The president of Klyde Warren Park, Mark Banta, says he has three goals: to run a park that is clean, safe, and active. A 30-year green industry and parks expert, Banta most recently ran Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta before accepting the Dallas post in March. The deck park over Woodall Rodgers Freeway is poised to become a true city center, he says. Here’s more on Banta, what he thinks of Dallas, and the challenges that lie ahead.
Q. Tell us about your work at Centennial, and how that will influence your goals for Klyde Warren Park.
Banta: I was the general manager of Centennial Park, taking over as the summer Olympic Games ended in 1996. The challenge was to transition the park from an Olympic festival site to one with more permanent use. I oversaw the build-out of the new park that’s there today. It was an amazing opportunity, as is this opportunity in Dallas. It’s what makes it so special. Most people get only one of those opportunities in a lifetime; to get to do two world-class, major game-changing parks is really special.
My work in Atlanta provides a tremendous amount of experience and background of the construction issues, the planning and formulation for what the park should be and can be, having some insight into what the long-term impact will be for Dallas—what I call “the magic of green space.” Having that experience there really helps me as I plan for making Klyde Warren Park as effective and successful as it can be.
Q. What made you get into park management?
Banta: I have always enjoyed touching people’s lives in a positive way. That’s what parks do. How can somebody have a bad day if you have a job where if you’re tired of working with paperwork, you can go outside and watch kids splashing in a fountain or a dog playing catch with a Frisbee, or go out and study the beauty of the park, the nature of it. It’s a great job. In previous roles, I’ve seen life-changing things happen. A couple may fall in love at a concert that at the park, and they write you later and talk about getting married. It’s extremely rewarding.
Even when I’m not working, I like to spend my free time outdoors. I have always felt that in cities that we can lose our connection with that, and that’s why parks and green spaces are so important.
Q. What are your initial impressions of Dallas?
Banta: Dallas is a good bit like Atlanta. It’s a progressive city, it’s a very entrepreneurial city, a can-do city. Dallas has beautiful buildings and architecture, it has a wonderfully hospitable Southern hospitality, and its people are very welcoming and open. I’ve found that to be very refreshing. It’s especially exciting because I know what kind of impact this park will have on Dallas. I’ve seen it happen once, and I’ve consulted on other parks, so I know how special this is going to be.
Q. What demographic is the park most likely to attract?
Banta: It will be anybody and everybody. Our downtown core is going to start with our workers and residents who are in close proximity and don’t have to make much effort to get to us. That’s true with most green spaces. A lot of times it’s the younger folks who are the pioneers; people who are repopulating downtown become the early adapters and dog walkers, runners, joggers, people that use those outdoor spaces. The park also will definitely be of interest to the young families that have kids who want to come play in the fountains and use the playgrounds.
I believe Klyde Warren Park will become a destination for area and regional residents to come visit, too. It will be a destination park. And because it’s right in the middle of everything, you have the casual encounter, where someone is visiting one of the museums or one of the performance venues and tacks on a visit to the park, too. It will be cool to see the park be discovered by people who may not know it’s here.
Q. What will your workdays look like once the park opens?
Banta: I’ll be focused on staying in tune as to how the park is being utilized and how folks are embracing the park, figuring out who our customers are and finding out what they’re enjoying, what they need more of, what they need less of. That will lead to some tweaking of the programming or tweaking of events. Our mission is to keep the park “clean, safe, and active”—making sure we hit those goals consistently. I’ll also be working on building the team here; that’s one of the most fun parts of the job—building a new team.
Q. What sets Klyde Warren Park apart from other downtown green spaces in Dallas?
Banta: The fact that Dallas has other parks that have recently opened—Main Street Garden, the Belo Garden—is a fantastic thing. We’re building on those successes. Klyde Warren Park is special because of its immediate proximity to the Arts District, Uptown, and downtown; but more important, the level of programming and the events that it will have. There will always be something going on. Sometimes people like to go into a really quiet park and read a book; other times, just by their human nature, they want to watch other people having fun, they want to participate in things. No matter what you’re interested in doing, if you’re seeking a quiet space or if you want to get involved in a ping-pong match or learn how to play Pétanque, you’ll be able to do so at Klyde Warren Park.
Q. What do you think about the funding model?
Banta: I think a lot of people will look at and study this park as a huge success from that perspective. Sometimes parks tend to be all public money, and not so much private money. This is a unique project, not only because of the expense of building a park over a freeway, but also because of the timing; there was the challenge of the economic downturn, but then stimulus money became available, bond money that came forward and all the private donors stepped up. This project will surely be studied as an example by other cities.
Looking forward to the future, this park will be managed by the foundation and will create revenue sources without being overly commercial. It will have a combination of special events, programming, and sponsorship that allows these activities to be free for the public and funded by others—by our corporate partners and by that private sector that helps support it for the good of everybody. We will be a self-sufficient model that will generate the revenue it takes to operate. Many parks are part of a city, state, or federal government process; other parks here are maintained by the City of Dallas. In this particular instance, the foundation will manage Klyde Warren Park.
Q. What are some of the greatest challenges the park will face?
Banta: We’re new, so having people learn about us, developing that loyal fan base of families and users, our downtown residents, our downtown workers, providing them with the opportunity to participate and explore and discover, getting the word out. There also will be the challenge of continuing to produce events and programs that make people say, “I need to come back and check it out. I was there on Tuesday and I saw one set of things, but I’m going to go back on Friday because I heard that’s when the concert is.” We want to build that loyal fan base and following, so we become part of the culture, something that people—if they don’t come out and visit the park sometime during the week—they feel like they’ve missed out on something.
Q. What about the greatest opportunities?
Banta: Watching the park mature, and seeing the impact it has on the pedestrian experience. I’ve said a few other times that this isn’t so much about building a park and a green space as it is changing the “pedestriazation” of downtown and helping connect Uptown, downtown Dallas, and the Arts District, so people are enjoying getting down here either via car or public transportation and then becoming a pedestrian and going to shops and restaurants and activities and the venues. That’s really what it’s all about at the end of the day, that’s the opportunity—to help people experience and enjoy an urban Dallas experience.
Many cities, like Dallas, are very car-centric. Part of what helps change that is providing opportunities and choices that allow for a pedestrian experience, so we don’t have to drive from one parking deck to the next parking deck, where we can become a city where people don’t mind walking a few blocks—even when it’s hot. There are other cities that have warmer temperatures that still offer people great walking experiences. The sidewalks become tree-lined and the parks and respite areas are nice, and there are places to get food and drink on the way or shops to visit. That environment can be created through the development of green space; the pedestrian experience is what makes all that walkable and makes it special.