Rawlings and the City Council Roll into Fair Park

City Council 2

In what I expect was a piece of theater, last night, the Dallas City Council trucked over to Fair Park to meet with the people in an open-door session. The goal was for citizens to voice their opinions about the Fair Park task force’s plans. As one black community leader pointed out, a two-hour session with the neighborhood after a year of work by a largely secretive task force was “a slap in the face.”

Before I continue, I ended my last piece on Fair Park wondering how much rent the city was generating from the State Fair.

In 2013 (the most recent financial statements I could find), the State Fair generated $42,411,006 in revenues (up $4.5-million from 2012) and paid the city $1,784,185 in rent for its 3.5 month lease of Fair Park. That would place an annual rental value on Fair Park of $5,947,283 or just $1,789 per acre per month. Does that seem a terrifically low price for a National Register property?

Put in perspective, the nonprofit State Fair pays its top nine executives just over $3 million in salaries and perks, not quite double what they pay the entire city of Dallas. Also keep in mind, for $1,789 a month you could either rent a 917 square foot, 1-bedroom apartment in West Village or an ACRE at Fair Park with all its accompanying historical buildings. How’s that for perspective?

Auditorium 1

The Only Choice is Change

The city council has two options, change and change. They can either adopt (AND FUND) the current task force plan to resuscitate Fair Park or they can do nothing and watch the park deteriorate for a few more years. Either way there will be change … the change of progress or the physical change of dereliction.

Before the meeting had ended I was getting texts asking which way I thought it would go. I suspect some monies will be spent. How much I can’t say. But logically it would make no political sense to motorcade out to Fair Park for a very public meeting only to (again) offload the problem on future councils. It would also explain some of the fawning, politically-connected speakers who seemed to have attended to congratulate an unseen decision.

Wonder Bread Speakers 1

White In-Flight

Unlike the Jan. 26 meeting, the vast majority of speakers were white and from outside the neighborhood. I stopped counting over an hour into the meeting with blacks representing just 25 percent of the speakers. A complete reverse from a week ago, due, one assumes to the Council (power) being there. It was interesting to hear the two races speak.

By and large, the white speakers waxed poetically of long-gone childhoods filled with corn dogs, Tilt-A-Whirls and butter sculptures. Many appeared to be saying, “Do what you want to the park as long as the State Fair is unchanged.” A rather self-serving mantra.

Another popular image was the likening of Fair Park to a “jewel” as was the misplaced self-congratulatory back patting about their personal involvement in the park and overall genuflecting to the council. There were a pair of newly relocated hipsters among the sea of reading-glassed supporters. Some had personal agendas for movie screening facilities and skateboard park space. Most seemed to be rooting for Fair Park to be the park of THEIR dreams memories.

These speakers appear to have forgotten that if Dallas’ white citizenry of the 1950s and 1960s could have found a way to cram Fair Park onto a moving van, this meeting would be about a crater. Missing from most was the understanding that they’d left their toy behind and it wasn’t theirs anymore.

Kudos to the one gentleman who did speak of the parking lot moat surrounding the park that saw some 80-acres scraped clean of homes to become a concrete graveyard 11 months a year. A moat acquired expressly to keep black people out. A moat largely owned by the State Fair itself.

All in all, white speakers, including the granddaughters of Fair Park’s most celebrated architect George Dahl, seemed mostly to want Fair Park put back the way it was in its heyday as if nothing had transpired in the area in 80 years.

Packed overflow room where I sat

Packed overflow room where I sat

Basic Black

Those few black speakers are easy to characterize as pragmatic. Unlike the wistful whites, the black speakers had definite needs from the park that spoke to its inclusion within the neighborhood and of its usefulness as a tool to uplift the surrounding neighborhood. Their goal is to see the park revitalized (just like the white speakers) but to make the park useful to residents. They wanted its facilities opened for local sporting events and educational activities. They wanted business to treat the area as an incubator.

It was shamefully sobering to hear one black woman talk about first being turned away from the State Fair as a child in the 1930s only to finally gain entry in the 1940s on the single day blacks were allowed at the Fair. We sometimes forget that this bigotry is still not a generation behind us until it stands and reminds us all.

One soft-spoken father expressed the desperate need for quality, full-time jobs for residents. Another asked for neighborhood amenities that are taken for granted elsewhere like grocery stores, pharmacies, quality restaurants and the like – the simple infrastructure that make a neighborhood livable. One woman drew titters from some (Caucasians) near me for asking about better internet access in an area she described as a desert. (I hope they were titters of ignorance about unequal access in poorer areas.) All wanted the barriers that amputated the park from the neighborhood removed. They want the park to work for them to help improve their standard of living.

Frankly, I agree with them. White Dallas abandoned Fair Park decades ago for 11 months a year. They let its buildings crumble and its neighborhood deteriorate. It’s not their park anymore. The neighborhood should have the biggest voice in its rejuvenation. Unfortunately, I fear that dream of having a restored Fair Park set within a better functioning neighborhood will be short-lived for current residents who will most likely be gentrified out of the area.

Many specifically poo-pooed the idea of gentrification masquerading as displacement, but I just don’t see how current residents can keep a hold of both the park and their neighborhood. I hope I’m wrong because after decades of disdain they deserve a neighborhood that is full of opportunity, functions well and has a great big fabulous park in the middle.

But I’m afraid.

 

Remember: Do you have an HOA story to tell? A little high-rise history? Realtors, want to feature a listing in need of renovation or one that’s complete with flying colors? How about hosting a Candy’s Dirt Staff Meeting? Shoot Jon an email. Marriage proposals accepted (they’re legal)! sharewithjon@candysdirt.com

 

7 Comment

  • mm

    I found myself nodding and agreeing with most all you said, Jon. The only thing that hasn’t been addressed to satisfaction is the barrier between East Dallas and Fair Park that Interstate 30 creates. Any successful plan to revitalize Fair Park should include a solution for this problem.

    • Joanna, as you know I-30 separated all of Northern Dallas from South Dallas. Figuring out a way of fixing that from Oak Cliff to East Dallas is monumental.

  • mm

    Jon, great post. You and I both come from different worlds when it comes to race having been raised in the north. When I moved to Dallas and worked at KDFW, I was told there was a separate drinking fountain in the bowels of the building for blacks. Horrified. I cannot conceive of a world like that, nor do I ever want to. I think Fair Park will be gentrified, because that may be the only way to bring in the funds and jobs the residents ask for.

    • Chicago was no paragon of race relations. I don’t remember segregated water fountains either, but I do remember school segregation, race riots, public housing projects and redlining all playing important roles in keeping blacks down.

  • I had a different take.

    My observation was that only a handful of the white speakers had the type of nostalgic “change nothing” perspective that you describe. I think the majority of speakers of all races advocated including the community in the decision making process, generating economic opportunities for the neighborhood, and creating improved public space that both neighbors and the greater community could enjoy. It struck me as a very productive conversation.

    • Rik, different ears hear different things. I heard the white speakers speak of change, but change more couched in restoration than in the community as a whole. Their ideals for the community were harder to pin down whereas the black, local speakers had a laundry list of very pragmatic things they needed. Perhaps the groups are in agreement, but it wasn’t coming across.

  • I did not attend the meeting. Thank you for the recap. Your review was one of the most straight-forward, insightful, and courageous pieces I’ve read in a while. As you remarked to a reader comment, perspectives will naturally differ. But the case you make for determining the fate of Fair Park is convincing. You really dug to get to the core of what many might portray as a mildly-worthy news story. I don’t like reading it, but I’m better for having done so.