A Plan for Fair Park: Bulldoze It

Over at The Dallas Morning News uniblog, my former colleague Robert Wilonsky has an item keeping us up to date on plans to turn Fair Park in South Dallas into a year-round commercial amusement park, an idea about which I have no personal objections or, for that matter, especially strong feelings.

But wouldn't it be better to bulldoze most of Fair Park? It's 277 acres of worn-out crap that stands empty the vast majority of the year. We keep coming up with variations on the same weak old themes, like preserving it as one big architectural museum.

Most of it was built in 1936 for the Texas Centennial as a kind of fake ersatz fake museum in the first place. So now our big idea is to make it a museum of fake museums? Yeah, that'll bring the crowds running, waving their money and storming the gates.

I am not talking about the State Fair itself. Errol McKoy, who runs the State Fair, is the one guy out there who knows how to sell tickets. The State Fair under his tutelage has been Fair Park's single big success story. We should do everything we can to keep him in business, and if that's what this year-round amusement park idea is about, more power to him.

But I mean the rest of it. There are too many dusty old relics out there tottering on the brink of ruin -- obscure little institutions run by their own weird little geezer patrols. I say call out the big Cats. Knock those suckers down. It's time anyway for those people to pack up their fiddles and get the hell on out of the Dust Bowl.

Think of all the better bigger things we could do with that much land. Just for instance, we could do what Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell did with his football field and plow it up and turn it into a farm.

There's enough land at Fair Park to create a real farm, a farm-iversity, maybe, where people could come to learn organic techniques. Sorrell would be a great guy to run it. In fact there's an idea -- scrape everything but the State Fair campus itself and turn it all over to Paul Quinn.

Just make something happen, instead of dawdling along acting precious about it and watching everything rot into the ground. That's the bad thing. There's this whole Friends-of-Fair-Park social phenomenon that reminds me of really bad hospice care. With friends like that, you need to shop for caskets.

Hey, I was as big a whiner as anybody about all of the major cultural institutions decamping for the shiny new Arts District downtown. I still think the Arts District looks and feels like an Albert Speer nightmare, and I probably prefer decaying crap, when it gets down to it, to the smug materialism of the new place.

But, you know, it's not up to me, and the jury is kind of in. The city's cultural energy has pulled up stakes and migrated, and a big reason for the migration is the utter failure of the old institutions at Fair Park to do what McKoy has done with the fair itself -- get up off their asses and sell some damn tickets.

Now some of the new stuff at the Arts District is limping financially. It's probably time to stop trying to split the baby, acknowledge that the Arts District is the heir apparent and concentrate our efforts and resources there.

I'm just sick of being nagged about Fair Park, like it's my personal duty somehow to do down there and patronize it, even if I think most of it is boring and depressing.

It's time for Tom Joad and the rest of the family at Fair Park to load Granny up in the old truck and make for Californy. It's time for those big Cats to be a-comin' over the horizon in a roar and a cloud of dust.

It's just time.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze