Last week, we all got a first glimpse at what has been described as a “once in a generation” deal to redo Fair Park. As Matt reported, the Dallas park board peppered representatives from Fair Park First and Spectra, the new non-profit group and its sports and entertainment booking partner who have won the bid to take over ownership of the city’s prized—and languishing—art deco campus. The takeaway from the meeting was that the group vying to take over the park is professional and intelligent. It looks on paper like a good deal; the park board members even attempted to see if it was too good a deal. Generally, the potential ownership team clearly and convincingly explained their intentions and projections.
There are still some questions about the deal, of course, and some stuff we can’t answer until the group takes over and starts running the park. Can the new group raise the money it needs to improve the park? Will it make as much money as it thinks it can through re-branding and reprogramming the park’s various attractions? What will the community park—the piece of the puzzle that promises to create a stronger link between the park and the neighborhoods around it—actually look like and where will it be? Are there any unseen pitfalls in the legal contract the council may sign that could burn the city down the road or, perhaps, leave the city holding the bag if things don’t turn out the way Fair Park First and Spectra expect them to?
But there is one important question that needs to be asked and can be answered today, even before we have handed over the keys to the park: if the Fair Park First/Spectra group fails to meet all of their expectations and goals or Fair Park, how will that compare to the situation at Fair Park if nothing changes?
We know the answer to the latter part of the question: if nothing happens, Fair Park will continue to be a failure. And so, let’s rephrase the question: if the Fair Park First/Spectra group fails to meet all of the expectations and goals for Fair Park, will it be less of a failure than if the city chooses to double-down on the failure we know is the result of doing nothing?
How could it? How could a group coming in and building a new community park, running the booking more professionally, turning the park into a generator of some amount of revenue and some amount of new jobs be worse than allowing the park to sit and languish as a failure? And yet, if Park Board members and City Council members vote against this proposed plan, what they are really voting for is failure they know—the failure that exists today—against the potential success or failure they don’t know. That is a backwards way of running a city.
A down vote on the proposed takeover is a vote for failure because all the City Council and Park Board can do is give the proposed deal an up or down vote. They can’t amend the contract. They can’t negotiate specific terms. The deal is on the table, negotiated into its current form by the bidders and city staff. In theory, if the council votes down the proposal, the process could begin again, or one of the other bidders could move to the front of the line. But if this proposal is rejected it will be for political reasons, and so it is unlikely that any other proposal will come back to the city again, or at least for a generation. The choice our elected officials have, then, is do we take a chance at success regardless of the potential that the deal does not live up to expectations, or do we throw it away and choose the failure for Fair Park?
I know my logic here sounds very old-school Trinity River Project. “Approve this bridge plan or whitewater rafting plan now or we will never have another opportunity to claim our great river.” And so by all means dig into the contract. Make sure it makes sense. Don’t sign away the house without knowing what you are signing. But the terms of the Fair Park options are different from the Trinity River because the only choice here is between some version of the deal on the table and nothing.
If the deal is a success, it will transform this city. Even if it is a moderate success it will start Fair Park down a road of finally realizing its untapped potential. And if the deal doesn’t pan out as it is being presented, perhaps Dallas will still end up with renovated buildings, a new community park, or a new perspective on what can and can’t work in Fair Park and why.
But a no vote is simply a vote for Fair Park to continue to fail. Because if this proposal doesn’t carry, we know what the future of Fair Park will look like: more of the same languishing.