Oct 21, 2022 - News

The future of Dallas' Fair Park

An illustration of a futuristic looking building

One day Fair Park could look like this. Illustration courtesy of Overland

Banners, animals, lights, fried foods and thousands of people walking through the State Fair of Texas every day this month help hide that "this place is falling to pieces," says the man tasked with fixing up the historic site.

Driving the news: Dallas voters will be asked whether they support a proposition that would infuse as much as $300 million to revitalize the Cotton Bowl, Music Hall, Band Shell, Coliseum, and the Automobile and Centennial buildings at Fair Park.

  • But that's only a fraction of the $1.5 billion ballot measure that would largely go toward paying for a new convention center.
  • The bonds would be paid for by a 2% increase to the city's hotel occupancy tax, which is applied to stays at hotels, motels and short-term rentals.

State of play: The art deco buildings throughout the park were built in 1936 for the Centennial Exposition, a celebration of the 100th anniversary of Texas' independence from Mexico. Some were demolished after the event, but many remain.

  • Now they're in desperate need of repair after decades of haphazard maintenance and plastering over cracks.

Why it matters: Fair Park could be a gem for the city and a year-round attraction for tourists and residents — like Balboa Park in San Diego or Forest Park in St. Louis — but with a massive stadium, concert venues and museums.

Yes, but: Fair Park is also the site of the city's worst sins. Black people could attend the State Fair only on "Negro Achievement Days." In 1923, the fair hosted a Ku Klux Klan day, and thousands of new members were sworn in.

  • And roughly 50 years ago, the city took and demolished the homes of nearby Black residents for cents on the dollar to make way for a parking lot.
An illo of the inside of a futuristic building
Imagine the inside of a Fair Park building looking like this. Illustration courtesy of Overland

What they're saying: Leaders of the nonprofit arm working on realizing the ambitious Fair Park master plan have met with residents around the sprawling concrete park to learn how they can "be a better neighbor, not just a big neighbor."

  • "It's about human beings being in that space and enjoying it," Fair Park First Executive Director Brian Luallen told Axios.

Of note: The State Fair of Texas and the annual Cotton Bowl college matchups aren't the only draw. Coldplay and The Rolling Stones have packed the Cotton Bowl in the past year. Enchant, a lighted winter wonderland, drew more than 230,000 visitors last holiday season.

  • And having updated amenities in the Cotton Bowl is a key part of catering to visitors for World Cup activities.

The bottom line: The site of the 1936 exposition could once again be a place of wonder and an example of Dallas' ingenuity, but only if voters decide it's worth the investment.


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