Decades after Dallas robbed homes of black residents, final plans set for new Fair Park green space

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It’s really going to happen. Fair Park neighbors will finally get the iconic park – a Blackland Prairie wonderland full of amenities – which for more than half a century was nothing more than lies and broken promises.

I got a first look at the designs for the community park, released Thursday and the result of more than a thousand conversations between Fair Park’s nonprofit operator and area residents and businesses.

Fence-free and open to all, the 14-acre green space will replace Fair Park’s larger parking lot when it opens in 2024 near the Dos Equis Pavilion off South Fitzhugh Avenue.

Darren James, President and President of Fair Park First, told me that the new green space is a gift to the community as well as the entire region.

“I wanted to create a regional raffle, but I wanted to make sure that people who live just across the street feel as welcome and at home as anyone from across the street. Metroplex,” James said.

City Hall’s initial promise to build a park for neighbors in Fair Park, a promise broken time and time again, was part of its villainous scheme to force hundreds of black families from their homes in the 1960s and 1970s.

Part of the concrete sea that will become the new community park adjacent to Fair Park.(Rebecca Slezak / Staff Photographer)

It’s a tragedy this town can’t afford to forget: After a consultant reported in 1966 that Fair Park was unpopular because of “poor niggers in their shacks” and that City Hall should ” eliminate the sight problem”, Dallas cheated low-ball offer landlords and used eminent domain to take other properties.

Dallas officials promised at the time that some of those 52 acres would become a terrific neighborhood park. Instead, 300 homes were ripped out to lay a massive concrete slab big enough for 4,000 cars.

More than 50 years later, no new green space, no matter how wonderful, can ever compensate for the losses of these families or the shamefully unjust behavior of the city. But it can be a small step towards healing a part of our city traditionally different from those inside the walls of Fair Park.

Construction on the $85 million project, which will also add a parking structure near Gaisford Street, is expected to begin in January.

The design plans provide what have long been on neighbors’ wish lists – playgrounds for all ages, a dog park, wifi, picnic areas, water activities and an abundance of gathering and shaded areas.

Perhaps most significant, given South Dallas’ dearth of performance venues and dining options, is the Community Stage, Pavilion, and Market Grove.

Fair Park First CEO Brian Luallen, who walked me through 183 pages of designs and renders, noted the team’s insistence on making sure the park is perfect, whether it’s from convenient, free parking to whimsical elements you won’t find at any other park in the North. Texas.

Fair Park First’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, Alyssa Arnold, said the renders give specific shape to the desires of surrounding communities. “What I love is that you can see these input layers become real and ultimately connect the park to the community.”

Los Angeles-based landscape architecture firm Studio-MLA led the community park design team in creating a colorful and topographically interesting green space from what is now a sunny flat expanse.

Because this project is outside of the Fair Park National Historic Landmark footprint, it has more design flexibility, and unlike the heavy dose of concrete in the original park, the beauty of nature here plays the main role.

Mirroring the red oaks and live oaks that run along South Fitzhugh, the “oak porch” entrance will lead visitors through a Blackland meadow – from river bottoms and flood forest to gardens with drumming and rocky escarpments with integrated slides.

In the center of the park will be a stage with flexible use which can adapt to the lawns on either side. Public art, lit at night, will rotate in space and the watchtower will provide a panoramic view.

The design team also understood the need to create a welcoming and secure environment. This means the lighting of paths, benches and all park equipment.

One of them, the orchard-covered Sycamore Lounge, is the outdoor spot older residents have requested for game tables, book and art carts, and a view of the play area for young children, including the ‘tot lot’.

This rendering shows one of two playgrounds in the new community park, which is planned...
This rendering shows one of two playgrounds in the new community park, which is expected to be completed in 2024.

Over an acre of space is given over to play functions. One area is filled with sliding, spinning, and teeter-tottering equipment of all kinds. The adventure play area includes a large net and a rock wall for climbing.

Water fun will be a big draw, whether it’s watching the natural feature of the pond-like stream or the rushing water chutes and inch-deep pools that are safe to play in. Particular attention has also been paid to stormwater management and to ensuring that these facilities do not create runoff problems for neighbours.

Luallen got the most excited when talking about the “fog tree,” which could involve replanting a large live oak tree that will likely need to be moved from the Fair Park Coliseum due to renovations. Delicate misting lines would be intertwined in its branches and lights installed throughout to create a “living fountain”.

In addition to the half-mile fitness loop and amenities along the route, the community park will also include a Market Grove, which will host farmers’ markets and art fairs.

As for the parking structure, which will be in a lot to the east of the community park, the designers anticipate that berms can be created to block this view from park visitors. This parking area will allow Fair Park First to create a new park from the huge surface land.

It should be remembered that the city also has work to do. The undersized water pipes in nearby Gaisford Street are nearing the end of their life and need to be replaced before the park can connect to them.

Final choices – for example, stone types and watchtower design – remain to be made. But Luallen told me that the park will closely resemble what we see in these designs and renders. Fair Park First plans to announce in the coming weeks who will build the park.

This rendering shows the performance stage, watchtower and location, where the grand...
This render shows the performance stage, watchtower and location, where the large star is positioned, where public art will likely be displayed.

The closest Luallen would come to Tuesday to talk about the status of the $85 million fundraising campaign was to say Fair Park First has made tremendous progress and stay tuned for a funding announcement in the weeks coming.

It may be out of necessity, but I love how Fair Park First has embraced fundraising. They didn’t start with a major gift that would include naming rights – although that’s not out of place.

Wouldn’t it be great if, instead, the philanthropic community came together in a way that would allow surrounding neighborhoods to choose the name?

Fair Park First has been working with its south Dallas neighbors since late 2018, when the city council handed over all park operations to it and its for-profit partner, Spectra. The first step was to create a master plan in partnership with residents and business owners.

One of the cornerstones of this plan, which Council approved in October 2020, was to create the community park.

Anna Hill, a longtime community leader, whose neighborhood of Dolphin Heights is east of Fair Park, has been involved with the community park since its inception — and through many of those decades of unfulfilled promises.

“I hope I’ll still be around to see it,” the 82-year-old laughed as she told me Wednesday about her favorite features of the new park, including the Blackland Prairie theme, walking paths and wildflowers.

This rendering shows the proposed Market Grove in the community park.  One of the requests for...
This rendering shows the proposed Market Grove in the community park. One of the requests from local communities was to find a way to address the lack of fresh food available in South Dallas.

His concern is no longer whether a top-notch park will be handed over to the community, but the need for neighbors to support the green space once it is completed. “That’s what they asked for, again and again, an open park and where they could bring their kids,” she said.

I have written regularly for years about the empty bag of broken promises and outright lies that Fair Park neighbors have endured for generations. There has been so little credibility for genuine change for so long.

Fair Park First seems sincerely committed to getting it right, starting with this incredibly ambitious green space off South Fitzhugh.

The association will support its neighbors to start a process for the right piece of public art to mark the history of this space. “There will be something very important that commemorates the history of this land and who it belonged to and how it got us to this point of a community park,” Luallen told me.

“It’s a park for the future, but we know there’s no way to move forward without acknowledging the past.”

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