A Closer Look at the “Fair Park Needs Inventory”

On 12/6/15, DMN published Mark Lamster’s excellent essay comparing the current seedy condition of Fair Park to an exciting future prospect for the park. It mentions the cost for revitalization, as quoted to the City Council, at nearly a half-billion dollars. This estimate deserves clarification. As Dallas citizens continue the conversation about the future of Fair Park, more care must be taken to examine the inputs and assumptions underlying such key figures before basing crucial public policy decisions upon them.

The 2014 Mayor’s Fair Park Task Force report cited a “needs inventory” total of $478 million provided by parks and recreation staff. A review of this needs inventory reveals a lack of serious planning for what it will take to revive Fair Park. More than $346 million of the total figure consists of a grab bag/wish list of new facilities, acquisitions or expensive building restorations with no clear purpose and no prospective tenants.

To illustrate the problem, here are just a few items on the list:

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[Click here to access the source document:  “Fair Park Needs Inventory” (5/28/14)]

These three items alone constitute more than 25 percent of the specious half billion cost estimate for revitalizing Fair Park. Yet none of these needs inventory projects represent actual “needs”—nor do they represent the current Task Force proposal that Dallas citizens are supposed to be contemplating. Instead these items represent new from-the-ground-up construction projects that are not part of any coordinated master plan for the park as a whole.

In order to have an honest public conversation about the future of Fair Park, we must begin from honest premises. Sadly, Dallas citizens have been reacting to an inflated cost projection that includes items that only sidetrack a sober assessment of what we can achieve at Fair Park.

The examples presented above are only a small sample of items on the Fair Park Needs Inventory list that do not necessarily reflect the true cost of what it will take to revitalize Fair Park. Other examples include:

  1. Complete renovation of the Coliseum ($51.2 million)
  2. Additional Cotton Bowl embellishments ($4.8 million on top of the nearly $100 million of public funds invested in the Cotton Bowl in the past 10 years)
  3. Court of Honor reconstruction, which is the road between the Hall of State and the Esplanade ($5.1 million)
  4. Esplanade and Fountains ($8.8 million)
  5. Ford Building reconstruction, torn down after the 1937 Exposition ($42.8 million)
  6. Hall of Religion reconstruction, mostly demolished in the 1970’s, whose remnant is now Fair Park Administrative Business Offices ($5.1 million)
  7. Lagoon restoration, which should be part of a new park along Cullum ($7 million)
  8. Land Acquisition – Fair Park North, which appears to mean encroachment into residential neighborhoods ($12.2 million)
  9. Live Stock Complex, which is already financed and under construction ($8.2 million)
  10. Maintenance Building renovation ($4.5 million)
  11. Old Mill Inn, ($3.2 million)
  12. Pan Am Building, ($10 million)
  13. Magnolia Building, ($0.5 million)
  14. 3 parking garages, as proposed in Mayor’s Task Force, to replace surface parking lots and be part of a new park ($50 million)
  15. Repairing parking, ($15 million)
  16. Repairing driveways, ($3.5 million)
  17. Petroleum Building restoration, torn down after 1937 Exposition ($38 million)
  18. Science Place, ($18 million)
  19. Texas Music Hall of Fame, ($43 million)
  20. Tower Building, now office of City/Fair Park employees ($14 million)
  21. Visitors Center, which does not presently exist although Dept of Park and Recreation has proposed to create one in vacant Science Place ($1.5 million)

This set of uses, misuses, and repairs adds up to about $346.4 million of the $478 million “Needs Inventory.”

A better approach is to first create a landscaped signature park and fill vacant historic buildings with appropriate tenants who will reprogram, use and maintain them. Increasing the number of daily users will bring people and activities to Fair Park year-round — creating jobs, boosting tax revenue and catalyzing revitalization in neighboring communities. Such a prioritization is affordable, realistic and would generate tremendous economic value for Dallas.

In light of the inaccurate cost projections made by the Park and Recreation Department, the conversation about Fair Park’s future, at least in some corners of our city, has been characterized, falsely, as a choice between filling potholes and creating a new development solely for the benefit of private operators. We need not accept such a framing of the issue, which is largely based on unexamined assumptions and misinformation about what it will cost to get Fair Park up to speed. The choice before us is whether or not we will take the steps necessary to allow Fair Park to realize its potential as an urban amenity, economic engine, and catalyst for neighborhood revitalization. Let’s choose wisely.