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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.
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.