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Errol McKoy, State Fair President, Talks About Why Fair Park Needs That Big Green House

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Finally spoke with Errol McKoy about that green house he's wanting to plant at Fair Park; our Q&A follows. But, first, a few eyebrow-raisers: The State Fair of Texas prez wants this sucker up within the next 120 days -- hence, its introduction to the Landmark Commission on Wednesday, less than a week after the five-page paperwork was submitted. And McKoy says it won't go along Pennsylvania Avenue near the Texas Discovery Gardens, as we'd originally been led to believe, but smack in between the Texas Star and the merry-go-round. In other words: It's part of the Midway.

But ... why? That question and more -- including some about those plans to convert Fair Park into a year-round Six Flags in miniature -- follow.

So, why the need for the green house and grow area?

We've continued to ramp up our whole effort to green up the Fair more and more each year, and one of the problems we bump into is we put out over 650 hanging baskets each year, and the problem we're having is with that rainy spell just prior to the Fair, it create havoc for us. Everything we've done to date has been subject to to the whims of the weather, so, consequently, we have all those hanging baskets and 250 planter barrels of plant product we put out every year, and between the heat and rain and wind -- and wind is really hard to deal with when it comes to tropicals, because it shreds things like Elephant Ears and banana plants before you put them out -- we're tired of fighting that battle outdoors. We want to hold all that material in the green house right until we're ready for the Fair, so when we take it out it looks pristine.

Will there be any educational component to it? Or is it going to be strictly for State Fair use?

Once we get all the plant material out, we'll do ask-the-expert sessions during the Fair, where Texas A&M Extension Service provides a number of master gardeners to do lectures on how to build hanging baskets and what are the best plants for different soil conditions. You're absolutely right: Once we get everything out, we'll set it up to do educational things. It's going to be a multiuse facility we think will come in handy in more ways that one.

Such as ...?

Six years ago we started our adopt-a-bed program and went out to the landscape community and asked different companies to adopt a bed and design and install and maintain beds during the Fair. Our first year, we had six companies; today, we're over 50. We have landscape companies help us during the Fair, and we red-lined last year: We had so many returning landscapers and so many requests, we couldn't get all the landscape companies involved.

But we have 160 different showcase areas put together, which allows us to take this 260-acre site and make it into an arboretum, if you will, during the Fair. And it also also allows the landscape industry to create a showcase that's unequaled in the metroplex. Visiotrs from all over North Texas can decide what type of landscape they like, and we allow all the companies to put take-one racks by their displays. We've had reports they've sold out their whole spring inventory as a result of people seeing what's possible and available. What used to be good just for automobiles is now good for landscaping. So this is about the overall beautification of the fair, the greening of the environment.

But will the green house be open to the public? Or is it, for now, something that's exclusively for the State Fair?

It's really great cause and something we're excited about -- we're continuing to grow, no pun intended. And part of the idea about this lecture series is to bring in experts from all over the country who are proficient and knowledgeable about all different kind of plant materials. We'll send out some feelers in the next 30 days to set dates throughout the whole run of the Fair for people like Dr. Dirt.

So when do you want this up and running? Because Ned said last week that the reason this went to Landmark so quickly after the Certificate of Appropriateness application was filed is because you're on a short deadline here.

We've got a lot of plant material that will be subject to the whims of the weather. We want something up and constructed so we don't have a loss of product. Most green houses are made out of Plexiglas these days, so we're hoping if something can be approved by our executive committee and the Landmark Commission we can ge something up and operational within 90 to 120 days and maybe we can save some of this product.

Do you think Landmark will have an issue with the design? From what I've seen it isn't exactly Art Deco in design.

I don't think they would, because it's in the heart of the Midway. It's not a high structure, so we don't think it'll be something that will cause them any heartburn at all. And since we're gong to use it for seminars and things of that nature, we wanted something more conventional than a green house, since it will be used to showcase we're doing.

Again, will be it be open only during the Fair, or year-round?

Just during the Fair. And in 2012, when we open our Summerplace Park project, which is the miniature Six Flags, we'll use it for lectures and tours. It'll actually be growing plants at that point.

How's that plan coming to turn Fair Park into, as you put it, a minature Six Flags?

It's going good. We're saving as we go, so, consequently, we didn't get as much to save this year as we'd wanted due to all the rain. But I'm still optimistic we'll make June 1, 2012, without too much trouble.

What are the plans for the first project at this point?

We're still saving for the big tower. That comes first. Hopefully if we have a good fair in 2010, we'll go ahead and get that piece ordered. It'll take 18 months to get here. That'll coincide with the opening of Summerplace Park in June 2012. That's one of the big pieces. But we're 60 percent of the way there with our savings. And we want decent-sized coaster, not a monster like a Six Flags but something that's respectable. We're actually going to be putting in some of the shade structures this year, but we think we're doing good in terms of our timing. One of the keys is to getting the green house in to where we can keep the plants looking fresh during the summer. It'll be useful for the Fair and the summer.

So, this isn't going along Pennsylvania Avenue, then?

It's going to be shoehorned in between the Texas Star and the merry-go-round. I don't think you'll be able to see it from the street, which is why I don't think Landmark Commission will have a problem with it. It'll be well within the Midway [which the State Fair, not the city, actually controls].

Will this eliminate some of the rides on the Midway?

No, we'll relocate rides and change the way we set up the Midway. Not losing a ride.

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