On Monday, the battle for the future of Fair Park began in earnest.
Dallas' fight over handing the park over to the Walt Humann-led foundation had been a proxy battle at the park board level. Those skirmishes ended earlier this month when the board signed off on the proposed management agreement between the newly created Fair Park Foundation and the city of Dallas.
On Monday, Humann briefed the full Dallas City Council, who peppered him with questions.
Since taking office in 2011, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has made it a priority to do something about the 277-acre fairground that lays just south and east of downtown. Rawlings' latest effort centers on his support for Humann's plan for revitalizing the park and giving the Fair Park Foundation $20 million-plus per year to manage it.
Humann believes that Fair Park is a $1 billion dollar sleeping giant, he reiterated Monday. Because of mismanagement and inattention, the park is not worth nearly that much now, but it could be, he said, if the council signs off on the Fair Park Foundation blueprint.
The foundation wants to rebuild the park's infrastructure — by reinforcing Fair Park's aging art deco buildings, improving the park's grounds and improving roads and signage — to make sure it gets used more often than it does now. The plan also includes an actual park within the fairgrounds. Each of the goals would be accomplished with a combination of city bond money and cash raised by the foundation.
Council member Mark Clayton questioned Humann as to why none of the city money slated to be given to the foundation should the council sign off on the agreement was set to go towards the park, something Clayton said should be priority number one.
More or less, the council indicated Monday that these were worthy goals. The goals' priority, however, is much more in dispute. “Most of this council agree that the status quo is not good enough,” Clayton said, "[But] you said that you would do more than fix up old buildings."
Humann, and later the mayor, suggested that city money given to the foundation would be better spent on less glamorous projects. Private funding would be more easily raised for the park, Rawlings said.
There was agreement across the board that anything done to help Fair Park also needs to help the neighborhood surrounding the park, an area that's often been a trouble spot for the city.
"I'm excited to hear that there is so much concern for the South Dallas/Fair Park community," Tiffinni Young, who represents the area around Fair Park, said with just a touch of sarcasm.
District 8's Erik Wilson called for Humann to allot four spots on the Fair Park Foundation's board to representatives from south of the Trinity River. Right now two spots on the board are currently filled by residents of southern Dallas. Council member Scott Griggs echoed Wilson.
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“We need to have more representation from the neighborhood, one or two [board members] is not enough," Griggs said. “It can’t be people coming down, crossing the river and coming home.”
Humann himself lives in University Park, which drew Griggs' ire. Everyone on the board should be a Dallas resident, Griggs said, or agree to move to Dallas within a year. Humann is the only member of the board who doesn't satisfy that proposed requirement, as Rawlings pointed out.
"This notion that somebody from University Park can’t be on the board is a smokescreen for getting rid of Walt Humann," Rawlings said.
Humann and Rawlings clearly want to get this done sooner rather than later. Both suggested Monday that the council should vote on the management agreement sometime in September, so the foundation could take over before the city's new budget goes into effect this fall.