OK, So Don't Bulldoze Fair Park. Let's Re-imagine It -- In a Better Neighborhood.

Categories: Schutze

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All right, maybe it wasn't enormously helpful of me to suggest last July that we bulldoze Fair Park, the 277-acre dilapidated wasteland one mile southeast of downtown that once housed the 1936 Texas Centennial Exhibition.

But, c'mon. Why would we just let it just sit there and molder into the ground? We're not idiots. Not all of us. Not totally.

Oh and by the way, I think I did mention that Fair Park comes alive once a year for the State Fair, attended by two to three million happy people. This summer the State Fair will launch an off-season amusement park on park grounds, sure to hoist up annual visitation numbers for Fair Park. Just not by enough.

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Look. It's almost 300 acres of well-preserved land -- some might say preserved in amber -- in the heart of the city. Most of the year the big excitement you'll see there is the occasional security guard chasing the occasional skateboarder between abandoned museums and dormant fountains. I've always thought it would make a great set for a movie about time-traveling clown vampires. OK, forget that. Let's be serious.

Sunday's Dallas Morning News editorial section included a guest op-ed essay by Dallas designer Diane Van Buren calling for a collective re-imagining of Fair Park and its surrounding neighborhood. In pointing to the area that encompasses Fair Park, Van Buren really cut to the heart of the matter. The ritzy cultural institutions and museums are all decamping to the new arts district downtown, propelled out of Fair Park by the sheer difficulty of pulling people in through the neighborhood.

Ever since 2004 when the Dallas Cowboys rejected the notion of building their new stadium at Fair Park, people have debated who was to blame -- Cowboys owner Jerry Jones or former Mayor Laura Miller. Nobody ever has the guts to say out loud what was really at fault -- the neighborhood.

Most suburban white-breads, including many upwardly mobile black and Hispanic white-breads, start locking their car doors and unholstering their concealed carries the minute they enter the zone -- hardly the sort of mood anybody really wants to be in taking the kids out to see talking dinosaur skeletons.

City Hall, meanwhile, continues to utter the same old politically safe line it always has propounded about the neighborhoods around Fair Park -- the area looks too poor, so the city or somebody should build some stuff to make it look less poor, and there's too much crime, so the city or somebody should cause less crime to occur, and there aren't enough thriving businesses, so the city or somebody should cause thriving to occur.

Yeah, right. Next, City Hall conducts aviation classes for pigs. C'mon. We're still stuck on the same old dime here.

The traditionally black neighborhoods around Fair Park were the scene of serious racism in the 1970s, when City Hall repeatedly worked to improve the atmospherics for fair-goers by using eminent domain to steal property from black owners. Nothing in history goes unrecompensed forever. By the 1980s elected leaders from those neighborhoods, people like Diane Ragsdale and Al Lipscomb, were able to extract reparations for the neighborhoods in exchange for a testy peace during the fair. That was important. It had to happen. But in terms of real ongoing benefit or significant change in the surrounding area, devices like the Fair Park Trust Fund accomplished something between nothing and less than nothing. There were more businesses and far fewer abandoned lots in the area before the campaign of racial reparations than after. Why would that be? Oh, c'mon. Putting people from a poor neighborhood in charge of economic redevelopment is like ... what? ... putting newspaper columnists in charge. Puts me in mind again of porcine aviation.

Really and truly transforming Fair Park and the area around it is a task that cannot happen without the committed involvement of people who have both the ability and the incentive to carry it out. Who would that be? Well, for one, a bunch of great big fat real estate developers. They develop real estate, right? That's what we're talking about.
I'd say you also go talk to State Fair President Errol McKoy, the one big consistent success story at Fair Park. And, sure, you talk to the leadership in the neighborhoods.

But here's the catch. It's wrong, upside-down, profoundly mistaken, not real and not even reasonable to think that an area like this can be transformed without any turnover or significant change in current ownership patterns and especially in current elected leadership.

In her piece Sunday, Van Buren said, "Decrying gentrification doesn't provide solutions ... Dallas isn't the overwhelmingly white-majority, segregated city of 679,000 it was in 1960 ... A diverse partnership is essential to developing a neighborhood to support and complement Fair Park."

What's that all about? It's this: The worthy principles of self-determination and pride, of demanding a seat at the table, were appropriate 25 years ago. But those ideas have been dragged forward into today as something quite else. What we see too often now from elected leaders like City Council member Carolyn Davis is a dug-in recalcitrance that would rather see decay than progress that might threaten incumbents.

It's the basic mindset of your typical East Texas all-cousin town -- against anything that might pit the existing good-old-boy network against competition from newcomers. That troll-under-the-bridge toll-taking mentality has become the single biggest deterrent to positive change in the city's southern hemisphere.

Van Buren is right. She chose her words carefully, and I don't want to put my own in her mouth. But I read her piece as saying that Dallas is no longer the haven of anachronistic racial caste it was 20 years ago. This newly diverse city is pretty exciting lately. If Dallas were to launch a fundamental re-imagining of Fair Park and the area around it, the launch pad would not be a bunch of old rich white guys sitting around a table at the Dallas Country Club. We should assume the party would include lots of smart, thoughtful people of all backgrounds and extremely varied experience, capable of bringing this area forward as they are doing already in Uptown, Bishop Arts, Lower Greenville, and, I should mention, the Jubilee neighborhood just east of Fair Park.

It means change. Change isn't fun for everybody. Somebody's ox gets gored. Hopefully that can be done with a measure of compassion.

But Van Buren is right. Fair Park is too huge and too ripe with potential just to be left dying on the vine like fruit left to birds and flies. Somebody needs to wade in and say the unspeakable: It's time to free Fair Park from its neighborhood and do both of them a huge favor in the process.

And, last thought: Even though we would never again leave this sort of thing up to the old rich white guys at the Dallas County Club, those guys should be given an opportunity to send over their checkbooks by messenger. Just to be totally inclusive about things.



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49 comments
RJette
RJette

Enrollment at Lincoln High is down to 700 and Madison is down to 450. Who is really left to be indignant and raise hell if developers move in and gentrification starts?

Stan
Stan

I like going to Fair Park but there have been times when I was scared to be there.  I recall one Dec. night going to Fair Park just as Kwanza Fest was letting out.  There were police helicopters flying overhead and SWAT teams patrolling the streets.   I had just missed a shooting by minutes.   It made me glad when the Dallas Opera moved to the Arts District.

BobLowlaw
BobLowlaw

I was a Fair Park this weekend with my kids.  There were lots of people there for some dog deal.  There was a beer festival.  We talked to a nice family from, maybe Germany, who seemed to be enjoying an afternoon walking around.  I don't know what Fair Park you are talking about.

Jaborah
Jaborah

As long as I get my free birth control pills what difference does it make?

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

The safest place in Dallas at 2 A.M.?  -- Inside Fair Park


The most dangerous place in Dallas at 2 A.M.? -- Just outside of Fair Park

Catherine_Horsey
Catherine_Horsey

Here's what I don't understand: 2.5 million people attend events at Fair Park year round. I mean in addition to the 2.5-3 million who attend the State Fair. Any venue in the state would be thrilled to have that many people visiting. How can you call Fair Park underutilized with that many people--from all walks of life--using it throughout the year?

if6were9
if6were9

I don't know, but if it's freedom rock........well, turn it up, man! And that's what I intend to do......Fair Park or no Fair Park.

bealotcoolerifyoudid
bealotcoolerifyoudid

How about we put in a nice horse park there?  I think the John Wiley Price Horse Ballet Park has a nice ring to it.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

That's pretty generous of you Jim to allow those "old rich white guys at the Dallas County Club" to be a part of this initiative. You must be in a really good mood today.

The question that needs to be asked is why. Why would someone want to be in Fair Park. Why would someone want to invest in Fair Park. Why are the neighborhoods around Fair Park in the state they are in.

For the life of me I cannot come up with a reason someone would want to live in Fair Park. If you're looking for proximity to the CBD, Deep Ellum is closer. North Oak Cliff is prettier. West Dallas is easier to get to.

Also, there is no reason for someone to invest in Fair Park. There isn't a light at the end of the tunnel an investor could hang their hat on.

You've summed up nicely why Fair Park neighborhoods are in the condition they are in. Those entrenced interests aren't going to accept change.

Just because there is a big piece of developable land doesn't result in the land being desired for development. there must be a catalyst for demand.

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

Hey Kids lets load up the Car and drive to a worse part of town than where we live Then walk around outside empty buildings and relive State Fair and Science Place Memories .

Gosh it will be just like Dads last great idea of going to a Ski resort during the Mud Months.



chefjordy
chefjordy

You know what it needs?  A city-funded hotel!

chefjordy
chefjordy

You know what it needs?  A city-funded hotel!

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

They should build a Gondola or a monorail from Plano to Fair Park.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

This subject was covered extensively in the anti-Walmart article. It can be easily done: casino, brothels, giant discount liquor store, gas station with tacos. Maybe even the unwanted Walmart.

BigTex
BigTex

Why hasn't the Friends of Fair Park ever done anything significant?  Don't they have the big money developers in their pocket?  There has always been something odd about that group.   Maybe it's time for them to step aside. 

The City should probably dedicate an economic development department, for just Fair Park and this end of South Dallas. 

Los_Politico
Los_Politico

The Hispanics are already moving into Fair Park-- look at the Madison enrollment numbers. Once they become the majority, hipsters will colonize the areas around the green line stops and we'll start to see new construction.

This won't be fast though, it'll take 40 years and even then it'll only look like Uptown circa 1994. If we tore out the elevated highways and routed them around the neighborhood along (YES) the Trinity and White Rock Creek it would start much sooner. Might be acceptable in time for the Bicentenary.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Catherine_Horsey

does that count people who drive by or just the ones who actually enter the gates?

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

@Catherine_Horsey  Can you show us where those other  visitor numbers are posted ? 

Because at 2.5 Million there wold be more of a demand for services than just The  OLD MILL Inn provides.


casiepierce
casiepierce

@mavdog Very small minded of you. I live in a pretty big neighborhood just east of Fair Park, close to Dixon (but you people prefer to erroneously call it Pleasant Grove) and we have inexpensive big houses and large yards, close proximity to East Dallas, the CBD, Deep Ellum, Oak Cliff, and everything great in Dallas. We live here because we don;t want to spend $2,000 a month renting an 800 sq/ft loft in Deep Ellum when we can instead spend $900 on a mortgage with a big yard and mature trees just a couple miles away.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@mavdog Historically designate a few of the art deco buildings and contribute the land to the most well-funded developers with a master plan.  The the City can be cashed out on the back end (sell-out).  

But it is a huge risk and I hesitate to inform you, no bucks, no Buck Rogers.  If the deep pockets get a whiff they will be blocked from knocking a home run (make millions) . . . no deal.  It would be a huge financial risk.  Ask Perot over at Victory Park.  He lost $100 million and the Germans took it away from him.

In all probability, the second guy in might make money after the first guy loses his shirt.  Maybe the third guy.  You'd have to gate it and run private security, but it's got light rail and great access to IH 30 at Second Ave.

And since Mr. Schutze is typically in favor of making people do things for their own good, stiff arm the neighborhood.

I live 600 yards from the Fair Park front gate, so I have a dog in this.

Sell Jerry the State Fair.  Mr. Haney would love to have it and it's where it belongs.  He'd buy Six Flags.

BigTex
BigTex

@mavdog The last time I parked in someone's yard during TX/OU, it was about 30 bucks. They make a lot of money on parking during the Fair. That's a business and they should be paid the value of their property plus the value of the business, because that is what developers are actually buying. 

downtownworker
downtownworker

@mavdog You may not want to live in Fair Park, but it's not hard to imagine a few thousand people who may find the historic fairgrounds as a great amenity to live within walking distance of. With the right investment, Fair Park (the neighborhood) could one day be our Wrigleyville. 


JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@mavdog 

It was so much easier back when the rich guys had the traditional motivation  of ethnic cleansing. In this more enlightened age, it's hard to get them excited about anything. What if we said it would be a good way to run off crippled people? 

monstruss
monstruss

@oakclifftownie I actually do like going to Fair Park and bicycling around, looking at those cool empty buildings and enjoying the quiet. I've never really seen the park or much of the surrounding area as particularly dangerous either. 

NOWiGETit
NOWiGETit

@BigTex As a recent former employee of a Fair Park institution, I can tell you the Friends of Fair Park are just one of the many things wrong with the Fair Park grounds year round.  They use they're muscle to pressure the museums to hand out free admissions on the busiest weekends of the year.  July 4th?  Please give free or discounted admission!  Memorial Day Weekend?  Free or discounted please!  Earth Day Dallas?  Free or discounted!  These should be the days of the year that the museums are maximizing their revenue.  There is always a veiled threat that if you don't cooperate, they'll cut you out of future festival and holiday weekends or simply extend fewer favors to accomodate your needs during those weekends.  The rest of the year?  They're never there.  They only invite the organizations that are on the campus to meetings if they want to ask favors.  There is rarely the return.  It's a joke.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@BigTex The FOFP are the people that brought you the Arts District and the ensuing exodus of museums and performances to Downtown Dallas.

Catherine_Horsey
Catherine_Horsey

@JimSX and @oakclifftownieAnnually, Fair Park hosts 800-1,200, large-scale special events & concerts/musical performances onsite at Gexa Pavilion, Music Hall at Fair Park, Band Shell, & Cotton Bowl. Annual events include: Ticket City Bowl (41,000), Mardi Gras – Texas Style (20,000), Hot Chocolate 5K/15K Race (10,000), Color Run (6,000), North Texas Irish Festival (73,000), Dog Bowl, Earth Day Dallas (50,000), Cinco De Mayo (50,000), City Arts Festival (35,000), Summer Adventures, H2O Music Festival (40,000), Fair Park Fourth (40,000), Taste of Dallas (35,000), Mayor’s Back to School Fair (50,000); State Fair of Texas, AT&T Red River Rivalry, State Fair Classic (3,000,000); Diwali Mela (50,000), Fair Park Holiday (15,000), Kwanzaa Fest (45,000). These numbers don’t include museum events or casual attendance. I am no expert; my source is a fact sheet for the FYE 9/30/12 from Dallas Park and Recreation. Attendance is way, way up at Fair Park.

 

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@casiepierce

you may call it "small minded", I call it realistic.

There is a reason the costs of housing where you mention are so much less, it is a function of demand. Ask yourself why.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@holmantx

believe me when I tell you Ross Jr. didn't lose $100M on Victory, he made a few bucks even though in the end he handed the project to his partners. OPM.

bealotcoolerifyoudid
bealotcoolerifyoudid

@BigTex @mavdog They also make money slinging rocks and pimping hoes in that 'hood.  So they should get paid for that as well, but they should be paid in stolen bottle of Tide laundry detergent.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@Chuck_Schick @Montemalone And they should probably add a deck park over the New And Improved LBJ Freeway and Spanish Owned Tollway for people to glance down on as they enjoy the ride. It'll need an ice skating rink, too.

BigTex
BigTex

@NOWiGETit As long as our non-profits are led by the same recycled executive directors, with the help of their "friends", nothing will change. 

BigTex
BigTex

@Montemalone  One of Dallas' downfall is letting the same groups of people be in charge of all of our new stuff. 

FairParkFan
FairParkFan

@casiepierce @Catherine_Horsey @JimSX @oakclifftownie  The Red River Rivalry, State Fair of Texas and State Fair Classic together over the 23 days comprise the 3M number.  There is not enough room here to list the museum attendance numbers, White Rock Marathon (this moved after FYE) so let's just replace with the extended Chinese Festival numbers.  There are no numbers listed for roller derby, hoedowns, feasts, antique markets, plays, car shows, quince fairs, boxing matches, concerts, soccer matches, night runs, morning runs, tours, etc.  You can add in private parties, weddings, celebratory dinners, musical attendance, corporate retreats, countless meetings and your world wide tourist that makes Fair Park it's destination.  How about authors from other cities that are writing about Fair Park, contest participants for re-imagined cities, plastic boats complete with engineering week students... we could go on and on.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@Catherine_Horsey @JimSX @oakclifftownie 

These are impressive numbers. If we hold out the AT&T Red River Rivalry, however, these numbers give us a non-State Fair attendance of only 560,000 visitors, not the 2.5 million cited above. My question about the Red River Rivalry attendance figure of three million people is based on the capacity of the Cotton Bowl, which is 92,100. That's a lot of people sitting on laps. The numbers are truly impressive -- better than what I or most people might have expected, -- but some closer vetting might be needed, too.

Guesty
Guesty

@casiepierce @mavdog You're just making shit up.  Fair Park has far more violent crime than any area north of the CBD.  Just in 2012, there were 84 reported aggravated assaults in and immediately surrounding Fair Park, more than any other location in Dallas.  "Bang" for your buck indeed. 

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@casiepierce

interesting, you feel the need to label me "small minded", yet you are the one who tosses out crime as the critical issue and refer to "you people"..

hmm...

also, you clearly need to read up on where the highest amount of crime occurs, you've stated "north of the CBD" as well as "knox/Henderson", both of which are inaccurate.

for your illumination: http://dallas.dfwmaps.com/crimenew/

casiepierce
casiepierce

@mavdog @casiepierce Small minded. It's the best bang for the buck in Dallas. And it's a lot safer than you people think, The most dangerous part of Dallas is north of the CBD.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@guesty

sorry, that's not accurate. The word was Hillwood gave the German's the keys, kept the land (27 acres worth perhaps $75M) and walked away. What, you believe Ross Jr signed personally? no way.

second, recall the original terms of the project: the City gave Hillwood $25M for the cleanup, the infrastructure costs were repaid thru the TIF, and they sold the naming rights to the arena for almost what they put into its construction ($150M from AA, plus the City gave them $140M of the costs to build). Hillwood certainly received development fees for all of the projects. A sweet deal there!

Add into that the $ Perot got from Cuban for the team after putting them into that shiny new arena, and it is clear Ross Jr. made out very, very well.

Guesty
Guesty

@mavdog Hillwood guaranteed more than $170 million in debt on Victory, a guarantee they ultimately had to make good on.  They had skin the the game.  Did they manage to cover the capital losses through management fees?  Probably, though project management isn't free.  

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@guesty

I'm very well versed in commercial real estate. From the above writings, you not so much.

Like I said, it's primarily other people's money that went into Victory, Hillwood put a small amount of equity in and got it back during the development and management of the project. It's all about the fees.

Guesty
Guesty

@mavdog @holmantx You have inside information, or do you assume rich guys always make a buck in every investment?  Because if your statement is based on the latter, then you have very flawed logic.  Rich people, particularly rich people who are rich because of their parents or grandparents' efforts, often are terrible business people.  The reason they bounce back isn't because they find a way to make a buck in every failure, it's because they start out so far ahead they can fail over and over and over again until they finally get lucky with something.  That and they can afford the best advice money can buy and get the inside track on good investments through their networks, which usually means they are sufficiently diversified to cushion any failure.  

Keep in mind Jr.'s business partners generally are smart people who aren't about to let themselves take a bath while Jr. makes out with the cash.  Jr. may get favorable terms because of the cash he sinks in and the strings he can pull, but at the end of the day, partners in any really big project (e.g. Victory) are going to make sure Jr. has skin in the game on the downside.  

NOWiGETit
NOWiGETit

@BigTex @NOWiGETit I don't disagree with you BigTex.  There is much that could be managed better within each of these organizations.  It's also true that "good employees" don't stick around to be stifled when they come up with growth and new ideas and the Friends of Fair Park and those that meddle in the year round affairs tend to do just that.  There's a reason I am happily out that door.

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