The State Fair of Texas will be at Fair Park for another 10 years. The City Council approved an amendment today that extends the fair’s contract another decade, from 2028 to 2038. The deal includes protections for minimum wage payments for hourly employees, who are guaranteed to receive a base of at least $11.15 per hour through 2020. Afterward, the minimum will scale up each year based on the city’s cost of living calculator.
The amendment also requires the State Fair and the Dallas Police Department to agree upon a set amount of on-duty and off-duty officers that will be needed for security. They’ll begin meeting six months before the fair opens its doors each year. The contract calls for DPD to invoice the State Fair for “services provided, including full cost recovery of both on-duty and overtime assignments based on actual hours worked.”
“Within thirty (30) days of receipt, State Fair shall pay the full invoice amount,” reads the contract.
This has been a point of controversy around the horseshoe at least since 2016, when the short-staffed and cash-strapped DPD revealed that the fair had rung up more than $1 million in staffing costs that year alone. Last year’s fair also exceeded $1 million. Fair officials had previously vowed to pay $550,000 for security annually. On Monday, the Quality of Life committee voted 4-3 against recommending the Council approve the amendment. And on Wednesday, councilwoman Sandy Greyson, of North Dallas, immediately requested a motion to defer the vote until 2019. And then the familiar arguments for and against the fair reared their head.
Mayor Mike Rawlings seemed exasperated at the idea of delaying the vote. Extending the contract would tie a bow on the annual event’s presence at Fair Park, considering Council just agreed to privatize the park for the next 20 years. The contract between the city and Fair Park First, the nonprofit manager of the park, and Spectra, the Philadelphia-based for-profit operator, will expire in 2038, just like the State Fair extension.
“We gave the city manager clear direction and he and his team did their job,” Rawlings said. “It is time to vote this issue up or down; we’ve jumped through every hoop and either we want to support the State Fair or we don’t.”
Councilman Rickey Callahan, of Pleasant Grove, shared the mayor’s sentiment. The specter of the State Fair leaving Fair Park still lingered over the debate, despite its officials not indicating any plans to do so. The current contract expires in 2028, and its board declined to hand over its contract negotiations to the private entity that is now managing it. “If you don’t like the State Fair, then go out and create your own state fair in the spring or summer or some other time of the year,”Callahan said.
But some felt this was happening too quickly, and didn’t cover enough ground. Councilman Philip Kingston, of East Dallas and Uptown and downtown, said the process felt rushed. He wanted more input from the neighborhoods and Fair Park First as well as a rethinking of the State Fair’s footprint. He cited past audits of Fair Park that have found millions of dollars in deferred maintenance, and argued that the fair occupying the buildings during much of the year limited the opportunity for other tenants to adapt a new use for those buildings. Part of the city’s goal in privatizing Fair Park was to find tenants and other uses that will extend for the full year, to make it stop being such a ghost town when the fair isn’t alive.
“[The State Fair] runs the worst car show in America,” Kingston said, referring to the Texas Auto Show in the Automobile Building. “The truck show is outside, and that building needs to serve some purpose that is vibrant and 365 days a year. The magic of long-term tenants for historic buildings is that’s how we, the city, become accountable for maintenance. Having somebody there using a building is the only real way to preserve it … adaptive reuse is not three weeks of the best that Detroit has to offer.”
He, as well as Greyson and North Oak Cliff Council member Scott Griggs, also had questions about how the State Fair was reinvesting its excess revenues into Fair Park. Because the new amendment requires the fair to cover the cost of its own security, Dallas’ chief financial officer, Elizabeth Reich, said that excess revenue “changes materially” over its term.
Darren James, the Fair Park First president, said the organization had received the amendment on Tuesday night and hadn’t “had the chance to look at all the financial impacts going forward.” He said, nevertheless, that the group “want the State Fair to stay at Fair Park.” “At this point, we believe that keeping the State Fair at Fair Park is going to be a good thing for us,” he said. “We just want to look at the numbers and see how they’ll impact us going forward.”
Griggs later asked him whether he was concerned about the Council approving the extension without Fair Park First having run the numbers. James responded, “At this point, we don’t see a reason to delay.”
The Council voted 6-8 in denying Grayson’s motion for deferral, and it then went to a vote after a brief discussion. It passed easily, with Kingston, Greyson, and Griggs the only members to vote no.