City Hall

Finally, Dallas City Council Agrees on Deal to Hand Off Fair Park Management

$36 million buys a lot of coupons.
Brian Maschina
$36 million buys a lot of coupons.
Dallas is out of the business of managing Fair Park. By a unanimous vote Wednesday afternoon, the Dallas City Council voted to turn over the reins of the city's biggest vein of untapped potential to the Fair Park First Foundation, which will oversee management of the park.

Spectra — a Comcast-owned events management and promotion company — will oversee Fair Park's day-to-day operation.

The deal between the city, Fair Park First and Spectra is set to run for 20 years, with Dallas forking over $34.6 million for the first 10 years. After Year 10, the contract agreed upon Wednesday calls for the parties to get back together and renegotiate terms of the next decade.

By turning over Fair Park's day-to-day operations, the city will save about $100 million over the first 10 years of the contract.

The council vote caps more than two years of negotiations and discussions over the future of Fair Park.

The park board signed off on a plan to hand over the home of the State Fair in 2016, giving its blessing to the Fair Park Foundation, led by Walt Humann and backed by Mayor Mike Rawlings.

Rawlings' opponents on the City Council, led by Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston, staged a revolt over the no-bid process that anointed Humann's group, eventually winning the day when former Dallas City Attorney Larry Casto agreed that the process should have included open bids from competitors for the contract.

At the end of the bidding process in July, the city decided Fair Park First and Spectra's proposal gave it the best deal and sent it to the park board for review. That led to a few tweaks, including adding protections for existing tenants of Fair Park and for the city and Fair Park should the economy go south over the length of the contract.

"Still a lot of work to be done but I think we’ve made a step in the right direction to revitalize Fair Park." — Bobby Abtahi

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"Today was a historic day for the city of Dallas and South Dallas especially," park board President Bobby Abtahi tweeted after the vote. "Still a lot of work to be done but I think we’ve made a step in the right direction to revitalize Fair Park."

Rawlings said he was happy with the deal but wouldn't be fully satisfied until Fair Park actually can be used year round, rather than for the six weeks or so its main tenant, the State Fair of Texas, occupies its grounds.  

“I am concerned about this park," Rawlings said, according to WFAA. "I mean, we can wear all the T-shirts we want and talk all the talk we want, but until we get a park we got a problem.”