City Hall

Once More, With Feeling, Questions at City Hall About How to Make Better Use of Fair Park

We've had this conversation before. And before that. And before that. Why oh why oh why is Fair Park -- "our jewel," in the words of Dwaine Caraway -- so underutilized, so unloved?

Daniel Huerta, Fair Park's exec general manager, and Park and Rec head Paul Dyer, actually came to the Quality of Life Committee this morning to tell the council about how Fair Park's being used now more than ever. They came to rattle off a list of events, past and future, to promote roller derby at the Coliseum and races that use Fair Park as a starting line. They came to promote the coming North Texas Irish Festival and next weekend's Mardi Gras Texas (with Joe Ely!) and the Lone Star Karting Grand Prix and EarthDay and the Top of Texas Centennial Tower (scheduled to open in the fall) and the State Fair's summer-time midway (now known as Summer Adventures in Fair Park due to debut Memorial Day 2013 and run till the State Fair starts) and the Jimmy Buffet show at Starplex announced this morning and on and on ...

But it was a quick trip through the PowerPoint, after which council members asked all those old familiar questions, among them: Why doesn't the city do a better job marketing Fair Park? (Easy, though nobody brought it up: Because the city's gutted that particular budget out of existence.) Why isn't the Cotton Bowl used more than a handful of times during the year? What happened to the promoter who was going to book the Band Shell? Is charging $10 for parking really a good idea? How do we better connect downtown to Fair Park -- because, in the words of committee chair Angela Hunt, to most folks Fair Park feels "miles and miles away" from the Central Business District.

Dyer revealed that as a matter of fact the city did have a "great soccer game booked" for the Cotton Bowl, which was expected to bring 90,000 to Fair Park in the spring. "But they went to Arlington," he said -- Cowboys Stadium, he meant. The reason: Jerry Jones put $300,000 on the table, guaranteed. Said Dyer, "We lose events like that every year. We could have made that money back." But there's no money to offer up. Which, he said, is why the city's talking to the State Fair of Texas about creating a nonprofit that would help not only promote Fair Park but fund-raise on its behalf. (As opposed to the Friends of Fair Park, said Dyer, which is more of an "advocacy" organization.)

It was revealed toward the end of the conversation that Mayor Mike Rawlings, set to officially bow his Southern Dallas growth plan this afternoon, is talking to folks on the council about a plan for Fair Park. It's due "in the next couple of weeks," said Dwaine Caraway. Dyer sort of suggested what's to come: "If you dismantle it and rebuild it, what do you want to keep?" Ah, but how much tinkering can be done with a National Historic Landmark?

Carolyn Davis, in whose district Fair Park sits, wants to know how many folks the State Fair of Texas intends to employ for the summer midway; a briefing, she was told, is forthcoming. She wanted to know why Cowboys Stadium keeps snatching up the Cotton Bowl's events: "Is somebody from Arlington keeping up with what's going on at Fair Park in the sports world?" No, Dyer had to explain: Jerry Jones "has 20 people in marketing and recruitment." Dallas? Next to none.

"I'm tired of Jerry stealing" Dallas's events," said Caraway. "I'm tired of Frisco stealing them all. I'm tired of Verizon stealing them all." He sounded the familiar battle cry: Fill the Music Hall! And fill it now.

"I don't think there's enough commitment -- not from you all, but from the city," said Caraway, a former member of the Park Board. "Not enough commitment to Fair Park. The same kind of commitment we had to the over-deck park is the type of commitment we need to Fair Park. ... I personally know we are not living up to our expectations, nor are we meeting the level of where I think we should be."

Caraway pointed to the promoter who had intended to book shows into the Band Shell, celebrating his commitment to redoing the dressing rooms and backstage area. But, said the council member, the city more or less shit all over the guy during the State Fair of Texas, which is why it once more languishes.

Dyer told Caraway the promoter pulled out over "security costs." Caraway said: No, no, no.

"He came in and did all of the renovations," Caraway said. "Did he go a good job?"

Yes, he was told.

"The good job he did in our dressing rooms, the birds had to use the very dressing room?" Caraway said, referring to the bird show that uses the Band Shell during the State Fair of Texas.

"What I'm saying is we cannot have someone come in and renovate something and let the birds come in and poop all over everything," Caraway said. "I have nothing against birds, but the point is we lost the promoter. When I know something, I'm gonna put it out there. This is why we're not excelling to the level we should be."

And on and on Caraway continued -- one of his patented "tirades."

"We are promoting three or four events -- three football games [and] two or three other events in the Cotton Bowl, but two or three isn't going to cut it. period. And what we have to do is put that team on the ground that's going to get events in the Cotton Bowl." Concerts, he said. Tractor pulls! Anything. "If we look at the Cotton Bowl versus Cowboys Stadium and the different number of events, we have to say: Why is it they're having 100 and we're having three? We have to close that gap."

Dyer and Huerta said: They will try. But they can't do it alone. And so, perhaps, Mayor Mike to the rescue -- another mayor, with another plan. Till then? Well, I guess you could always re-re-re-re-read this.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky