared to Fair Park, Eastern Europe is a bureaucratic breeze,” Dillon wrote. “At least 15 boards and organizations have a say in the management of its 277 acres. Because of all the red tape, simple problems often become baroque, and lofty common objectives succumb to parochial turf battles.”
At a glance: Mayor’s task force on Fair Park
At the request of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, the following people are meeting weekly to review the management and operations of Fair Park, the city-owned, 277- acre site of the annual State Fair of Texas: Linda Perryman Evans (task force chair), president and CEO of the Meadows Foundation José Bowen, dean of Meadows School for the Arts at SMU Craig Holcomb, former Dallas City Council member and current executive director of Friends of Fair Park Mark Langdale, former president of George W. Bush Foundation and current real estate developer and investor Jack Matthews, president of Matthews Southwest, a real estate development firm Diane Ragsdale, former Dallas City Council member and current executive director of InnerCity Community Development Corp. Mary Suhm, former Dallas city manager Alan Walne, former Dallas City Council member and current chairman of State Fair of Texas Inc. Max Wells, former Dallas City Council member and current president of Dallas Park and Recreation Board