Last week, the Dallas City Council approved a few resolutions that will steer millions of dollars in federal, state, and local funding toward an expansion of Klyde Warren Park. Alex put up a little piece about this last week and asked your thoughts. Which led to me getting on the phone with Kit Sawers, who became president of the park in 2018.
I wanted to know more about the nuts and bolts of what the expansion will look like. Here is what is currently in the cards. (Spoiler: VisitDallas currently has no plans to be a tenant or incur any financial obligations toward the expansion effort, which is a different story from when this was announced in 2018.)
Where Is This, Exactly?
Klyde Warren’s westward expansion will be atop two new decks over Woodall Rodgers, extending from St. Paul to just past Akard, making the park closer to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. Each deck will span a little less than 40,000 square feet. One of the decks will house a three-story structure that will include a visitor’s center of sorts on the first floor, a ballroom for weddings and other events on the second, and a rooftop terrace that will be accessible to the public. Each level will be about 11,000 square feet.
About That Parking Garage
Yes, there will be some parking at Klyde Warren’s expansion, but Sawers says it won’t be open to the public or to park staff. (“I wish I could park there,” she quipped.) The entrance will be off Akard, occupying a space that would otherwise go unused. The garage is intended for caterers and other service employees who are working events. There will also be some sort of “rideshare lounge” built into this where visitors can be dropped off.
In all, Sawers estimates there will be between 12 and “a couple dozen” parking spaces. Previously, the Dallas Morning News reported there would be 75 spaces, but Tony Fay, who oversees PR for the park, says he feels that “would be on the very high side.” Design isn’t yet underway, so they’re hedging a bit on a total number. (To give you an idea of size, an average parking spot takes up about 180 square feet, so 75 spaces would require almost 14,000 square feet total.)
“It’s not going to have any public or staff parking,” Sawers said. “It will be helpful as we cater events.”
Wait, a Visitor’s Center?
Klyde Warren is selling this expansion partly as a way to have an indoor space for events. Those events would help raise money to fund park maintenance—Klyde Warren is responsible for everything above the highway, meaning basically the whole park—and create opportunities for when the weather isn’t exactly conducive to being outside.
She describes the second-floor event space as a ballroom surrounded by windows looking out at the park, downtown, and into Uptown. And while it would be available to rent, she anticipates providing free event space to nonprofits and other arts organizations that otherwise would not be able to afford such a setting. Each floor will be about 11,000 square feet.
Sawers describes the first floor “a little bit like a college student union space.” She sees a coffee shop, maybe some grab and go sandwiches or drinks to complement a space where “you might walk in and hear someone singing opera acapella.”
This brings us to the role of VisitDallas, the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau. According to a spokesperson, VisitDallas does not plan to be a tenant. So maybe forget the AT&T store-esque, VisitDallas-heavy renderings from 2018.
“We continue to be very excited about the Klyde Warren Park expansion, but VisitDallas has no plans to be a tenant in this structure and no financial commitments pertaining to the expansion project,” said Zane Harrington, a spokesman for the organization.
That’s a different song from when this was first announced. In 2018, when Klyde Warren unveiled the plans, VisitDallas seemed part and parcel to the expansion. Former CEO Phillip Jones was looking for a place to house a physical visitor’s center and saw the new Klyde Warren building as the perfect location. Initial plans allocated 10,000 square feet for VisitDallas’ technology-stuffed “experience center,” complete with virtual reality and artificial intelligence components. He was even present during that initial press conference with former Mayor Mike Rawlings and other luminaries. Jones said VisitDallas would foot the cost of the buildout for the first floor.
But in 2019, a city audit found that Dallas had no way to track whether VisitDallas was spending millions in tax dollars properly. Jones, whose salary came close to $700,000 and who had spent lavishly on his own travel expenses, reached a mutual decision with the board to step down. Craig Davis took over the job from a similar one in Pittsburgh. And now, according to Harrington, operating as a tenant in Klyde Warren isn’t in the agency’s financial plans.
“We are talking to VisitDallas,” Sawers said, “Not as initially anticipated, but to help us set up a concierge, if you will, for the city.”
She still sees this space steering visitors to events. She says the park has been speaking to “various ticketing agencies” and is partnering with venues in the Arts District to sell day-of tickets at a discount.
“You can learn there’s a Rangers game one night and an opera the next afternoon and it’ll be in one place for you to view,” she says. “There will be free programming in there; we want it to be an indoor extension to the park’s outdoor programming.”
There will be a tenant of some sort. But as of this moment, it doesn’t appear like it will be VisitDallas.
OK, But Is There Any New Green Space?
There will be west of Akard. The engineering firm Jacobs donated $8 million to help pay for the other 37,000-square foot deck. It will include an ice-skating rink about the size of The Rink at Rockefeller in New York City, which is roughly 8,500 square feet total. That ice rink will be active two months out of the year, Sawers says. The other 10 months it will be covered in removable turf and used when the real grass in the existing lawn is recovering after an event. (It can take more than a week for the grass to come back following an event.)
Sawers says this will allow Klyde Warren to add programming that could cycle between each deck. The $10 million “super fountain” that philanthropists Randy and Nancy Best are paying for will be closer to Pearl, the opposite tract from the expansion. The existing dog park will also move and the current children’s area is being expanded.
How Much Is This All Going to Cost, and When Will It Get Going?
Klyde Warren expects to begin construction by the first quarter of next year, with a tentative completion date of summer 2024.
Funding is a little more complicated. Here goes:
- $60 million in private funding, which will include the new building and Jacobs Lawn
- $30 million in federal funding from the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which includes a $10 million loan that will be repaid.
- $8 million in city bond funding.
Fay notes that the improvements and expansion to the dog park and children’s area will be paid for with private donations above the $60 million. The city will pay about $1.5 million annually for inspecting and maintaining the freeway tunnel under the park. That’s about a quarter million dollars more than what it currently spends.