Fair Park Proposals Not Dramatic, But Headed in the Right Direction

Fair Park should be more green, but is building parking garages really the answer to its lingering disuse?

Photo by Elizabeth Lavin
Photo by Elizabeth Lavin

As Zac mentioned in Leading Off, the Mayor’s task force on Fair Park unveiled some of its recommendations for transforming the city’s most valuable, neglected resource. Sure, there are no art schools, Mexican soccer teams, or any of the other ideas I laid out in my suggestions for the task force back in February. But the ideas are poking, if somewhat hesitantly, in the right direction.

The big idea is the idea to privatize the park. This should help if it is done right. The danger is that the privatization becomes a way for the city to shirk funding of the park, or that it turns into a patron society takeover of a vital public asset. That said, what privatization might ensure is that plans for the park are actually implemented. For example, the 2003 Comprehensive Development Plan is not entirely off the mark as a first step in terms of its vision of improving Fair Park, it’s just that – like so many Dallas plans – it has never been fully implemented.

The task force is also rightly focused on connectivity, though the early ideas aren’t exactly ideal. Their proposals for reclaiming some parking lots for green space and moving the fence captures the spirit, if not the substance of the greening idea. I don’t like how a proposed rendering of new parking structures included in the briefing places the garages in positions where they block access and connectivity between the neighborhoods and the park. And the reclaimed green space isn’t exactly significant in scale. Turning the lot behind the Music Hall green is a no brainer, but the question of what to do with the acres of parking on the back end of the park by Gexa Energy Pavilion is the real challenge. There’s talk of creating a community park, but few details. The key point is this: in order for Fair Park to become useful, it must have uses, particularly those that are improvisational, like sports fields, playgrounds, etc. A bolder idea would be to try to get a youth soccer organization to turn part of the back end of the park into a year-round facility. Maybe those are ideas a private non-profit overseeing the park could be more effectively implement.

But back to the parking. The parking challenge at Fair Park is that there is a massive surge of demand during the fair, but meeting that demand has created facilities that ruin the park during the rest of the year. Rather than trying to come up with a different way to incorporate that parking capacity into the park, I would rather see the task force focused on alternative solutions, like creating temporary parking during the fair or overflow parking facilities off site. At the very least, don’t say you’re going to increase connectivity between the neighborhoods and the park and then stick a rendering in the briefing that shows parking garages shoved between the neighborhood and the park.

There needs to be significant perforation between the park and the neighborhoods. Just look at Balboa Park in San Diego, the closest thing to a Fair Park in another American city, and whose head the Fair Park Task Force spoke to during their research. At Balboa, the adjacent neighborhoods come right up to the border of the park and parking for the intermittent uses is tucked into discrete lots located within the confines of the park. Parking for the park’s big draw – the San Diego Zoo – is shoved in the far back of the park. At Fair Park, the moats of concrete that currently disconnect the park from the neighborhoods should be filled in, not with a parking structures (however “signature” — whatever that means) but with neighborhood. Make it dense and affordable. Make the distinction between where Fair Park ends and Dallas begins really difficult to pin down.


  • Pegaso

    To be fair, there isn’t much “neighborhood” behind the proposed structures. I’m looking at the park in Google Maps and see empty lots adjacent to the proposed structures. That said, you are 100% correct that more people need to live around the park and that’s what I thought Jack Mathews would advocate for.

    I was also hoping the task force would advance the idea of building a small hotel in (or adjacent to) the fairgrounds, something that was mentioned in the 2003 plan.

  • TheBlaydes

    Why not put the parking underground, with improvisational community park activities on top. Charge premiums for the underground spaces during the fair and pay for them that way.

    Better yet, as the author stated, stop worrying so much about parking for the fair. Other than Texas-OU, I’ve never been to the Fair and said, man there’s no parking.

  • Brenda Marks

    So I’m guessing they want to hire Calatrava to design the signature parking structure complete with extreme cost overruns and design problems?

  • Bobtex

    All this obsessing about parking is an extension of the 20th Century mentality that led to the theft of neighbors’ property for the creation of the parking lots between Second Avenue and Robert B. Cullum, and between Pennsylvania and Fitzhugh. Besides decimating two minority neighborhoods, this action further enlarged and enhanced the “moat” effect to reassure white folks that they would be safe and protected when they entered the gates to Fair Park. Get rid of those lots. Get rid of those walls. Put in one parking garage for valet parking (preferably on the back side, south of Haskell) and charge the valet patrons the full fare for the cost of constructing their “convenience facility”. As thousands have already learned, the Green Line is the far superior mode of transport to Fair Park, from anywhere in the area, except, perhaps, if you live in South Dallas or Deep Ellum or Jubilee Park, in which case walking may be your best option.

    • John O’Neill

      Well said.

  • John O’Neill

    “…that it turns into a patron society takeover of a vital public asset.”

    With Mike Rawlings behind this, that is a legitimate concern.

  • Really

    @ Bobtex, the Green Line is not best for people in North Dallas, Lake Highlands, Garland, and East Dallas. The Green Line would take me more than an hour to get to FP from my house. Driving, 20 minutes.

    • Brenda Marks

      It is not the job of the public to ensure you the quickest time to Fair Park. Nor is it the responsibility of the public to make sure you have signature garage to park your car in once you get there.