What’s in Fair Park’s Future? Experts to Discuss Historic Dallas Landmark at June 29 Event

Dallas Architecture Forum is hosting a panel discussion on the Nov. 8 referendum to fund improvements to Fair Park and the Dallas Convention Center. (Photos: Mimi Perez/CandysDirt.com)

What could you do with $300 million? That’s what Dallas’ iconic Fair Park stands to gain for expansion and improvement, pending the passage of a referendum slated for a Nov. 8 ballots.

That’s part of the reason supporters of the park are gathering for a free panel discussion at 6:30 pm Wednesday, June 29, at the Hall of State. They want to educate residents on what a “yes” vote could do for the future of the Dallas institution. They also want to talk about the park’s master plan and the historical, architectural, and cultural value of the national historical landmark.

“It’s going to sound flippant, but the road map has been published for a long time,” said Fair Park First CEO Brian Luallen, when asked to outline his desire for the future of the park. “The master plan was adopted a year and a half ago.”

(Photo: Mimi Perez for CandyDirt.com)

Nothing particularly earth-shattering will be unveiled at the June 29 meeting, Luallen added, but the nonprofit wants to hear from the public and stakeholders and to offer some information to show them why the park is a worthy investment. The upgrades, if the measure is approved, would be funded, along with almost $1 billion in renovations at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas, by a 2 percent increase in hotel occupancy taxes.

“We’re very passionate about how Fair Park is important from a historic perspective,” Luallen said. “It has the potential to be a huge contributor socially, to become a part of our daily lives and our culture, so we can show that spirit of hospitality that Texas is known for.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, more people started using Fair Park as a park — for walks, family picnics, and entertainment at the lagoon — rather than just a tourist attraction or event venue. There’s more work to be done to capitalize on the community park that’s been promised to residents for years, Luallen explained.

“We’re still not connecting the communities,” he said. “The new LOOP trail will make it easier for people to get to the park. We’re looking at commercial and residential development, and nonprofits to create affordable housing. We anticipate a population increase. While we’ve been internally focused on park conservancy, we strive to be a good neighbor and protect the legacy residents.”

Luallen will be joined on the panel by Fair Park First Board president Darren James, Overland Partners senior interior designer Katie Miles, and Perkins&Will design director Ron Stelmarkski. Texas Historical Foundation Executive Director David Preziosi is moderating the event, hosted by Dallas Architecture Forum in collaboration with Preservation Dallas.

(Photo: Mimi Perez for CandyDirt.com)

The History

Fair Park was designed primarily for a one-time event, the 1936 Texas Centennial and World’s Fair, according to historic preservation specialist Jay Firsching in his thoroughly researched article for CandysDirt.com.

Historic structures such as the Ford Building were lost over the years. The area has not had a capital investment since that first Texas Centennial, Luallen said.

“Fair Park is a little bit of a political hot potato,” he said. “You have a very inequitable history due to race. The city used eminent domain, and it affected hundreds of working-class black families in the 1960s and ’70s. That’s a wound that hits pretty hard. Early on, there were a lot of questions about whether we would be taking their homes. We’ve built credibility, but it’s challenging. How do you heal a property that’s been neglected for so long?”

The site developed in a piecemeal fashion “without a thoughtful process, without a lot of contemplation about what is missing that makes other parks work,” Luallen said.

Preziosi said he would love to see the buildings and artwork restored to their 1936 appearance “when the buildings didn’t have cracks and the artwork looked great.”

“The Hall of State restoration has made an incredible difference,” he said. “Fair Park has been the state fairgrounds since the 1880s. There are still buildings on the site that date back earlier than that. They didn’t have very long to reconstruct the fairgrounds for the centennial.”

Next week’s meeting will offer an opportunity to talk about a community park, parking structure, infrastructure, and Fair Park’s role in large-scale events like the World Cup.

“It’s a great opportunity for people to come and hear what’s going on at Fair Park, plans for the future, and the upcoming [election] to help provide additional support for preservation,” Preziosi said. “It’ll be a nice snapshot. Fair Park is an incredible resource for Dallas and Texas. We think it’s the largest collection of Art Deco exhibition buildings in the world.”

Economic Impact

Fair Park First operates on a $20 million budget and the area brings in about 6 million guests per year.

“In time, I think it’s going to be a community park, an on-site hotel that will take us to that next level,” Luallen said. “Probably before the World Cup comes in ’26, we’ll be at 8 million [guests per year]. That’s really a sustainable point for a park of this size.”

(Photo: Mimi Perez for CandyDirt.com)

Fair Park is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city, netting more than $292 million a year and contributing an average of 150,000 room nights to Dallas’s annual tourism economy.

Next week’s discussion will also devote some time to the much-discussed community park — a cornerstone that Fair Park First champions.

“The model that has worked well at Fair Park is balance, year-round activation, a constant call to action, and partnerships with organizations that can thrive in that environment,” Luallen said. “What we’re going to be talking about [Wednesday] is the implementation. Before now, nobody could tell you with any authority where the community park was going to go and what it was going to be. We’re focused on delivering results. We’ll also be lifting the veil on some concepts that have come out of robust planning. I don’t think, until now, there’s been a bold vision of what Fair Park can be as far as a must-see destination for the city.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button