Looks Like Someone's Not Afraid of the Fair Park Band Shell. But Who? And For What?

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Three years ago (danged near to the day), I lamented the fact that the Fair Park Band Shell -- recipient of a $1.3-million makeover in 2000 -- remains The Best Concert Venue in Dallas That Nobody Ever Uses. Plenty of folks had valid reasons why not: Fair Park executive general manager Daniel Huerta said at the time that, look, people are scared of booking outdoor shows because of the weather; the backstage is small; and rent ain't cheap. And longtime concert promoter Mark Lee said you have to bring in everything, from lights to staff, and it's just damned expensive.

But the city's in the mood to deal, and someone's now willing to take the risk: On Thursday, the Park and Recreation board will consider a proposal from something called Arena Concessions, which is proposing a six-month agreement to "produce and promote" at least 10 "events/concerts" in the Band Shell.

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A photo from the National Register of Historic Places, taken of the Band Shell in 1985
Huerta tells Unfair Park this morning that Arena Concessions is Dallas's Alfredo Hinojosa, who, two years ago, partnered with Fred Schiller to reopen the shuttered 2,850-seat Arena Theatre in Houston, which hosts acts ranging from comedian Steve Harvey to Latin Grammy-winning rocker Alejandra Guzman to, well, Kenny G. According to Huerta, Hinojosa's a talent-booker who wants to host Sunday-afternoon events, many aimed at families and a Hispanic audience, and hopes having a venue in Dallas will make it more cost-efficient to book acts on a Houston-Dallas-Oklahoma City tour circuit.

The city's certainly making it affordable for Hinojosa: Huerta says the city's so eager to use the Band Shell -- and to turn Fair Park into a year-round destination -- that it's offering to waive rent and will instead take a cut of the concessions. Says Huerta, the guesstimated $71,795 in revenue the city hopes to generate from its deal with Hinojosa will come from food and beverage sales and parking.

"And that number is based on filling just half of the Band Shell," Huerta says. "So even if they're poorly attended -- with 1,2000 people, or even half of that -- it'll still be more than we've made on the Band Shell in a long time. He wants to do a whole mix of entertainment, but some of that will be aimed at a Hispanic audience, which should be pretty lucrative."

Huerta says waiving rent for would-be concert promoters is something the city might be willing to do more frequently -- anything to fill the Band Shell and Fair Park. After all, he says, "it's a beautiful, beautiful venue" that's sadly underutilized. Because, sure, it's the HQ for the Dallas Wind Symphony and home to the bird show during the State Fair, but otherwise, it's a lovely, lonely place.

Speaking of, Huerta also says Fair Park management is also exploring ways to get folks back to the Fair Park Coliseum, which, he acknowledges, is also outdated and in need of everything from a new scoreboard to a new sound system -- not to mention a way to get patrons from one side of the coliseum to the other without making them walk all the way around the joint.

"Maybe in the next bond program we'll push something for that coliseum," he says. "It's a great venue. But we need to get people here year-round. It's great we have a TV show shooting here, but we need to get the fountains funded year round, and one of my long-term goals is to provide tours of the park for out-of-towners. We locals take Fair Park for granted, but visitors come here and can't believe what we have."
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