City Hall

Inside the Numbers: How Fair Park Will Be Affected By the Proposed City Budget Cuts

As Andrea noted in her liveblog Monday, Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway stopped down the council's Public Safety Committee meeting to rant against a different kind of crime: the end of fireworks at Fair Park on July 4. Said Caraway, "We're inviting people to go out to Plano and see what those cities are like." He has since vowed, repeatedly, to make sure that doesn't happen.

Which was but one of many subjects that came up Tuesday afternoon during my chat with Daniel Huerta, executive general manager at Fair Park. We also spoke at length about, among other things, City Manager Mary Suhm's latest budget proposal, which the council will stop down to chat about during today's marathon meeting. Fair Park's set to have its budget gutted -- several positions will be lost, lights will be turned out, security will be scaled back, marketing will be all but nonexistent, its presence significantly reduced.

The cuts come just as Fair Park management is having some success in bringing life back to the park: Pete's got a piece in this week's paper about the enormous success of last weekend's Electric Daisy Carnival, which is already in talks about returning bigger and better next year; shows are being scheduled in the Fair Park Band Shell; Stephen Page's classic-car museum is in the middle of fund-raising while Fair Park officials find it a permanent home; the Taste of Dallas makes its Fair Park bow in two weeks; and it was announced last month that the White Rock Marathon will begin and end at Fair Park.

So, then, what do the likely cuts mean for Fair Park? Let's ask the exec GM.

Update at 4:24 p.m.: I see Craig Holcomb, head of Friends of Fair Park, says there will now be fireworks at Fair Park on July 5.

Fair Park's set to lose eight full-time employees, according to the proposed budget at present, all of whom handle myriad jobs -- including the person who deals with Fair Park bookings, which comes just as the park's finally getting, you know, booked.

We're losing our marketing manager, who goes to trade shows, places media buys, makes sure the Web site is updated, follows up on leads from Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau. It's getting tougher and tougher to keep cutting. And we acquired a community relations manager last year. We charged that person with developing a community relations program -- like coordinating and meeting with school alumni organization from schools that play here, area chambers of commerce, local businesses, working with DISD. We're also losing our senior park manager who oversees aquatics, youth sports -- she reviews all of the contracts before they go out.

That's the elimination of Youth Services and Volunteer Services?

That's a tough one for me. Last year we had 170,000 hours of volunteer services, and when you take that and put a dollar amount to it, that's nearly $3 million in services we can do throughout the department. This person does all the coordination. We do get drop-in volunteers, but this is the central point where they work with the volunteer agencies and recruit them to help us with special events, park clean-up. It's not to say we won't do volunteers anymore, but this person also does background checks, and it loses its centralization. But these are tough times for everyone.

I see further down that you've asked to give $300,000 to Texas Tech and Baylor for their game at the Cotton Bowl. And $400,000 for the Dallas Football Classic.

That's a game stipend. It's like an incentive back to the school to help offset their travel expenses. Texas and OU get one, for instance. Always have.

And you'd need $183,000 to run the Esplanade fountain year-round.

It's in historic mode right now. We don't operate it right now except to test it every Saturday. We were hoping to get funding to operate the fountain, but that's tough given all the other needs.

Well, it looked nice on The Good Guys Monday night. But how significant are all these cuts? Are they mitigated by Taste of Dallas, White Rock Marathon ...

And they're shooting three days of Friday Night Lights in the stadium later next month. But they definitely have an impact, because it lessens our presence in the business community and trade shows. It severely impacts our ability to market our venues. We're lucky a lot of people know about Fair Park, but in order to be successful, if you're in real estate you have to keep yourself relevant and out there. So definitely we're a little concerned. If we start losing events it affects food and beverage sales and rental and parking.

How would Fair Park market itself in the interim?

We work real closely with Friends of Fair Park on the Web site, so they promote us and help send out e-blasts. In terms of Fair Park as a destination we'll be all right. But we'll hurt when people want to do a site visit and rent facilities. We can't just stop trying to do business. We'll do our best to make it happen. But it'll be challenging. But in terms of marketing, that's gone. We have nobody else.

In three year's time, you'll essentially lose the Museum of Nature & Science, which moves to the new Perot museum. What becomes of that facility in '13?

The automotive museum just held a benefit fundraiser -- they had a lot of Shelbys out there last month. We're still working with the museum now in terms of how they can partner with us on the science museum. That's a good thing for us. They're in fund-raising mode, but we can't do a long-term contract because there's no building. But they're talking about taking the Museum of Nature & Science building when they move out. Our long-term plan is to put them in a long-term location.

And we're doing some interpretative signage for Fair Park. We got a grant for Save America's Treasures, and it's in "conceptual" right now. It'll come up for approval soon.

Is it fair to say, though, that the Fair Park Comprehensive Development Plan is, well, somewhere on a shelf gathering dust?

Not at all. The development of the Museum Green is still high on our radar. Take all of the parking between the museum and the Magnolia underground to create green space. The addition of the car museum helps add to that. There's still a lot of work to do: adding trees, greening up the park, the summer midway.

That's Errol McKoy's big idea.
How's that coming?

They had to push it back a year -- now looking at 2012. But I think it'll come along, and once that happens things will change at Fair Park.

Speaking of, Caraway's been saying all week he wants Fair Park Fourth to happen -- and that he'll make it so, regardless of Craig Holcomb's announcement at the end of last week. But could it at this late date? I mean, the July 4 is but days away, and those fireworks spectaculars ain't something you really wanna throw together.

We always jump through hoops. If things can happen and we can produce a quality and safe event, we'll give it our best shot. If someone has the money to make it go, we'll make it go. But the economy's hurt a lot of people, and sponsorship are down. Friends of Fair Park raised some funds, but they were looking at a $100,000 budget, and while we could do a reduced show at a cheaper cost, we want to do something we can be proud of to showcase Fair Park and the city. A lot of suburbs last year canceled theirs, and this year we're the ones facing the challenge. There was a last-minute push since last week's announcement, but it fizzled. We want to make sure they're good and safe, and the closer we get the more challenging it'll be.

So when are we going to get a concert in the Cotton Bowl again?

There aren't many concerts out on tour that go to stadiums unless theyre indoors. We do have the Red Bull championships Friday that are supposed to bring in 15,000. It's supposed to be a really great event.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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