Fair Park First has three more years to raise $85 million to pay for the park improvements it has promised to the Dallas City Council. This week, we got our first look at the first phase of its capital campaign plan.
Called “Fair Park, Your Park,” the nonprofit that oversees the park’s operations is partnering with several influential Dallasites to spread the word, hoping to attract donors. The large ones will be critically important: the deadline to raise the money is 2024 and this first round of fundraising will go toward the cornerstone of the redevelopment, a 14-acre community park that connects Fair Park with the South Dallas neighborhood that the city and the State Fair of Texas paved over in the 1960s.
“We are doing a $85 million capital campaign largely from the philanthropic community,” said Brian Luallen, the executive director of Fair Park First. That community is “individual donors, foundations, and corporations.” A focus on smaller donations will come later.
Fair Park First this week unveiled the campaign’s honorary chairs. Those are former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. Unity co-chairs include former Mayor and Ambassador Ron Kirk and his wife, Matrice Ellis-Kirk, the managing director of RSR Partners; as well as Jim Keyes and Margo Ramirez Keyes, philanthropists and owners of Key Development. The Bushes are lending their names and have already donated money to the cause through the President and Office of the First Lady. Luallen declined to say how much.
The Kirks and Keyes will help manage the campaign and offer guidance. Luallen also says “about four dozen really strong philanthropic leaders” will serve as advisors, but he wasn’t ready to announce the names.
What we do know: the campaign will be guided by Rise 360, a fundraising group that works with nonprofits in similar campaigns. Another prominent volunteer consultant is Bill Lively, who has been described as a “master fundraiser” after bringing in $334 million to pay for the construction of the AT&T Performing Arts Center and another $280 million for SMU.
Luallen says Fair Park First has already received a number of donations, but the organization isn’t ready to detail those yet. In addition to the large community park, the first phase includes a pocket park at the entrance off Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., which Luallen described as “the first in a network of green spaces designed to really knit together the campus.”
The first phase also includes a parking garage to help Fair Park meet its contractual obligations with the State Fair of Texas and Dos Equis Pavilion. Eventually, Fair Park First wants to turn 800,000 square feet of concrete into greenspace, helping ameliorate the problem of heat radiating off of concrete, jumping temperatures by dozens of degrees during sunny days. Other early planned improvements include restoring public art and improving the campus’ drainage system.
Luallen said the organization was honored the co-chairs “would recognize that this is important. Not only for all Dallasites, but all Texans. All Americans.”
The Bushes supported Fair Park during W.’s presidency, during which the campus received recogntion from the Committee on the Arts and Humanities and the National Park Service. Luallen says their participation will provide a significant carrot for the effort to preserve and renovate the cultural institution.
Next month, Fair Park First will launch its community engagement meetings with residents in the surrounding neighborhoods to hear feedback about the proposed design.