OpEd: Why I Think We Ought to Give Walt Humann a Chance at Saving Fair Park

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Photo: Lisa Stewart Photography
Panel of experts at #DecisionFairPark Photo: Lisa Stewart Photography

After the panel discussion Thursday night, the audience wanted to debate on past 9:15 pm, but we did not want to outstay our welcome at King of Glory Lutheran Church. I promised to keep the discussion going on CandysDirt. Here is an OpEd and a different view from one of our editors:

Thursday night the Candy’sDirt.com team managed to pull off an amazing event – they overcame every hurdle put in their way (including a potentially politically-motivated last minute change of venue) and hosted Decision Fair Park at the King of Glory Lutheran Church, an open discussion about the public/private partnership to control Fair Park. The good folks at King of Glory did not succumb to phone calls asking to cancel the panel.

As a Lifestylist® and founder of American Housing Advocates, affordable housing and homelessness are issues that are very important to me, as well as the lifestyle that having a 277-acre park so close to downtown affords all of us. The Fair Park Privatization Plan is a hot topic for almost anyone that lives in or cares about Dallas, and like everyone else I had an opinion. That opinion changed after the discussion last night, and now I’m more committed than ever to get involved with the decisions being made. Here’s why you should as well.

The grounds and buildings at Fair Park are enjoyed all year long. Photo: Lisa Stewart Photography
The grounds and buildings at Fair Park are enjoyed all year long. Photo: Lisa Stewart Photography

It’s hard to appreciate Fair Park and how important it is to the people of Dallas without knowing some facts.

Fair Park is enjoyed all year long – almost 2 million people enjoyed Fair Park last year at times other than when the fair was being held. More than 1,000 events are hosted there every year, many of them being free to the community. The Fair Park grounds are open every day except during the State Fair from 5am -11pm at no charge. (Data from the Fair park website.)

A blue ribbon entry at The State Fair of Texas (photo: Lisa Stewart Photography)
A blue ribbon entry at The State Fair of Texas Photo: Lisa Stewart Photography

The State Fair of Texas  is a “non-profit organization with all proceeds helping to preserve and improve Fair Park and underwrite museum, community and scholarship programs for inner city youth and students pursuing agricultural careers.” In fact, proceeds from the fair have been critical to providing maintenance to Fair Park buildings. The State Fair currently donates 1.8 million free admission tickets to North Texas students and teachers, hires over 6,000 seasonal employees and has an economic impact of more than $600 million on North Texas. More than $42 million was spent by consumers on coupons in 2015 and there were attendance records set of over 3 million visitors. We were also impressed to learn that the fair received over 127 million social media impressions last year – that’s a lot of people sharing stories and information about not only the fair but about Dallas!

All generations enjoy the midway at tehh State Fair of Texas Photo: Lisa Stewart Photography
All generations enjoy the midway at the State Fair of Texas Photo: Lisa Stewart Photography

Fair Park is a place that’s very special to me. I’ve not only attended the State Fair with my family and kids, we are now sharing those experiences with their kids. It’s a great place to try out your new roller blades, ride a bike, read a book, play on the swan paddle boats, visit the Dallas Police Mounted division and their beautiful horses, and appreciate the spectacular art deco buildings that are from the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition.

Fair Park has the largest collection of Art Deco exhibit halls in the world Photo: Lisa Stewart Photography
Fair Park has the largest collection of Art Deco exhibit halls in the world Photo: Lisa Stewart Photography

We are so fortunate to have the largest collection of Art Deco Buildings IN THE WORLD – a fact that even I didn’t know, but makes me appreciate this precious display of architecture even more.

Now knowing all of this, I’m confused as to some of the comments made Thursday night. Panelists stated that “Fair Park is a ghost town”, “it’s only open to residents during the fair”, and that there is no assurance in the Humann agreement that the State Fair will make the changes called for in a recent City of Dallas audit that are requited to make Fair Park a “viable, year-round, full of life, full of people, full of activities community gathering place.” I was also really concerned when Mr. Willams was asked “WWTCD” (what would Trammell Crow do), and Mr. Williams said that Mr. Crow would not fix an empty business structure – does that mean that he would be willing to let the Fair Park buildings that are on the National Historic Landmark Registry decay and go into ruin without repairing them?

The statement that resonated with me the most though is when Candy asked Don Williams about the alternative plan he created, and what the differences were between his plan and what Walt Humann was proposing, he said: “I don’t have a plan.” He said he wanted to start with a conclusion, which was that with it’s 2 DART stations and 277 acres, Fair Park represents the “single greatest potential economic generator for Southern Dallas for years to come.” Included in this would be the potential for $3 billion dollars of real estate development.

All of the panelists had opinions, observations and insight, but apparently only Walt Humann has “a plan.”

One of the topics we always discuss in building classes that I’ve been involved with is Field of Dreams Marketing: If you build it they will come. If we gentrify Fair Park, will the millennial buyers and others really come? There’s been so much focus on making Fair Park a “public park” – it already is! It has been so unrealistic for Fair Park to be maintained on the limited budget the city has for it, the result is that even more will now have to be spent to bring it not back to life, but to a position where it can thrive.

I decided to do some digging about who Walt Humann is, and why he would want to be involved with returning Fair Park to a place that we all could not only be proud of, but celebrate. A December, 1985 article in D Magazine by Ruth Fitzgibbons described him as “an establishment figure who got there the old-fashioned way: through integrity and hard work.” SMU credited him with “modernizing life in Dallas” and also said, “Prominent businessman and public servant Walter J. Humann is chiefly recognized for creating the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system and helping desegregate Dallas schools with vision and skillful diplomacy.”

Walt Humann’s contributions to Dallas go far beyond his involvement as a business executive. He has worked to resolve many crucial problems that plague our community, from equality in education to hiring the handicapped to unclogging the freeways. His recent efforts to solve the vexing problems of gridlock on North Central Expressway won him near-unanimous praise for an incredibly difficult job well done. It has been said of Walt Humann that if he were confronted with a scattered army of 50,000 Brazilian fire ants, within half an hour he would have them purposefully marching in the same direction.

This sounds like someone I’m willing to at least give a chance to, to see what he can do.

Over 200 people attended #DecisionFairPark Photo: Lisa Stewart Photography
Over 200 people attended #DecisionFairPark Photo: Lisa Stewart Photography

Almost everyone Thursday last night agreed on the fact that it is time to privatize Fair Park. The City of Dallas is great at doing a lot of things, but a government environment makes it hard to raise the funds, find the sponsors, and create the awareness it’s going to take to make Fair Park even greater than it’s been in the past.  It’s time to give the reins to someone who can make tough decisions and move forward. We elected the mayor, who asked Mr. Humann to come up with this plan. I think we should trust him. The Park Board has held more than 46 meetings about the Humann agreement – I’m looking forward to finally having some decisions made, and getting to see some results.

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Lifestylist® Suzanne Felber

Lifestylist® Suzanne Felber is one of those lucky people who truly loves what she does. By helping consumers discover their “inner-stylist”, Felber has helped thousands of homeowners design their own spaces to reflect their personalities and their lifestyles. Felber lives in her own Home Idea Factory - a circa 1942 factory that previously housed a printing company in Oak Cliff. She and her brood of rescue cats and dogs have been busy using the building as the perfect place to try out different ideas and products that she is excited to share here.

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  1. Bob Stoller says

    “It’s time to give the reins to someone who can make tough decisions and move forward. We elected the mayor, who asked Mr. Humann to come up with this plan. I think we should trust him. The Park Board has held more than 46 meetings about the Humann agreement – I’m looking forward to finally having some decisions made, and getting to see some results.” Although I did not agree with some of your points, I think you had a credible argument until that last paragraph. And then your entire position fell apart.

    “Give the reins?” No, this proposal gives the PARK.

    “I think we should trust him.” Have we not learned the unfortunate lessons of blind trust, even in otherwise well-intentioned people?

    “The Park Board has held more than 46 meetings about the Humann agreement.” No, the Park Board held exactly one meeting vetting this proposal, and since the day (a couple of weeks ago), the proposal has been changed in many respects, but we will not be able to see the revised revisions until next week, apparently.

    “I’m looking forward to finally having some decisions made, and getting to see some results.” Does this mean you do not care what exactly those decisions mean, and what exactly those results are, as long as SOMEBODY does SOMETHING? That is just not acceptable when hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, as well as the future of an entire community within our City, are at stake. We all deserve better.

    • mmLifestylist® Suzanne Felber says

      Bob, thank-you for your very thoughtful comments. It’s nice to know at least one person read my entire post 🙂

      I try to be very careful about what I write, and what I did post were observations that I had made in person, had gotten first hand, or were my personal opinions. Until Thursday the only way this whole issue was on my radar was from being part of a group where a woman who swore she did not work for anyone involved in this but was just a “concerned citizen” started a flame war about Fair Park and the State Fair of Texas. She was adamant about the State Fair being moved out of Fair Park and to some place else because no one went to it but a bunch of drunks during TX OU Weekend, and it had no impact on our local economy. When I asked her if she had ever attended the fair she admitted that she had not.

      It’s things like that and bold statements being made that are proven to be not true that concern me. I have never seen the Humann plan. I have not spoken to our Mayor (or Mr. Humann), and the only firsthand facts I had until Thursday were what I had witnessed firsthand, and at the meeting Candy’sDirt held. They made me want to know more, and what I was able to find or see myself was what I wrote.

      I’m furious about the way things have ended up at The Dallas Farmers Market, and it made me mistrust anything that had to do with privatization until I spoke with people who knew facts, figures, and were dealing with Fair Park directly. People I trust, have a long history with and above all respect. I stand by the 46 meetings statement – there had to be more than one, but would love to be able to quote someone who knows more than I do.

      I deeply care – more than you can ever know – about what happens to Fair Park and the surrounding community. As past president of Shared Housing – a non-profit that does so much good and changes so may lives in Dallas, making sure our kids and seniors are safe, happy and eating well is something I care deeply about and work on every day. I have heard nothing but good things about Mr. Humann from my nonprofit work which is why I am willing to trust him.

      One of the great things to come from this is that someone sent me this link: https://dallascityhall.com/government/meetings/DCH%20Documents/park-board/Briefing_040716%20Proposed%20Management%20Agreement%20with%20Fair%20Park%20Texas%20Foundation.pdf

      I agree – we all do deserve better – especially the residents that live near Fair Park. If it truly has a 50% unemployment rate, how do we help them find jobs? Protect their homes? Everyone agress that having the city manage Fair Park hasn’t worked so I am open to someone having a track record like Walt Humann step up. Don Williams opened his speech on Thursday stating that he didn’t have a plan. So who besides Walt Humann does have a plan?

      Until then I’m looking forward to attending Monday’s meeting and would love to speak to any people directly involved with this – I’ll be the one with the State Fair of Texas Tshirt on 🙂

      • Bob Stoller says

        As I said, it was your last paragraph that got to me. Like you, I am a fervent supporter of the State Fair, just as I am a proud citizen of this City (for more than 45 years), but I have come to be more and more aware of the shameful history of the Fair and the City regarding Fair Park, and its neighborhood. You don’t have the space, and I don’t have the patience, to recount this history here, but it is out there in plain sight, if you ask the people who witnessed it firsthand. You want to trust Mr. Humann, and leave it to him to fix what is wrong with Fair Park. You seem to want to do this because he is a good man who has done much good for the residents of Dallas and because the Mayor, a person that you like and respect, has handpicked him for this job. If he’s good enough for Mike Rawlings, then he’s good enough for us. Well, that is NOT good enough for me. I respect and admire Mr. Humann, and all that he has done for this City, as well as Mayor Rawlings, for the same reason, but a thirty-year contractual obligation involving hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as the future of this great asset, Fair Park, and the community that surrounds it, cannot be based on a good-faith belief in the people who sign off on this proposal today. It must be based upon a legal, enforceable contract that was produced by an open and transparent process that conforms to state laws on bidding and procurement. This proposal does not come close to that standard.

        You included a link in your reply to the Fair Park Management Agreement briefing from April of this year. Those 107 pages presented a lot of useful information, some of which was factual, some of which was opinion, and some of which was highly speculative in nature. The problem is that none of that material is binding upon any person or entity. That document represents the sales pitch, but not the contract. Not until August 4 did anyone in the public get to see the actual wording of the proposed contract. And, by the way, lest you think that this proposed agreement was drafted by the City Attorney’s office, you ought to be aware that it was actually composed by Nathan Crow, at the behest of Walt Humann. Yes, the City took Mr. Crow’s proposal and tinkered with it, but it was NEVER negotiated in any meaningful sense of the word “negotiation.”

        I was at the Park Board meeting on August 4, 2016, where this proposed management agreement was presented to the Park Board FOR THE FIRST TIME. Even then, this written draft contained a great deal of unstated terms and to-be-determined provisions. Nevertheless, the Park Board proceeded to approve this incomplete draft and send it on to the City Council. Since then, I am told that many additions and modifications have been made, but no one in the public has seen anything described as a “final document.” So we are back to trust. Trust these folks that they will do the right thing. When Walt Humann ran Hunt Oil, I bet he relied on explicit contracts–he would not have signed off on this kind of process in his business dealings. When Mike Rawlings ran Pizza Hut, I bet he relied on explicit contracts–he would not have signed off on this kind of process in his business dealings. That is the point that I am critiquing–the fact that this process has been severely flawed and has produced a fatally defective proposal. Please tell me why we, as a city, cannot do this the right way. Why do we have to accept this proposal, at this time, without having all our questions answered, without having all of our objections considered and dealt with fairly? Why are we being railroaded into a bad deal?

        I hope that you do not take my concerns personally or negatively. I am glad that you, and so many others, are now investigating this proposal, and trying to come up with a solution that is truly in the best interests of Dallas as a whole, and Fair Park, and its surrounding neighborhood, in particular. That is exactly the attitude that we need to promote. We may not agree on one point or another in the debate, but I do not doubt your good-faith efforts to do the right thing, as you see it. As we learned (or should have learned) in civics class, this is how democracy is supposed to work. You probably won’t be the only one wearing a SFOT t-shirt Monday–I hope that there of thousands of them at City Hall that day. Let’s ask our questions, get our answers, and only then decide how we should move forward.

  2. John Barr says

    I don’t agree with your op-Ed. It is a promotion piece. The only thing that counts is what’s in the contract. I agree Walt Humman has character and is respected. That’s about all we agree upon. Fair Parks future should ,at least,have the same due diligence devoted to any business development. To date, that’s lacking.

    • mmLifestylist® Suzanne Felber says

      Thank-you John for your comments. Not sure what you mean by a promotion piece – I’ll encourage anyone to dig into my background – the only thing you will find related to this is that I’ve won my fair share of blue ribbons in the cooking contests at the State Fair of Texas, adore Chuck and Linda who run the Chili Parlor also at the State Fair of Texas, and care deeply about affordable housing, the homeless in Dallas, and anywhere else. I also care deeply about preserving the historical buildings and stories that are an important part of our past, present, and future.

      If you have first-hand knowledge of the contract or due diligence that has gone into this you know more than me and I respect your opinion. What I wrote were my opinions and my first-hand knowledge – hoping that I have encouraged others to do their homework and get involved!

  3. mmLifestylist® Suzanne Felber says

    Jackie in the spirit of transparency, have you ever been compensated in any way by Don Williams or The Foundation for Community Empowerment? Or in any way involving the State Fair of Texas or Fair Park? I think it’s important for people to know when something is editorial or advertising. I am comfortable in saying the only compensation I have received is for I think $2.00 for my blue ribbon award winning entries in Creative Arts.

  4. dormand says

    The Achilles’s heel of the culture at Dallas City Hall is its failure to give a priority to maintaining the plant and equipment that it has paid dearly to put into place.

    Dallas Fair Park would be a global masterpiece had it been properly maintained. Instead, in many areas, it is a
    public threat.

    The City of Dallas put on the back burner the absolutely essential street repairs and maintenance during the period in which Dallas City Manager John Ware put establishing that sports stadium which had those luxury suites that ReUnion Arena did not have. This impaired the cash flow of the sports teams and thus their resale value.

    As a direct result of this management choice, you now have these deferred maintenance woes that have cascaded into almost a billion dollars of repairs and replacements needed to get Dallas streets up to Geneva Convention standards.

    It is time to recognize that preventive maintenance is a vital requirement any time that you put in a real estate improvement. Those very wise individuals who sit on the Board of Trustees at St. Mark’s School of Texas have solved this problem by requiring that anyone who wants to donate funding for a building also endow sufficient funds to provide for the maintenance of that building.

    Economic cycles will ebb and flow, but maintenance of plant and equipment are an ongoing requirement of effective management.

    Whatever is put into Fair Park with deteriorate with time and the elements. Let’s not commit to anything that does not have a master plan, and one that includes the maintenance to keep the facilities up to safe and functional condition.

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