Under a dusky purple sky, with a well-dressed public milling around Main Street Garden's fresh-laid lawn, local lights-and-pyro man Kelly Sticksel had some words for Mayor Tom Leppert -- advice you rarely hear before city ribbon-cuttings and photo ops: "Don't look directly into the laser."
Half an hour later, with the sun set and the first few speeches out of the way, park supporters spread out a fiber-optic cable "ribbon" onstage and a beam of green light shot up, bisecting the cable on its way into the night. A fountain of sparks erupted around the laser, followed by fireworks launched from Ervay Street, exploding bright red above the crowd.
After all that, there wasn't much room to doubt that Dallas hasn't seen a park like this before.
While the crowd picked bite-size panini off trays and sipped wine and beer from clear plastic cups, a dozen speakers matched the theatrics of the ribbon-cutting with grand testimonials to Main Street Garden.
Landscape architect Thomas Balsley called it "a park for the 21st century" and a "park of the future," with multi-level grass terraces, a concert amphitheater, a playground, cafe, fountains and gardens It's a park, Balsley said, that people can use, not visit once or twice and forget.
Councilwoman Angela Hunt recalled when the block was nothing more than an "old parking garage and a couple crummy, run-down shops," and said the new park finally gives Dallas a "livable, vibrant, green downtown. These are the things that make a neighborhood."
Leppert was especially fired-up for his turn at the mic, all thumbs-ups and quick steps across the stage as he revved up the crowd before laser-time. He'd seen a boy in a stroller at the park earlier, and then he saw a collie: signs, he said, that "this really is a downtown you can live in. Kids and dogs."
New York has Bryant Park and Chicago has Millennium Park, Leppert said, and "Main Street Garden's going to put Dallas right up there." "There is no city in the country that has as much going on downtown as this one," he said.
Pressed by a few late complications, crews rushed right up till Friday evening to get the park ready, even enlisting help from volunteers to stomp down the new grass, Dallas Parks and Recreation Director Paul Dyer said. Mounds of upturned earth, Bobcats and tarps covered the middle of the park, but a last-minute push helped get much of the landscaping and lighting done in time. "As you know, Rome wasn't built in a day," Dyer said. "But this park was."
Lighting designer Leni Schwendinger told the audience the park is lit to create an inviting place to visit after dark, and invited them to check out her SpectraScape light installation, where bands of LEDs in seasonal color schemes crawled across the green canopies by Main Street. The two setups working now -- all five pieces should be running in about a month, she said -- showed off all four seasonal programs last night, along with the all-white program that plays each day at dusk.
As the ceremony wound down, construction worker Ricardo Aguirre was hanging yellow caution tape back up around the park. "It didn't look anything like this at 7 a.m.," he told Unfair Park, as he looked out across the expanse. Even after weeks of working 12-hour days, he said, the park still needs more grass, some electrical work, and a few more trees.
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One tree of particular importance will be added to the park this week, before its lighting ceremony kicks off Neiman Marcus and DowntownDallas's City Lights. Main Street Garden will officially open to the public the following night, with a free show from jolly old Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights from 4 to 7 p.m.
Check out more photos in our slide show.