"Fair Park(ing Lots)" would be a better description of much of the place. (Photo by Elizabeth Lavin)

The 5 Goals That Should Top the Mayor’s Fair Park Task Force’s Agenda

We've been talking about Fair Park for so long, the agenda to fix it is really already laid out. All the task force should do is implement these five initiatives.

As someone mentioned in the comments to today’s Leading Off, the Dallas Morning News reports that Mayor Mike Rawlings has created a new Fair Park task force, which will try to tackle one of Dallas’ tired, old challenges: what to do with Fair Park. Never mind the fact that folks like the Friends of Fair Park will corner you with a knife in a dark alley and force you to admit that millions of people showing up every year to watch Scarborough Fair-types bludgeon Celtic blades in makeshift blacksmith shops somehow constitutes vibrancy (and deny that the Fair Park Comprehensive Plan has been rendered moot by 10 years of institutional leakage). I think anyone who actually goes to the park will immediately recognize what Jim Schutze recently described as a, “dusty, cobwebby Miss Havisham’s wedding cake aura.” And then there was that whole summer amusement park idea, which surprised a whopping no one when it turned out to be big, fat failure.

But this new task force sounds promising, particularly the mix of get-‘er-done types it brings to the table (though I would have liked to see a few more representatives from, you know, South Dallas). I’m sure they’re all stewing on some interesting ideas, but I’m going to make their job a lot easier. We’ve been talking about Fair Park for so long, the agenda is really already laid out. All the task force should really be doing is figuring out which goal should come first and how to muster the political will to tackle them all.

So here it is, the five things that will fix Fair Park:

1. Get a Mexican soccer team to play in the Cotton Bowl. Perhaps a surprising item for number one, but if you want to know why this is so important, check out this argument I make in the March D Magazine. And if you want to see the Cotton Bowl’s potential as a top soccer venue, go see what happens when Real Madrid and A.S. Roma play there this summer.

2. Build mixed-use developments on the parking lots. As Patrick Kennedy wrote some time ago, the parking lots surrounding Fair Park isolate the public space and destroy any inter-connectivity with the surrounding neighborhoods. That kind of available land mass so close to downtown should be prime for development. Well-designed (ahem, this is the key) in-fill development would both bridge the park to the neighborhoods and provide a critical mass of people for whom Fair Park would be their front yard.

Neighbors will (rightly) fear that dense development around the park is going to ruin the surrounding neighborhoods through gentrification, so any development must be paired with a public housing initiative that promotes turning renters into homeowners, offers homeownership assistance and education programs, and grandfather-in existing property taxes. Oh, and if you say that the State Fair needs parking, I’ll just counter with the fact that what the State Fair really needs is parking income. Back before those parking lots were built, temporary parking was created by local residents offering up their front lawns for fair-goers, injecting a few extra bucks in the neighborhoods. That, along with the requisite shared parking garages from the development, street parking, and increased transit use will take care of any fair-related parking issues.

3. Recruit a university, or a department of a university (preferably an art school) to take over some of the empty buildings in Fair Park. Fair Park is a campus, but its institutions have fled. Dallas needs more universities and more art schools. Jose Bowen, the dean of SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, is on the mayor’s Fair Park task force, and he should be pushing to move some or all of the Meadows out of the Park Cities bubble and into the inner city. A large and well-funded artists’ residency (located in the of the old museum facilities) would also work. The best case scenario would be a Meadows-funded artists’ residency as well as a relocated art school. After all, before the recession, Savannah College of Art & Design was looking to relocate to Dallas. Time to pick up the phone and make some calls.

4. Tear down Interstate 30 and re-route it around South Dallas. We’ve been banging this drum for some time, and expect it to get louder as the conversations about tearing down I-345 heats up. The fact is, most American cities now realize just how detrimental inner-city highways have been to their urban vitality. It’s time to take them out. The spur must go, but also I-30 through downtown and East Dallas. The best option is to re-route the road around the south of Dallas, so the park and the surrounding neighborhoods can be reconnected to the city. From what I understand, this was actually TxDOT’s initial suggestion when it began work on rethinking the I-30 corridor a decade ago.

5. Green space. Fair Park isn’t a park; it is a concrete campus. Campuses attract people when activity is programmed into the space. To attract people when the giant events aren’t taking place, Fair Park needs green space: sports fields, meadows, places to picnic, run dogs, lounge and look at the skyline and do nothing. Plenty of the concrete in the park could be reclaimed and turned into green space. This was, after all, one of the goals of the shamefully under-implemented Fair Park Comprehensive Development Plan.

Okay, there it is, task force. Your five goals. You’re welcome. Now get ’er done.

Comments

  • Nick

    Those are all great ideas, but our city has a significant, gaping problem executing “big” ideas and projects where a public investment is required. If this group thinks they will get bond money for a Fair Park investment, they are sorely mistaken. The mishandling (misappropriation?) of the Trinity bond money will have ramifications for years on public/private initiatives. Stay tuned.

  • Wylie H Dallas

    Dallas is home to some of the nation’s top experts in urban planning and redevelopment, why doesn’t the task force include any of them?

  • Peter Simek

    I agree that bond money will be hard to come by, but I don’t think it would be necessary for any of these ideas. Look at all the developers at the table. This is about coming up with a economic package and striking a compromise with the fair that allows for development. Look for an expansion of the Grand Park South TIF, which would allow new development to fund park improvements. A new PID could pay for park improvements as well as low income housing programs. The soccer team should attract private investment. The not-poor Meadows is at the table and I suspect they are throwing around an idea of an artists residency, since that and a satellite art campus of sorts are things they have expressed interested in before. The highway also wouldn’t be a bond money thing.

  • Peter Simek

    You’re right, and the more I look over the task force, the more glaring the gaps …

  • Alexander

    Use the Trinity money to combine I-45 and I30 from roughly where White Rock Creek meets the Trinity to the current 30/35 connection. Run I-30 from Ferguson to that point (that will take a new pot of money, admittedly).

    Rezone the green line DART stops so that they are walkable and not surrounded by parking or city owned buildings(like fire stations).

    Give away some cool building down there to a ‘new economy’ time company. A brewery or something.

    Encourage new immigrants to settle there and open stores along the commercial streets.

    • Peter Simek

      Yep, yep. You have the I30 re-alignment just about right.

    • Patrick Kennedy

      Lol. Do I know you???

  • Pegaso

    With the exception of Meadows and maybe Jack Mathews, the list of people in the task force is an absolute joke.

  • billholston

    The only thing I’d like to add to this, is please do not do anything to disturb Expo Park. Craft and Growler, Meridian Room, Rob’s, those plucky businesses are doing great there. Those old buildings are gems.

  • TheBlaydes

    Excellent ideas, now what’s the low hanging fruit for them. What can we do to show that these ideas are good, viable ideas? Start a traffic jam on 30, have a student only art show in the Hall of State, maybe have “Shakespeare in the Park” in the Bowl at Fair Park, do a Better Block Parking Lot event and re-imagined one as greenspace, recruit a band from the neighborhood to play every Tuesday at Bar of Soap…

  • Justin B.

    I know that Superpages (I think that’s the sponsor now) is out there, but I think reviving the Band Shell would be an awesome move. Perhaps something to attract mid-level acts that may not sell out a larger venue. That is such an underutilized structure. That combined with some cool green space could really help draw people. I’d heard that the backstage facilities are pretty poor (thanks to years and years of bird shows), but perhaps they could get a sponsorship (a la Superpages) and spruce them up.

    • Pegaso

      I heard they spent a ton of money recently to renovate the backstage of the band shell only to have it destroyed the next year by bird diarrhea.

  • Ed Woodson

    “The spur must go”. I love how that is a foregone conclusion. It seems quite clear that the collective wisdom on Frontburner has become “what’s good for central Dallas is what is good for the greater metropolitan area.” Let’s take tens of billions of taxpayer dollars (much of it originating from the suburbs) to move around a bunch of existing highways. Lets remove some highways entirely. While through traffic (between suburbs) and commuters (from suburbs) will be negatively effected, it will be great for the new urbanist hipsters (and probably some of their developer friends who are salivating at new potential real estate).

  • BradfordPearson

    All of the “new urbanist hipsters” I know are just *crawling* with developer friends.

  • Eric Celeste

    Bu Alan Walne!

  • Eric Celeste

    They’re the same ones spending all that money we get from the suburbs at craft beer joints.

  • Ed Woodson

    Anytime you ever see something like this being talked about (at least where it is getting some traction), someone behind the push is going to make a lot of money. Your average developer can make plenty of urbanist friends when convenient. The local hipster at the coffee shop might not know many, but the people pushing for the urban redesign on their behalf almost always do.

  • Tim Rogers

    Why should people traveling from one burb to another drive THROUGH Dallas?

  • vseslav botkin

    Surely no developers profited off the proliferation of highways connecting Dallas to the land they owned in the soon-to-be-suburbs.

  • Nick

    The tear down the spur crowd has been pitching the business benefits from the get-go. This is not a ruse like the Trinity River “park” project, which is really a highway project.

  • Ed Woodson

    I regularly drive from North Dallas all over the place. To Fair Park (with my kids) via I-345 by the way. To Arlington for sports. To Oak Cliff / Bishop Arts for food/entertainment. To DeSoto to visit friends.

    If you rip up I-345, it become a beast to get from NE Dallas to Fair Park (reroute through the mixmaster? Ha!). If you rip up I-30 (not all of Wick’s plugs talk about replacing it with something else), good luck getting from Oak Cliff to Fair Park.

    Essentially, this development would create a better insular community within the new loop (whatever is forming that loop), but getting into and out of it is going to be harder. Of course, if you live there, you might not care that much. But one of the things I treasure about living in Dallas is the ability to get almost anywhere relatively quickly.

  • Nick

    Not following you, Ed. Why wouldn’t you take the tollway to get downtown, Arlington, or to Oak Cliff? Are you saying you live closer to 75 than the tollway?

  • Zac Crain

    It’s not too hard to get to Fair Park from Oak Cliff. It’s actually really easy. Didn’t even take much luck.

  • Alexander

    I grew up in “northeast Dallas” (whatever that is) and we never a highway to the Fair- straight shot down Garland/East Grand. But let’s assume you are coming form the Lake Highlands YMCA to the Fair’s Perry entrance.

    Taking the current highway configuration google says it takes 16 minutes. Going down Greenville to Linsley takes 20 minutes. Google doesn’t suggest it, but if you drop a pin at the Haskell exit off Central, guess how long it takes? Guess!– 17 minutes. A whole 60 seconds longer!

  • Alexander

    I grew up in “northeast Dallas” (whatever that is) and we never took a highway to the Fair- straight shot down Garland/East Grand. But let’s assume you are coming from the Lake Highlands YMCA to the Fair’s Perry entrance.

    Taking the current highway configuration google says it takes 16 minutes. Going down Greenville to Linsley takes 20 minutes. Google doesn’t suggest it, but if you drop a pin at the Haskell exit off Central, guess how long it takes? Guess!– 17 minutes. A whole 60 seconds longer!

  • billholston

    I live in Casa View, I call that Northeast Dallas. We go to Expo Park often and head straight down Garland East Grand. We do tend to head East on I-30 to 1st which I think is quicker than staying on E Grand, unless there’s traffic.

  • Peter Simek

    This made me remember the days I used to sit in council meetings listening to Bill Blades go on and on about how Lake Highlands had not one but TWO six lane divided roads connecting it directly to downtown (Abrams and Skillman). We’ve learned to equate mobility with highways, but in a dense urban network, a variety of scaled routes are more efficient AND help facilitate a more vibrant urban core. I live in Oak Cliff and typically take one of three or four available non-highway routes to Fair Park/expo because I know which ones are faster when.

  • Ed Woodson

    No argument. Works both ways.

  • Ed Woodson

    75 corridor. a lot of people are between Preston and White Rock Creek.

  • Ed Woodson

    If you are East of White Rock I wouldn’t use a highway either. Lots of people on the other side, and a few hundred thousand people farther up 75. Witness 75/345/30 on Fair days. A lot of people use that route.

  • dallasboiler

    I generally like items 1, 3, and 5. All are eminently do-able and wouldn’t take terribly long to implement. I’d love to see that section of I-30 re-routed too, but that’s not going to happen in the next 30-40 years.

    On #2, are there other case studies of similar sites in other cities that have been repurposed but still serve a seasonal function like the State Fair of Texas? I struggle to think of any. In most other states, fairgrounds lie mostly dormant until the time of the state fair (with the exception of use of the large auditoriums for sporting events).

    Whatever changes occur in Fair Park, the area must still be able to accomodate ~2 million visitors each October and all of the agricultural expositions that accompany the State Fair. Part of that is the parking issue mentioned in #2, but the other is creating an environment where people WANT the fair as their front yard. (Personally, I don’t want 2 million transients hanging out in my neighborhood over the course of the month; so I’m not the right person to see through that issue.)

    It’s really a shame that the city and its sports frachise owners didn’t have the foresight and wherewithall to find a solution to make Fair Park the area’s sports hub (vs. having it disaggregated between Victory Park, Arlington and Frisco). That would’ve made for one heck on an entertainment district which would have been the place to be every October (imagine the featuring the State Fair, the Red River Rivalry game, a couple of Cowboys games, and maybe even a Rangers playoff series now and then … all in 1 month … what location in a city could rival that!)

    • Alexander

      Districts like that suck. Go to Philly and see. er, no don’t do that; just know they suck.

    • Patrick Kennedy

      Maybe Dallas no longer needs the Fair? Not necessarily endorsing the idea. Just posing the Q

  • WhereWhere

    “ruin the surrounding neighborhoods through gentrification”

    Holy cats. “Ruin?” Really? The single greatest barrier to the rescue and revitalization of Fair Park is the insanely PC attitude behind the sentence quoted above. And I consider myself pretty liberal.

    You can’t do this without gentrification. Quit pretending you can. And quit pretending gentrification is some sort of evil force. When was the last time you actually saw a neighborhood “ruined” by gentrification? Look up the word “ruin” in a dictionary, both in noun and verb form, and tell me with a straight face that those terms don’t apply to the current neighborhoods. Get over yourself. The surrounding neighborhoods are falling apart. They have to be improved, and they will be improved. They will be gentrified. The sooner the better. Fair park is a gem. It should be used and appreciated.

  • Alexander

    So you are just going to ignore the fact that taking Haskell instead of 345 only adds 60 seconds to the trip?

  • Raymond Crawford

    My recommendations for the Mayor
    1. Get rid of Allan Walne
    2. Get rid of Diane Ragsdale
    3. Get rid of Mary Suhm
    4. Get rid of Jack Mattews
    5. Get rid of this task force because whatever they come up with, it’s not going to work anyway

    • Uwe

      You’ve got it all wrong! Old school Tim thinks this group is solid. Of course, he was pro-Trinity toll-road, too.

  • Tested

    Those are decent suggestions and I’m sure this task force will come up with some kind of exciting report suggesting all the wonderful things that could be done at Fair Park. But let’s ask ourselves a simple question: if they ignored the Fair Park Comprehensive Development Plan, what makes anyone think they’ll take action on some new plan from this task force? I have no faith that they will. I do hope I’m wrong and I hope that they will expand this task force to include some local urban planners and more people from that area of town.

    To me Fair Park has a far bigger problem that needs to be addressed: horrible leadership. You need look no further than the $30 million Summer Adventures fiasco to understand this problem. It was a good idea that was poorly executed. The actual amusement park itself was great fun. But the leadership of Fair Park did a horrible job of promoting it. There were a few TV ads – but not nearly enough. There were some billboards – but they didn’t really grab your attention. Corporate sponsorships seemed lacking as well. On top of that, they priced the thing out of the budget of most people. If you’re going to pay $35 per person to go there, why not just go to Six Flags where they have more rides? They did cut the price later in the season to try to salvage some hint of the attendance numbers they wanted, but it was too little too late.. and again no one knew about it. Seriously, most of the people I talked to did not know about this amusement park until the media announced it was cancelled this year. I put the blame on that at the top and on the horribly inept PR department at Fair Park.

    Until the entire leadership of Fair Park is changed and better people are brought in, you can expect that place to languish and only provide one useful event a year: The State Fair of Texas.

  • Patrick Kennedy

    You’ve made my argument entirely. A debt of gratitude, sir.

  • Patrick Kennedy

    On a more serious note we have to do something about the lending because there is “accidental redlining” occurring. Potential entrepreneurs cant start biz in the area because the computer models dont see better median incomes in area, etc etc. Along with these various fundamental efforts, we must institute programs to allow locals to benefit from new investment.

  • Uwe

    So, just to be clear, you don’t live in University Park and a mere blocks from the Tollway, which would make your whole argument a sham, right? Sprichen sie nicht auf lawyer-speak, bitte.

  • Jackson

    Whatever happens, it probably shouldn’t be brought to a vote! Dallas has a notable segment that didn’t grow up here, knows little about Fair Park and its surroundings, and cares even less. This sentiment drove opposition to upgrading the Cotton Bowl, too. Back in the mid ‘80s, I lived on McKinney Avenue near McCommas. I dated a girl who lived and worked in North Dallas, and when I’d phone with dinner suggestions, she’d say, “Why would I want to drive all the way down there?” I explained that her viewpoint was from the outside looking in, and the better question was mine: “Why would I want to drive all the way up there?” This impasse led to a short relationship, but it bespeaks a problem that wasn’t as pronounced in say, 1950, when the population was 434,000. Ask people from South Dallas about the lack of interest north of the river. Today, many different kingdoms make up the whole of Big D. Marketing Fair Park as the major civic asset it is remains a crucial element in any solution.

  • JohnG

    Tearing down I-345 will pretty drastically reduce access to fair park for folks north of downtown – It’s the main path for all traffic from 75 to reach fair park, whether you use it to go to 30 or to go toward 45 and exit MLK. And it’s one of two main paths that the tollway traffic (or traffic from I-35 north) can take – if you don’t go south on 35 to I-30, you take woodall rogers to 345 to either I-30 or again, go toward 45 and exit MLK.

    And re: I-30 – we’ve already built a southern east west route as an alternative to I-30 that is perfect for traffic that needs to pass through but not go into the center of Dallas or Fort Worth – and even with I-20 there, I-30 is still full of cars. Where they are going to go is a problem that will have to be accounted for if anyone seriously considers tearing down I-30.

    • Alexander

      Take the Haskell exit off 75, it only adds a minute when there is no traffic. During big events when there are backups on the highway it’s actually faster.

  • Shannon Critchlow

    I miss having the Dallas Museum of Art at Fair Park and it seems such a waste to have not developed this area for the publics benefit. I believe filling the empty buildings with art and art classes could be part of the plan. A master garden program with educational drought and native plants program staffed by volunteers could be yet another public awareness program. There are so many ways Fair Park could be used to benefit the tax paying public with increased educational opportunities and cultural enrichment programs. If you build it they will come should be the focus of the task force. Build and develop Fair Park for the benefit of the public. Years ago Fair Park was a thriving area filled with museums set within a park like area and that worked well until the park was abandoned for the cement jungle of downtown.

  • Bob Loblaw

    I don’t understand why they immediately give-up on everything they try. The ice rink was a great idea, which I barely heard about before the decided it was a failure and closed it down. It was pretty much the same with the amusement park. They need to commit to things and give them some time to succeed.

  • Anonymous

    We need the Fair. The Fair is the one time of year when we can all get together, walk around, and enjoy each other and our city. The Fair is to Dallas what Mardi Gras is to New Orleans and Cherry Blossoms are to DC. Texas-OU is like our NYC Marathon.

    However, we need to rethink the model of acres of parking for an event that lasts a couple of weeks. The Fair is a walled community and acts like a highway repelling people and commerce (it doesn’t help that an actual highway is two blocks away doing the same thing– the fact that a few dozen hipsters live in “Expo Park” is a testament to Dallas’s will to become more urban).

    The Fair needs to become permeable. It needs to have commerce on the inside, light manufacturing, and possibly even residents. It does not need a new museum or monument that no one wants to visit. Chelsea Market in NYC is an idea, or maybe a little more downscale like Eastern Market in DC. How about a hotel in one of the Art Deco buildings? Sacrilege? People would want to be there during festivals though. Throw in a locally sourced snout to tail restaurant that serves hand crafted cocktails on the roof deck and you might have a viable model though…

    (and no Patrick, we don’t know each other, though I do follow your blog)

  • Anonymous

    Take the Haskell exit off 75, it only adds 60 seconds. You should really be doing that anyway during a major event and avoid backups on the highway.

    You can thank me later.

  • Alexander

    We need the Fair. The Fair is the one time of year when we can all get together, walk around, and enjoy each other and our city. The Fair is to Dallas what Mardi Gras is to New Orleans and Cherry Blossoms are to DC. Texas-OU is like our NYC Marathon.

    However, we need to rethink the model of acres of parking for an event that lasts a couple of weeks. The Fair is a walled community and acts like a highway repelling people and commerce (it doesn’t help that an actual highway is two blocks away doing the same thing– the fact that a few dozen hipsters live in “Expo Park” is a testament to Dallas’s will to become more urban).

    The Fair needs to become permeable. It needs to have commerce on the inside, light manufacturing, and possibly even residents. It does not need a new museum or monument that no one wants to visit. Chelsea Market in NYC is an idea, or maybe a little more downscale like Eastern Market in DC. How about a hotel in one of the Art Deco buildings? Sacrilege? People would want to be there during festivals though. Throw in a locally sourced snout to tail restaurant that serves hand crafted cocktails on the roof deck and you might have a viable model though…

    (and no Patrick, we don’t know each other, though I do follow your blog)

  • TheBlaydes

    Perhaps, the revitalization of Fair Park is not the best arena to discuss tearing down part of I-30. Though it is an interesting discussion to have, the mere suggestion of it seemed to draw a lot of people off sides into emotional tirades instead of a thoughtful discussion about Fair Park’s future.

    I would hate for a Task Force to produce several meaningful well-reasoned suggestions that are completely overlooked or rejected by key stakeholders or the public at large because they included removing part of I-30.

  • JohnG

    Except you won’t be the only one doing that if I-345 is gone. And that only addresses the folks coming from 75 – not the I-35 and Tollway traffic that currently has the option of Woodall Rogers to 345. Unless of course they wind their way up to the haskell exit on 75 too – in which case, Haskell is packed to the gills.

  • Greg Brown

    I find all of these suggestions to be remarkably smart and also relatively easy and economical to implement. It only requires enlightenment, forward-thinking & conviction from our Mayor and Board.

    Also, after going on a rant last week about the “stupidity” of dismantling of I-345, I am starting to see the wisdom to making I-30 a grade-level Boulevard from 635 to Loop 12–as long as the DART rail lines are beefed up to handle increased traffic. It is not easy to grasp such bold concepts but once the shock wears off, the logic does prevail.

  • Alexander

    People aren’t backtracking from west/northwest of downtown to 345.

    The beauty of surface roads is that they aren’t the only option. When Haskell is backed up you can take Commerce, etc.

    The Fair seems to be the only time anyone from points north gets on 345, doesn’t it?

  • JohnG

    Sure they are – because taking Woodall Rogers is a great alternate route when 35 to 30 is backed up either due to simple traffic or a wreck.

    Personally, I take 345 all the time and when I do I see other cars on it as well – so we ought to stop pretending that it is not utlized. I disagree with the ideas that underpin the “tear out 345” effort – namely reducing road capacity, increasing congestion, and reducing the number of car trips. This is Dallas. This is Texas. We drive our Suburbans when we need to get somewhere. On a more serious and less stereotypical note, part of why people live here and companies grow here is because of the great transportation infrastructure we have – when we need a new highway, or for that matter a new rail line, we can build one. We don’t constrain capacity for social engineering, or because there’s some snail that lives in the place where we want a road.

    I am however greatly in favor of Fair Park investment – so getting back on topic, I submit that a lot more people are in favor of that than are in favor of reducing highway and road capacity. Leave this highway business out of the Fair Park effort.

    I wonder it it is feasiable/profitable to bring back the childrens museum? The tiny corner in the basement of the Perot that replaced it doesn’t hold a candle to the former installation at Fair Park. And it was a nice companion faciltiy to the aquarium at fair park.

  • JohnG

    Re- parking: Specifically this line: “Back before those parking lots were built, temporary parking was created by local residents offering up their front lawns for fair-goers, injecting a few extra bucks in the neighborhoods. ”

    Mixed use development on the parking lots sounds great, but let’s plan to build those parking garages to equal or come close to the current capacity. Relying on front yard parking offered by someone who may or may not have any authority over said yard cannot seriously be part of the official plan for Fair Park. Because rule number one of going to Fair Park is ALWAYS park on Fair Park property under the watchful eye of DPD, or else you are drastically increasing your odds of coming back to a car with several marketable parts removed, or no car at all.