Fair Park Could Be Out of City Hands by September

The easiest takeaway from the revised plan for the private takeover of Fair Park is that it isn't going to cost the city quite as much as was initially thought. In November, when Ray Hunt buddy and "father of DART" Walt Humann first told the City Council how much the proposed new private foundation running Fair Park would need from the city each year as a "managing fee," the number was $35 million.

As presented Thursday to the Park Board — who requested Humann return later in the spring with a more detailed outline of the foundation's vision — the Fair Park Texas Foundation would need about half of that the first year it operates — $17 million — and a gradually increased amount in subsequent years that would be capped at $23 million. In order to bring the foundation on board, the city would also need to fund capital improvements to Fair Park through its next two bond programs.

What would the city get for the cash? Well, it would get Fair Park, with its aging buildings, high maintenance costs and 11-months-out-of-the-year occupancy issues, out of City Hall's hands. The park, Humann says, would be run something like the Dallas Zoo. The city would continue to own the land and any improvements the foundation might make. It would maintain oversight over the foundation, too. It just wouldn't be involved in any management. 

Humann said in November that Fair Park, which he called the "Hope Diamond in the rough" Thursday, could be a $1 billion enterprise, but it's impeded by its current management, which lacks a coherent vision for how to grow the park.

Fair Park Texas, Humann said, would "operate Fair Park to a standard that exceeds what has historically been implemented by the city," which is kind of a low bar, and market Fair Park in a way that "dispels myths that inhibit Fair Park’s growth."

The concrete plans in the Fair Park Texas proposal — beyond the bond-money funded infrastructure improvements — include better directional signage in the neighborhood around Fair Park, streetscape improvements in the same area and lowering Interstate 30 as it passes near the park. Lowering the freeway would allow for a deck park, which Humann said would help connect Fair Park to Deep Ellum and downtown Dallas.

The part of the plan most mocked in November, the foundation's proposed organizational chart that council members Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston described variously as "byzantine bureaucracy" and "dog breakfast," is still in the works. If approved by the Park Board, the plan will go before the City Council as early May. If everything goes perfectly, Fair Park Texas could take over the park by the end of September, just in time for the 2016 State Fair of Texas.

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