Fair Park's Summer Amusement Venture Is Dead. Is Anyone Surprised?

Categories: Schutze

Wait. The State Fair of Texas spent $30 million to start up a new summertime amusement park at Fair Park. It ran one season -- two months plus a week -- last summer. Now they're giving up already? No second season? What is this, Broadway?

havisham.jpg
Wikipedia
My adventure at the Old Mill Inn put me in mind of Miss Havisham's wedding cake in "Great Expectations."

You put in $30 million, and it's such a bust from the get-go that you know already it's a loser forever? I'm not questioning the bust part. The State Fair of Texas, a 128-year-old private organization that leases Fair Park from the city, sort of admitted how crappily things had gone at the end of the first season, even though they would not release attendance or revenue figures.

I'm not claiming 20-20 hindsight here or anything, but frankly I always sort of wondered about paying 15 bucks to park and 30 bucks a head admission for the privilege of wandering around on a sea of concrete in 104 degree heat with bloody streaks of melted cotton candy down my pant-leg. I'm old, so I'm in a crabby mood anyway, and I do worry about getting disoriented in extreme conditions like that, you know, as in, "Just promise me this isn't the fucking after life."

Here is what I keep coming back to. When the city's Office of Economic Development was selling this idea to the City Council, they made such a pitch. Such a pitch! I put a copy of it at the end of this article so you can see for yourself. I remember at the time thinking, "I had no idea!"

The PowerPoint presented to the council said that Fair Park is a bigger attraction and draws more attendance than Seaworld Atlanta, also ahead of Universal Studios Hollywood, Busch Gardens Tampa and Seaworld San Diego. Fair Park, with an annual claimed attendance of 5.47 million (3 million of that is the fair), is kind of up there, according to city staff, in the same neighborhood with Disney California Adventure with 6.28 million visitors a year.

A big difference, it seems to me, and I know I'm not an expert, is that places like Seaworld and Busch Gardens are not aggressively depressing. I know we all forgive Fair Park a lot of her sins during the fair, because it's the fair, and somehow during the fair the fact that the place even comes from the era of the Great Depression is just part of the vibe. I don't think I would even try to toss a ring over the neck of a beer bottle for a plush-toy prize in a place looked all Gucci-to-the-max. Somehow it's a conflict.

But going to a straight-up commercial theme park is different. You pay all that money, you have expectations. Kids have expectations. And kids are horrible. If I still had little ones I wouldn't want to spend a hundred bucks for admission to Fair Park just so I could hear the little brats asking when Mommy and Daddy will have a good enough jobs to take them to Six Flags.

If general attendance at Fair Park is as huge as the city has claimed in the past, if things are going that well and that many people are clamoring to get in at any price, then why did the $30 million summer theme park go bust after one season? Does anybody else but me see a disconnect? I just think there's some kind of major unreality about the place.
Like the skit in which the Marx Brothers skip a hotel bill by walking out with their entire wardrobes on their backs, the rich culture vultures have been defecting from Fair Park for decades with their institutions stuffed in their purses. But much as I hate to say it, what's left?

I love the State Fair itself, but the rest of year the place looks like 277 acres of land lost in a time warp. I can't forget my last ill-fated attempt to buy a hamburger at the Old Mill Inn in Fair Park during the off-season, the first time, actually, I experienced after-life anxiety at Fair Park. The whole place had this dusty, cobwebby Miss Havisham's wedding cake aura. Ancient waiters floated by immune to my wildest gesticulations, until I thought, "Maybe this is it. Maybe the big embolism has struck already, and I'm to spend the rest of eternity futilely hailing waiters in the Old Mill Inn."

The sudden collapse of a $30 million venture has to be some kind of red flag, some indication that it's time to re-examine the whole thing. I know it's scary, because if the place is really dying, who is going to be smart enough to think up a new use for it? Judging by their strategy so far, I would predict city staff might even be delighted to see the last institutions and the fair itself leave so they'll have that much more area in which to charge for parking.

The place is already dystopian enough without thinking up other ways to screw it up. As you can tell, I'm already spooked. When it's not fair time and I go, I always wish I had a large cross to hold out in front of me and censer on a chain full of smoky incense.
But it's also clear that something is deeply wrong with the way we are using it. It's an enormous asset. We just need to get our fears behind us, take up our pith helmets and our flashlights and penetrate the tomb. And because of my deep and abiding faith in you, Dear Reader, I am willing for you to go first.

ECO FairParkProposedStateFair 020413 by Schutze


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56 comments
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

I know how to get lots of people to Fair Park during the off season.  Let out a rumor that there will be gas well drilling going on in the Starplex (Or Gexa pavilion, whatever it is called).  Within moments, the place will be packed with community organizers, hipsters and food trucks.


It has got to be worth a try

Sammy
Sammy

I thought it was great - there are shade structures all up the Midway, something we didn't have "back in the day". Perhaps the pricing strategy was wrong.

Fair Park is something unique in the world and Dallas has it - we should all support the park and some day it will  be recognized as one of the world's great landmarks. Until then, keep attending all the festivals and the fair.

boogerleo
boogerleo

Did you think this would work? You either go all in for Fair Park (Dallas Cowboys, Tx Rangers, Cottonn Bowl) or it will be there only for the fair and a few other events. Ubnfortunately, there were many $$ wasted trying to make this into a summer destination point with limited support from the important ones - those who might attend. It would have worked with - more widespread support across the city with other entertainment options, scheduled events to draw the crowds - and the kind of PR machine that the Klyde Warren Park had for its opening.

Fair Park has been continuously put on the back burner and the only driving force - a few people on the city council that are focused only on their favorite charities!

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

A decent idea that the city failed to market.   Anyone else remember when the city tried to turn Love Field into LLove Entertainment Center?


Likely your experience at the Old Mill was due to the elderly waiter mistaking you for a hobo and feared a confrontation.

samfordb1
samfordb1

I went to the Summer park last year with my wife and daughter and they had a great time. I think it was a given that the first season would be a money loser just because nobody is used to going to Fair Park in the summer. I bet it would have been much better attended this season. There was already a company planning to use the venue for school band and orchestra festivals this May which would have created money and a higher profile. They just gave up too soon. Fair Park will host the North Texas Irish Festival next weekend, one of the country's largest. The Taste of Dallas moved there a couple of years ago. Fair Park does not need to die. No, I don't work for the city, I am just a native who wants to see SOME traditions survive besides the tradition of tearing everything down to build more shopping spaces.

Skeeterskier
Skeeterskier

Nice to see they let one of the local 6th graders put together the PowerPoint.

I liked the duel-use cattle/band stage in the Livestock building.

AtoZ
AtoZ

The model for Fair Park should be Balboa Park in San Diego.  Look it up.  Similar era, similar layout, but thriving, alive, full of people all the time.  Gardens, museums, restaurants, a movie theater, a glorious musical performance space—you could spend a week there.  Every time I visit I wonder why Fair Park couldn't be reborn into a beautiful destination like Balboa Park.  Sure, it's not quite as hot in San Diego, but we're used to our own heat, aren't we?  Add flowers and trees to the concrete and it changes things a lot.  The Exposition area is picking up, and the Texas Discovery Gardens are still holding down the fort even as all the museums leave.  But I have hope.  Let's Balboa Park the Bejeesus out of Fair Park!  

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

With that kind of traffic, if only 1% got the local car wash, Dale could have bought out enough shitty Councilputzes to change the balance of power.

shucks. Woulda been great to see.

lakewoodhobo
lakewoodhobo

The dumbest thing they did, especially if they were throwing in the towel after one season, was invest in rides like the FlowRider which they can't use during the State Fair. How about a goddamn roller coaster?

bodaddle
bodaddle

They shoulda brought back the Frito Kid, Snake Bit Sam and Little Nell doing their Band Shell routine.

animas
animas

I am so tired of hearing folks I know complain about parking, access  etc @Comic.Con-Sci Fi Expo.  You couldn't do it all summer but it would be a good initial draw...

jmckee3
jmckee3

 "It's an enormous asset."


Is it? I certainly see how it would look like it has to be in a nebulous sort of way. It is certainly a great example of art deco architecture but it's been decades and we haven't found a use for it.


That's not to say I am suggesting tearing it down and there are probably situations where it could be an asset, say if by some insanity Dallas got the Olympics or World Cup it could probably be tremendously useful. If there was a major disaster it would probably come in incredibly useful but a bunch of hypotheticals don't make something an enormous asset.


Let's just face the facts, it's just a thing Dallas has. It's an interesting thing, it's a sometimes useful thing, it's a historically and architecturally important thing, it's certainly worth maintaining and preserving but enormous asset? Eh. If Dallas didn't already have it and without the circumstances that brought it to life I think you would have a near impossible time justifying it's creation as an important asset to Dallas.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

I'm guessing whatever graft needed laundering has come out smelling sufficiently sunshiney, and there's no need to keep up the appearances of having some function at the Park in the summer.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

I never heard of this until the announcement that it was shut down.  Perhaps they should have spent a couple of bucks on advertising it.

This has a feel like a Dallas version of the Zero Mostel movie, "The producers" - a success for the makers, but only if it fails.


bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

re:  "Miss Havisham's wedding cake "

That's a fantastic reference!

schermbeck
schermbeck

Reroute the Trinity through it, build a toll road, and auction off the solar-powered water taxis concession.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

No doubt the consultants made out well on this too.

LeroyJenkem
LeroyJenkem

I'd love to be a fly on the wall if someone did a serious audit of the money spent on this whole project, and learned exactly where the money went. Having had rather foul experiences with Friends of Fair Park charity events at Fair Park, I'd bet $10 that not only will there be multiple layers of "consultants" with no qualifications other than being friends of some bigwig, but that the general attitude would be "But of COURSE the consultants need those sorts of salaries! You don't expect them to have to get a JOB, do you?"

observist
observist

I took the kids there last summer and it was awesome - no lines for anything!  We got on more rides that we would have in 5 days at the SFT... too bad the reason for its awesomeness is the reason for its demise.

becoolerifyoudid
becoolerifyoudid

Build a skateboard/bmx park.  They are the only ones out on concrete during the summer anyways.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

I think it's time to just move Fair Park to Frisco.

It's needs to be shiny and new and have valet parking.


TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

State Fair Amusement Park

*hmmm . . .* Lessee, separate the A from "Amusement" and stick it in front, then move the word "Park" in between, then drop the T and the second E and trade the N for another U in "Amusement" and shift the letters about just a little, we could call this what it really is.

A State Fair Park Museum

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

Well Jim there are a few someones who made a tidy profit off of the work that was done to create the summer side of the  park .

And now  few more someones will make a tidy profit to remove all evidence that the summer side of the park was ever there .



ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

Two words: Dome

Greg820
Greg820

Tear it all down, but a Calatrava Bridge and Toll Road in there and it will be all Unicorns and Rainbows from there on out.

Sammy
Sammy

@AtoZ It's not a war zone.  The north and west sides are perfectly fine. Cullum Blvd puts a buffer between the park and Old South Dallas. Now if you are lost and going down to Lagow or Hatcher, it might be dicey.  I'm seeing Plano paranoia in your "war zone" comment".

roycew59
roycew59

@AtoZ  Don't have to look it up, been there, it's a beautiful area and the Southern California weather is wonderful.  There is one minor difference however, BALBOA PARK IS NOT SURROUNDED BY A WAR ZONE AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT YOU AND YOUR FAMILY FALLING  PREY TO THE LOCAL POPULATION WHILE DRIVING INTO OR OUT OF THE AREA. 

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

@bvckvs You sure you don't simply want to put it out there that the reason that people don't go is because there are people of color around the area?

LeroyJenkem
LeroyJenkem

@ozonelarryb And the wealth just trickles down. Lexus dealerships, Dallas Opera season ticket vendors, coke dealers...

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@observist  The Yogi Berra corollary: Everybody ought to be going there, since nobody ever does.

lolotehe
lolotehe

@becoolerifyoudid From the looks of things, the best place for a skate-park would be that giant empty lot between the jail and the hoop. Lots of kids skating there already.

Greg820
Greg820

If the bridge is extra $$$ we might even get kittens in baskets!


AtoZ
AtoZ

@roycew59  Unfortunately I can't disagree with you there.  My comment was a hopeful one.  Maybe changing the heart of the area would have a transformative effect on the area at large.  What we're doing now (nothing) is achieving nothing, and Fair Park withers like a concrete ghost town.  I can't help but see Fair Park as something that could bloom someday into something like Balboa Park, if the stars aligned.  What I really like to think is that in 100 years (or more), that area of town is eventually going to gentrify, and it will seem miraculous to folks who live there that civil planners way back in 1936 could have managed to place such a huge, beautiful park right in the middle of such a great area.  And then it will be like Balboa Park.    

Sammy
Sammy

@PlanoDave @bvckvs To someone from Plano, black peoples is scary!  However, the demographics around the park. But then you are from Plano, so you probably don't know that.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@PlanoDave @bvckvs

If you want to make it a racial issue, then feel free to do so - instead of asking others to do so for you.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

Kittens in Baskets.

Next year's cool new deep-fried Fair food fare!

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@PlanoDave @bvckvs

I didn't bring up race here - you did.

If you want to make it a racial issue, so be it.  But if you want to take race out of it, all you have to do is develop the self-discipline to not inject it into the conversation..

I can't do that for you.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@PlanoDave @bvckvs

re:  "that same courtesy"

I never asked anyone to make it a racial issue in the first place, so asking me to stop doing so is kind of irrational.


bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@PlanoDave @bvckvs

re:  "that same courtesy"

I never asked anyone to make it a racial issue in the first place, so asking me to stop doing so is just silly.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@PlanoDave @bvckvs

re:  "that same courtesy"

I never asked anyone to make it a racial issue in the first place, so asking me to stop doing so is just silly.


bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

@PlanoDave @bvckvs

re:  "that same courtesy"

I didn't bring up race here - you did.

If you want to make it a racial issue, so be it.  But if you want to take race out of it, all you have to do is develop the self-discipline to not bring it up.

I can't do that for you.


PlanoDave
PlanoDave

@bvckvs Fair enough.


Would you consider extending a similar courtesy to others?  That is, if somebody doesn't make something a racial issue, maybe you shouldn't either...

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

One "r" short of a Florida delicacy.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

@casie

Mascot? No. Menu feature.

Stuffed animatronic hide rotating on a pole, kinda like a cross between Chuck E Cheese, Big Tex and Old Faithful - hourly hairball.

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