Stop us if you've heard this one before, but Dallas is one step away from settling one of the biggest civic issues left on its plate. Thursday, the Dallas Park and Recreation Board voted 13-2 in favor of the latest, greatest city plan to turn over control of Fair Park to a private entity. All that's left now is a City Council vote.
We've been here before.
The park board signed off on the last favored plan to hand over the home of the State Fair two years ago, giving its blessing to the Walt Humann-led, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings-backed Fair Park Foundation.
Rawlings' opponents on the City Council, led by Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston, led 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've included an open bidding process.
When that bidding process ended in July, city staff announced the winning bid was a joint venture between another nonprofit, this one called Fair Park First, and Spectra, a Comcast subsidiary that manages stadiums and other venues.
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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, according to the proposal with Fair Park First and Spectra. The resolution signed off on by the board Thursday recommends the contract with a few tweaks like adding protections for the city and Fair Park, if the economy goes south and requiring that a Fair Park neighborhood resident sit on the Fair Park First board. It also requires that Fair Park First and Spectra extend the contracts of current Fair Park tenants, like Dallas Summer Musicals, to protect from being forced out in favor of ventures that might be more profitable.
"I have been as concerned as anyone about this contract, but with this resolution, I feel much more comfortable with moving this forward to the council," District 14 board member Paul Sims said.
While members of the park board expressed worry that handing over the park, after being stalled for nearly two years, was now being rushed, the majority of the board agreed that it was time to finish a process that's now taken more than decade.
"It's time to move it on," board President Bobby Abtahi said. "The council wants to see this on [Sept. 11 or 18]. We don't have another Park Board meeting until the 20th. They're going through the budget right now, this may impact the budget ... I think this resolution is well thought out, I think it addresses everyone's concerns, so I can't see any good reason to hold this up anymore."