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Park Board Recommends the Fair Park Privatization Deal

The proposal now moves to the City Council.
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The Hall of State at Fair Park. (Photo by Josh Blaylock) Josh Blaylock

Park Board Recommends the Fair Park Privatization Deal

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The long-awaited plan to privatize Fair Park got the Park Board’s recommendation this morning, freeing its path to the City Council. Just two of the 15 members voted against recommending it: Yolanda Williams, of Pleasant Grove in District 5, and Bo Slaughter, of southern Dallas’ District 8.

The City Council is expected to be briefed on the deal on September 18. The Park Board has been parsing the contract since early August, days after city staff announced that the winning bid belonged to a management group called Fair Park First, which would enlist the international events corporation Spectra to manage its operations. The contract is for 20 years, with two options for five-year extensions.

Spectra has asked the city for just $35 million over the next decade for expenses; the two competitors, from former Hunt Oil. Co. Chairman Walt Humann’s Fair Park Texas Foundation and developer Monte Anderson’s Fair Park Conservancy, asked the city for about $16.9 million and $14.8 million each year, respectively. The city had been spending about $11 million each year after its revenue was accounted for. Some of the Park Board members had concerns about the numbers working out, particularly what would happen if Spectra failed to bring in the necessary operating revenue to match its pro formas.

Spectra put its bonafides on the table again and again: a presence in 150 municipalities worldwide, 200,000 annual events, 40 million annual guests, 319 total properties (including 22 fairgrounds). They told the board they believed they could save big bucks in some of its existing services, like their in-house attorneys and scaled contracts for utilities and liability insurance.

Today’s concerns, particularly from Slaughter and Williams, seemed rooted in what would happen to the existing tenants. Under the deal, all existing contracts—sans the State Fair and TxDOT, which require approval from their boards—would transfer to the new managers. Dallas Summer Musicals sent the board a letter expressing concern about their future at Fair Park, and Dr. Harry Robinson, the president and CEO of the African American Museum, also addressed the board with similar concerns.

The Park Board had city staff draw up a resolution addressing some of these, recommending that existing tenants have their contracts extended at Fair Park, suggesting that the Fair Park First board have a representative who actually lives near Fair Park. But their hands are, essentially, tied. The City Council can negotiate parts of the contract; the Park Board can only issue its recommendations, which it did today.

“We should not hold this up from the Council voting on it. It needs to go forward,” said Sonya Woods, the Park Board representative whose district includes Fair Park. “If you want to come to South Dallas and hang out for a week, you would vote for it, too.”

Now it’s up to the City Council.

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