Carpenter Park, downtown’s largest stretch of greenspace, will officially open to the public following a dedication on Tuesday, May 3. That news comes from Robert Decherd, the chairman of Parks for Downtown Dallas and the president and CEO of the DallasNews Corporation, who made the announcement during Downtown Dallas Inc.’s annual meeting on Friday afternoon.
The day was all about parks. There were the quick bullet points DDI loves to tout: how many folks now live downtown (14,000) and how all of the largest properties have been renovated (all of the “major” towers in downtown are now occupied) and all the places to dine and shop in and around the downtown area (250). And the organization’s new CEO, the city’s former director of the Office of Cultural Affairs, Jennifer Scripps, was briefly recognized.
But the spotlight was on the parkland, how downtown Dallas has added 23 acres of greenspace over the last 15 years, more space than any other American city. Main Street Garden and Belo Garden came first. Then came Klyde Warren Park over Woodall Rodgers Freeway, Pacific Plaza, and West End Square.
The last two are Harwood Park and Carpenter Park, which now has an opening date. Carpenter is 5.7 acres in the shadow of IH-345, that freeway that separates downtown from Deep Ellum, the one we’ve been known to talk about on this website. There will be lawns, walking trails, a basketball court, a dog park, and public art, including the restored Robert Irwin work Portal Park Piece (Slice).
Before Alex Macon so aggressively resigned his post at D Magazine, he traipsed over and looked at Carpenter. He had this to say, which echoed some of the takeaways from the DDI luncheon:
The Sheraton Hotel is next door, and there is some residential development happening nearby. But questions remain about who will use the park. If Carpenter Park is not a destination like Klyde Warren, then it will take a lot of hotel guests and downtown office workers and neighboring residents to make its 5.7 acres feel lively and appreciated. It’s not quite an “if you build it, they will come” gamble. There are too many cranes downtown and in Deep Ellum for that. They’re already coming. And a park like this could help drive further development.
The keynote speaker was Mary Margaret Jones, president and CEO of Hargreaves Jones. That’s the company responsible for Dallas’ original 2004 parks plan, which set a goal of transforming surface lots downtown into parks. Hargreaves updated it in 2013 and its partners have largely pulled it off. Pacific Plaza and West End Square were both rarely used surface lots, concrete that soaked up the sun and little else. Now they’re what Parks for Downtown Dallas calls “neighborhood parks,” connective tissue for office workers and downtown residents.
I bring up Alex’s quote because it’s a good way to sum up what Parks and its partners are betting on: transforming unused land into parks will encourage other uses to sprout nearby. Jones ticked through a whole host of other cities that have proved this out, with projects that are a bit different: Houston’s Discovery Green, Louisville’s Waterfront Park, Portland’s Elizabeth Caruthers Park, Denver’s Union Station.
Those are big projects, some anchored by a body of water or a large, private development.
Which makes Dallas’ downtown parks so exciting. They’re a tapestry, a string of amenities that touches nearly every part of the central business district. They aren’t the sort of destination that Klyde Warren is, and they don’t need to be. They need to serve the people who live and work in downtown, and act as a magnet amenity for corporate relocations and new residents.
There wasn’t much news that came out of DDI’s luncheon, outside of Carpenter’s opening. But you can start to see the potential here for something smaller and impactful for the downtown folks. Jones talked about a survey of park users from Houston’s Discovery Green. The survey showed that people came to the park not for organized concerts or yoga or whatever other programming the folks in charge could drum up. They were enjoying what you’ll see every day at Pacific Plaza or West End Square: people sitting on a bench, walking a trail, playing pingpong, just enjoying what’s there.
“You don’t need to over-program parks,” Jones said. “Landscape itself, nature itself, has value.”
Now Decherd just needs to raise $50 million for all the upkeep of these parks. But the nonprofit has already done the hard part: bringing 23 new acres of greenspace to the concrete-covered downtown Dallas.