I am so impressed with Kevin Felder, the new City Councilman for District 7, which encompasses Fair Park. First of all, I’m a little biased because he is a real estate Broker. He is also a lesson in persistence: Kevin has run for his council seat four times before FINALLY winning the D7 seat this past June in a run-off with Tiffini Young, who was favored by the Mayor.
A few weeks ago we told you about a community meeting at Fair Park, sponsored by ABI Dallas, also known as Alpha Business Images, which is owned by Sophia Johnson … the wife of Mayor Rawlings’ very, very well-connected advisor for south Dallas, Willis Johnson (Google him, says our Jon Anderson). This community meeting was to explain and solicit input on the proposed management plan for Fair Park, which the Mayor wants to give to Walt Humann to manage, while the city pays. That meeting had a huge turn out, so huge ABI Dallas literally ran out of paper. But people were not so jazzed about that meeting, felt there were not enough answers provided and too much rhetoric. Even the invitations were kind of crafty:
Mysteriously, the invitation was kinda secret, seemingly meant to ensure a tiny turnout. But more than one Fair Park friend got hold of it and plastered it out there. Were I not on the Oak Lawn Committee email list, I wouldn’t have heard about it from City Hall until Friday morning when city council members finally began alerting their constituents.
Attendees saw that the organizers were clearly caught off guard by the turnout, as five rooms holding an average of 40-50 people were overflowing with an estimated 500 attendees. Supplies of pens, clipboards (maybe a dozen), and comment cards evaporated almost instantly, replaced by hastily ripped pieces of blank paper.
The showing was definitely a shock and a marker to those in power who might have figured the furore surrounding Fair Park had died down and an under-the-radar meeting would check their “community participation” box. There may have been more people at this meeting that the ones held last year. Sorry folks, Fair Park isn’t dimming in the public consciousness.
In response to that, and because he truly cares about his district, Kevin held a follow-up meeting this past Monday night, 6:00 to 8:00 pm. Despite it being August and a lot of us on vacation, 150 folks turned out to talk the future of Fair Park. The video is below, but I’m going to tap out the highlights:
-Kevin had nine neighborhood experts on stage, all from the city, including Willis Winters and assisatnt City Managers.
-Representatives were there from the SFOT
-Proposals for the Fair Park procurement process will be due Oct.7
-Kevin has renegotiated some changes in the SFOT contract with the city — finally! He thinks the city should have access to all the SFOT revenue (he’s right) and Kevin got $6.5 million more for the city from State Fair officials for fiscal year 2016. He hopes to get more this year, too.
The State Fair has been Fair Park’s primary tenant for a long time, and has a contract with the city through at least 2028 that many believe should be renegotiated. For example, just this week we learned that the city essentially subsidizes the police protection provided during the State Fair:
City officials have long relied on informal agreements with the State Fair to pay for police overtime, but Assistant City Manager Jon Fortune said he wants a formal agreement. Police and State Fair officials have been working on a security plan for months and plan to formalize it, as well as a security reimbursement fee, this month, he said.
“I’d be estimating that it’d be significantly more than the $550,000 we had in previous years,” Fortune said.
Critics say the State Fair’s short-term occupation of the park has contributed to the decline not just of the historical buildings, but also to many historically black South Dallas homes and the neighborhoods surrounding. The State Fair’s lengthy 2 to 3 month takeover of the park in the fall, the decaying exhibition spaces (that the City and Walt Humann asked taxpayers to cover, when in reality the SFOT should pay) and expanses of maintenance-heavy parking lots and concrete.
As for the weeks when Big Tex des not entertain North Texas, Fair Park is often a ghost town. Which is why the entire Fair Park saga is a real estate story we hope Kevin can steer in the right direction.