The 80-acre Fair Park is one of the most visited places in the state thanks to the annual Texas State Fair, which draws millions of visitors hungry for gastronomical creations on a stick and a ride on its iconic Ferris wheel.
Fair Park been standing for more than 130 years. Most of the buildings and structures — such as the Cotton Bowl Stadium, the Music Hall and the Fair Park Coliseum — haven't been updated in at least a decade, but a new proposal from the nonprofit Fair Park First group could help bring the Park's look and facilities into the 21st century.
"This kind of investment has never really taken place here," says Brian Luallen, the chief executive officer of Fair Park First. "This is not only the biggest investment in Fair Park ever. This is bigger than all the monies from all sources in total since 1936. To call it a game changer is probably an understatement."
Fair Park First released some new renderings created by Overland Partners showing how some of the most visited and well-known buildings might look when renovations are completed. Voters approved Proposition A on the Nov. 8 election ballot by a wide margin, according to Dallas County election results.
Passage paves the way for the city to raise its hotel tax by 2 percent to finance renovations for Fair Park's facilities and for the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center.
a bipartisan bill passed in the last Texas legislative session that allows for hotel and rental car tax revenue to be used on municipal park and recreation systems. Texas cities had been able to use those revenue streams for sports and community venues, but Fair Park and the Convention Center didn't qualify under those categories until SB 2181's passage, according to legislative records.
"Basically what it did is created an exception for if you're a municipal park of more than 100 acres in a city of more than a million people and you have a historical designation," Luallen says.
State Rep. Angie Chen Button of Garland introduced the measure with a Big Tex bobblehead that inspired the House chamber to a rousing, nonpartisan round of applause.
"There was a cheer in the chamber and I can tell you that was the only time that happened," Luallen says. "It says a lot to what Fair Park means to people around the state."
The renovations will cover six Fair Park structures: the Automobile Building, Centennial Hall, Fair Park Band Shell, Music Hall at Fair Park, Cotton Bowl Stadium and Fair Park Coliseum. Each will get sleek new designs, vaulted lighting fixtures and new features such as a special club level and concourse gate for the Cotton Bowl.
Some outdoor areas will have longer roofs and overheads to provide more shaded space during the hotter parts of the year along with new lighting and sound systems — something that the Fair Park Band Shell in particularly desperately needs, Luallen says.
These new features will be able to do more than accommodate larger crowds and make them more comfortable. They will also allow Fair Park to have "more daring programming" like bigger and more complex touring Broadway productions and live concerts.
"What really benefits Fair Park is we have this tremendous scale of venues covered by Prop A," Luallen says. "We have an amazing collection here but they have to be elevated for visitors and modern users."