It took me a long time to recover from my unease when Dallas gave a little-known nonprofit the keys to our crown jewel, Fair Park, and its treasure trove of treasured art deco buildings, but disintegrating.
My distrust, and that of many others, was well deserved.
Decade after decade, the sleight of hand and broken promises were the best this National Historic Landmark and its surrounding neighbors had gotten from people who showed up claiming that help had finally arrived.
Who would love to be that columnist who buys the latest Fair Park Resurrection story only to find out later that you are unwittingly helping sell snake oil?
That’s why I’ve proceeded with caution since Dallas handed operation of the 277-acre landmark to nonprofit Fair Park First and its for-profit site manager, Spectra, now OVG360, in January. 2019.
But especially since plans for a premier community park were unveiled in April — a far cry from the two acres and a swing set skeptics have been waiting for — I’m becoming a believer.
Each announcement provides further proof that Fair Park First is fixing the basics that this site has been missing for a very long time – community trust and a workable plan to give this place a real future.
Today I bring details of two new developments.
The first is the Fair Park Loop Trail, which will loop around the perimeter of the park, connecting to the adjacent Santa Fe Trail to the north and the Lagow Street bike paths to the south.
I also took a look at the designs for the parking lot complex off South Fitzhugh Avenue, which will expand the green space of the 14-acre community park by an additional 4.5 acres.
Like the community park, which will be created in what is now a sea of concrete near South Fitzhugh, construction of the trail and parking lot will begin next year.
As one of the many runners, cyclists, and walkers from east Dallas stuck on the leg of the Santa Fe Trail that ends at Parry Avenue, I will be counting the days until this new loop is built.
The Santa Fe Connection and Loop Trail will increase access and provide safer pedestrian traffic all around Fair Park. It will also eventually join the northern part of the Trinity Forest Spine trail.
More importantly, it will create a softer perimeter for a space that has long been a walled fortress of its neighbors.
“What could be more obvious about putting the park back in Fair Park than having a pathway as a perimeter rather than a fence,” Alyssa Arnold, director of strategic initiatives at Fair Park First, told me.
The 2.8-mile trail extension is possible because the North Central Texas Council of Governments Regional Transportation Council provided $8 million to significantly expand what was originally planned as a single-mile trail. side of the park.
It’s a meaningful “we believe in Fair Park” gesture by a group known for sticking with winners.
Dallas County, the City of Dallas, including District 7 Councilman Adam Bazaldua’s Discretionary Fund, Fair Park First and the State Fair of Texas also funded the $11 million project.
Planning is underway to create safety buffers to separate pedestrians from adjacent multi-lane streets and to navigate construction around the stately live oak trees that line the Robert B. Cullum Boulevard and Avenue portions of the park. South Fitzhugh.
The South Side of Fitzhugh is the location chosen by neighbors for the Community Park, a green space that delivers on an oft-broken promise that was originally part of the city’s villainous scheme to force hundreds of black families out their homes in the 1960s and 1970s.
It’s a tragedy this town can’t afford to forget: After a consultant reported in 1966 that Fair Park was unpopular because of “poor niggers in their shacks” and that City Hall should ” eliminate the view problem,” Dallas tricked landlords with low-ball deals and used eminent domain to take other properties.
More than 50 years later, the Community Park is a small step towards healing a part of our town traditionally different from those found within the walls of Fair Park.
The planned park, a Blackland Prairie wonderland full of amenities, will replace Fair Park’s larger car park when it opens in 2024 near the Dos Equis Pavilion.
And having seen the proposed design for the garage complex, which will provide the approximately 2,000 parking spaces lost to the community park, I can assure you that it is not a boring gray structure.
Fair Park First CEO Brian Luallen describes it as a parking lot “hidden in plain sight.”
The resort is designed as an extension of the park, with berms and natural grassland landscaping. Creative paving will make Lagow feel like a festival space rather than a street separating park and garage.
The proposal features a shaded canopy flowing over a large deck above the garage and nearby viewing deck, which designers Gensler and Moody-Nolan have dubbed “the serpent”.
Luallen is painfully aware that it can be extremely difficult to drive in and out of Fair Park for major events, and he believes the new garage will improve traffic flow.
Not including all the upgrades, Fair Park First is considering a $35-40 million price tag for the garage, which will be privately funded.
The immediate priority is to do the necessary work at City Hall to begin construction on the bases in early January. This will provide a place to put cars for large events and break up the roadway for the community park.
If plans stay on track, Fair Park will house 22.5 acres of green space by 2024, nearly doubling its current total.
The most park-like setting that currently exists within Fair Park, the Leonhardt Lagoon, is also being upgraded to enhance its natural space.
All of this, Luallen told me, helps people see Fair Park as a real park, “a natural space that they want to be a part of, not just for the state fair and special events.”
Luallen is a born salesman, so much so that I sometimes roll my eyes when he repeats phrases like “turn on the park” or “user experiences” one too many times.
But he’s done a Herculean job directing all the good stuff that’s happening here. His team and the Fair Park First Board have gained great credibility by bringing diverse perspectives and really, really listening to their neighbours.
This is not a “check this box and go to next item” group.
That said, don’t confuse my praise with anything other than a tentative assessment. The community park and amenities I talked about today are still months away from opening.
Even with lively events like Coldplay at the Cotton Bowl and Frozen at the Music Hall, a bustling Texas Discovery Gardens, and a reimagined children’s aquarium, the expanses of Fair Park are still eerily empty on some days.
It will take a lot more work before Dallas embraces this place as much more than where they catch a nerdy dog and watch Big Tex once a year.
Yet last weekend, thousands of people celebrated in Fair Park during the Dallas Pride Parade. New events are announced almost daily – and we’re fast approaching June 16, when FIFA will name which US venues will get a piece of the 2026 World Cup.
Imagine biking to World Cup games from the Santa Fe Trail to Fair Park or from Lagow Street and the Spine Trail. How cool would that be?
It looks more and more like Dallas — finally — did the right thing when it handed over the keys to Fair Park to this then little-known nonprofit.
Fair Park First, in turn, continues to speak out on behalf of its neighbors, the entire city, and our beloved gem.