City Hall

City, State Fair to Replace Fair Park Livestock Arena With Fancy "Mini-Convention Center"

The reason I called Park and Rec's second-in-command Willis Winters the other day wasn't about downtown parks. Rather, I was curious about an $869,465 item on the Park Board's agenda for today: "Consider a professional services contract with Good, Fulton & Farrell Architects for schematic design through construction administration services for a new livestock arena at Fair Park located at 1419 South Washington Avenue."

Turns out, this is about much, much more than just a new livestock arena. Says Winters, the city and the State Fair of Texas are partnering on a $14-million-ish replacement facility -- the Fair Park Livestock Center -- that would double as a sort of "mini-convention center," as he describes it, a place for livestock and people. People, mostly.

Says Winters, the livestock arena's become "decrepit" and is in desperate need of replacing. But rather than just build a modern indoor sales arena where folks can auction off their blue-ribbon steers during the State Fair, they've decided to go all-out with a facility that would serve as a conference center, complete with an upstairs banquet hall, dining facilities and a catering kitchen. The city will cover around $4.5 million of the cost, using money from the 2006 bond program. "And the State Fair will be raising funds privately for the remainder," says Winters, "somewhere around $9, $10 million."

"It's a multipurpose building that can be used for lectures, meetings and events, in addition to livestock auctions," says Winters. "And upstairs would be a small convention facility, like at hotel. The Fair Park Master Plan anticipated the replacement of this facility. Obviously we want to be sensitive to the historic context of the buildings that surround it, like the Swine Building, which is in decrepit condition and needs to be restored but is still a great building, and the barn where the DPD's mounted unit is. The building design ties into the architecture that surrounds it."

Winters, an architect and historian who literally wrote the book on Fair Park, says the new building will be "done in the George Dahl style," referring, of course, to the man who gave Fair Park its makeover for the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition.

"That was very important -- that it fit into the Fair Park context and be multipurpose. The State Fair will only use it during the fair, but we want to use it as an income-generating facility."

Today's vote concerns the design contract; the city wants Good, Fulton & Farrell to spend 2012 designing the building, so construction can begin following the State Fair in the fall of 2013. "We hope to finish it by the fair 2014," Winter says.

"The State Fair has long needed a new sales arena, period," he says when asked why this, why now. "The one they have there is functionally obsolete, and you want to ring in ranchers and businessmen to bid $100,000 for a grand-champion steer. They needed greatly upgraded facilities to compete with Houston and Fort Worth and San Antonio. And we wanted to being something in that does more than serve the fair for one month each year. The site was dictated by the available land. It's on the back edge, but we'll figure out a way to get people there for the remainder of the yer. Another thing going in there is a livestock museum that talks about the history of the State Fair. This will put the State Fair on a level platform to compete with other livestock shows."

Winters says the reason the city's chipping in is so Errol McKoy and the State Fair of Texas can keep raising money for the so-called Summer Place Park they hope to get up and running in 2013 -- you know, that Six Flags competitor McKoy's been talking about since '09.

"The State Fair is putting itself in a financial position to fund and building the summer midway by 2013," he explains. "And putting in city funding helps the fair get into a position where they can make that happen, which we we feel is important."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky