Fair Park Forecast
How the new prospect for Fair Park may affect the Big 5 for Big D
August 20, 2018

Updated from the original Big 5 for Big D
The five biggest initiatives for the future DFW Supercity
Originally published: August 8, 2017

Fair Park Hall of State
Banners in front of the Hall of State promote interesting exhibits during the State Fair.


Fair Park is the biggest entertainment opportunity in Texas. While there has been lots of excitement about new entertainment venues in Arlington, Irving, Fort Worth and other surrounding cities, no recently developed project has more potential than the one that already exists and has been in place for a century.

With each big change at Fair Park (the losses of museums, concert series, the annual Cotton Bowl football bowl game, etc.), the implication and public perception has been the decline and eminent failure of Fair Park. But with ambition, and the right mission and dedication, all the perceived declines in the park's usefulness and benefit to Dallas will - in fact, must - turn around. Because, with good plans (and with involvement of the people of the region), the chance of success is guaranteed. The expectation should be nothing less.

Success, however, will have everything to do with the right approach and operation of Fair Park.

Ongoing daily activities will make the park useful and appealing for constituent communities and visitors, as long as the activities are diverse in scope, strive for the highest quality, and suite the interests and capabilities of many regional communities. But it is important to understand that the park will hold the biggest event in the State of Texas during the term of the contract for the new management organization (Fair Park First) - the Texas Bicentennial in 2036. And that's just one of the major events the park will host or have the opportunity to host. The big events, combined with ready-made space and facilities, guarantee that the park will be successful for the management organization.

But, as the city's largest public gathering park and one of its most storied places, the goal for the park must be to help make Dallas successful - to improve the economic landscape, to build on the cultural landscape, to provide excellent quality of life, to improve the neighboring communities, to lead in innovative programming and institution development, to increase interest in education, and to move Dallas up the ladder as a tourism destination. The park has every opportunity to be the driving force behind all of those future accomplishments.

More about Fair Park

It is important to consider the kind of park that Fair Park is and what it might become:

Event park - As the State Fair demonstrates, it is clearly an event park. Many other events take place on the grounds.

Historic park - With numerous historic buildings, some dating back to 1930s, and having many fascinating historic episodes, its collection of architecture and storied events form an important historic district and National Historic Landmark.

Cultural district - While not having a formal designation as a cultural or arts district, Fair Park is understood as a cultural district based on the art, architecture and diverse events it hosts. Based on the historic murals and sculptures, stylistic design and architecture, as well as arts-oriented events and organizations, an arts district designation will be easy to achieve (with a strategic increase in programming efforts).

Museum district - With its current museums and history of prominent Dallas museums, as well as its potential to launch visionary new ones, it is a museum district that should one day again be recognized as a leading museum district in the state, and possibly the nation.

Music venue - Having various venues and being the site of numerous famed and fondly remembered music events, like the Texxas Jam, it is a venue where people should expect music to be presented on large and small scales, by professional and up-and-coming artists. While it has hosted many famous national touring artists, its array of facilities make it possible to have a prominent role in building a strong local music scene.

Education center - Hosting many educational events and forums, like Earth Day Texas (now EarthX), as well as the key educational aspects of many of its most entertaining events, Fair Park is an important education center. Again, its facilities have unlimited potential in the area of education.

Convention center - Hosting several trade shows and product displays, outside and inside several massive facilities, the park is a convention center, particularly competitive in the (cars, boats, mattresses) product show-style use of convention centers that is prevalent in North Texas.

Fair Park has extensive facility assets and vast outdoor space, in addition to significant local and national history, and a long, nostalgic program history.

The park's physical assets include:

-A hundred acres or more of functional event park land
-Multi-purpose facilities of many varieties
-A major sport stadium
-Sports, agriculture and equestrian venues
-Music venues and other suitable performing arts spaces
-Theaters and amphitheaters
-Art collection, murals and vast exhibition space
-Food facilities and space for itinerant operations (booths, food trucks, etc.)
-Programming organizations
-Museums and museum facilities
-A carnival midway and rides (some permanent)
-Nature and room to grow
-Fountains and memorials
-Fences, gates, parking
-Mass transit connections

It is no secret that Fair Park is pushed to its limit during a few days of the State Fair, and it is appropriately utilized for a handful of other events, but it is notoriously underutilized over 300 days per year.

Historic underutilization of the park makes the expectations for its future very low. And its low impact on the community (many communities, really) reflects some serious problems with Dallas overall, particularly (in arts, culture, history, and social and educational opportunities) in diverse community involvement, rather than just historic poor management of and lack of vision and ambition for Fair Park.

Fair Park Cotton Bowl
The historic Cotton Bowl is a major asset and central attraction of Fair Park.

Fair Park ranks among the largest parks in Texas:

Fair Park, Dallas (277 acres)

Hermann Park, Houston (445 acres, includes a 55-acre zoo and 18-hole golf course, the park is a highly successful event location, and museum and garden campus)

HemisFair Park, San Antonio (96 acres, site of the 1968 World's Fair)

Zilker Metropolitan Park, Austin (350 acres, site of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, along with Barton Springs, Zilker Botanical Garden and Austin Nature and Science Center)

Eleanor Tinsley Park, Houston (significant park that is part of the larger Buffalo Bayou Park, hosts major festivals but is prone to flooding)

La Villita, San Antonio (small downtown San Antonio park is home to numerous historic structures; while not large, it is a successful event location on the River Walk)

Sam Houston Park, Houston (small downtown Houston park is home to numerous historic structures and hosts events)

Fort Worth Botanic Garden, Fort Worth (109 acres, hosts summer concerts and special events)

San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Park (1,200 acres, the site of a major Sesquicentennial - 150 years - Celebration, but not considered an event park)

Outside of the State Fair (in addition to its success), the benchmark for Fair Park should be the successful operations in Hermann Park that are possible at Fair Park - 2 million museum visitors, 1 million music event visitors, 1 million park users, 1/2 million garden visitors, 1/4 million education users - and much more. Those should be low benchmarks numbers for visitors served, however, because the actual numbers have the potential to be much higher at Fair Park. It should present a museum with at least similar visitor numbers as the Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) (obviously new and different thematic content must be considered). The museum(s) should provide for the numbers of students engaged at HMNS. Fair Park should reach at least the numbers of garden visitors to the Hermann Park gardens, natural features and greenways. And it should emulate soe of the most successful major events at parks around the nation.

Fair Park should be the site of a music festival on the scale of Austin City Limits (ACL) in Austin's Zilker Park, Lollapalooza in Chicago's Grant Park and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest) at the New Orleans Fair Grounds. It should host (in addition to the State Fair and Irish Festival) diverse cultural events, like Fiesta San Antonio, Lafayette's Festival International de Louisiane, and the former Houston International Festival.

Visitor Potential for Fair Park

Below we included a recap of the Big 5 for Big D and noted with a bold ranking in the left column how Fair Park may address the larger issues and truly make the city succeed. Not just help the city succeed, but take the lead to make it succeed.

In its first stage, the report surveyed and ranked the nation's biggest visitor attractions. Fair Park is fully capable to have a role and utilize opportunities in each of them. Its multifunctionality puts it in an extremely ideal situation to be highly successful in most of the following areas:

1. Transportation Centers and Hubs (not just pass-through transportation; historic sites, intersting architecture, restaurants, retail, tours, connections, etc.) - Fair Park may not become the region's transportation hub and visitor services center, but it is in an excellent position to benefit from its proximity to transportation and serve as the secondary hub for visitors who are interested in many of the city's central attractions. Now that a transportation hub is proposed (by DART) to help connect the city's public transit and regional commuter transit with the future (Houston to Dallas) high speed rail, Fair Park has the opportunity to be the main tourism hub and primary destination for all who plan to utilize transportation options and/or visit the variety of cultural resources in the area - the Arts District, Deep Ellum, downtown attractions, Klyde Warren Park, the Cedars neighborhood (emerging arts district), Trinity River parks, and even West Dallas and the Bishop Arts District.

2. Amusement Parks and Theme Parks - Fair Park has a moderate level of success as an amusement park with the popular midway carnival activities during the State Fair. There is much room for expansion (in foods and amusements), but other services and activities must become the daily attractions for audiences to make the carnival/amusement park aspects viable.

3. Major Parks and National Parks - Fair Park is, by its size (1/3 the size of Central Park, roughly the size of Austin's Zilker Park), a major park. With an increase in year-round visitors it will count as one of the nation's major parks, potentially serving 10 million visitors.

4. Cultural and Historical Districts - Fair Park is a historic district based on its architecture and could be recognized as an important cultural district with increase and improvement in its programming. It could also achieve official designation as a Texas state arts district with better programming (in underutilized areas of the park), increased use of facilities for arts and expansion of programming organizations.

5. Major Museums - Fair Park helped launch the Dallas Arts District by being the home of important local museums for many years, but it has not built on its legacy. Rather than decline, the direction of the park should be to utilize its resources and opportunities to build bigger and better museum and educational attractions for Dallas. Those types of activities attract large numbers of visitors every day and are a major impact on the city's quality of life. It is the responsibility of Dallas leaders and visionary philanthropists, but the effort must be led by Fair Park's management (since the best opportunities and resources will be in its hands) though development and presentation of the future museum concepts.

6. Universities - Fair Park is unlikely to be the site of a major university campus, but it has many opportunities to partner with leading institutions, to host major academic events and be a central site for the region's educational activities. Many of the activities at the park (like Earth Day Texas) are educational in their focus, but there is enormous additional potential to host inter-university activities (the kinds that combine audiences from within area campuses, as well as international conferences and symposiums that draw together audiences from universities nationwide). There is also potential for K-12 activities that serve hundreds of thousands of area students.

7. Museums, Cultural Centers and Galleries - In addition to being capable to launch a major museum (or even two), the park supports museums and should grow to support several new ones, again, for which there are no shortage of excellent concepts. Galleries and cultural centers are key to raising its profile to be known, to local people and tourists alike, as a cultural district and to gain a formal status as a Texas state arts district.

8. Professional Sports - The region needs to add additional professional teams in major professional sports (i.e. second professional football or baseball teams) if it is serious about increasing the benefit of professional sports for visitors and joining most other large cities that are capable to support two professional teams in top sports. Fair Park is unlikely to have much impact as the home field of a professional team, though its renewed vitality may help the city increase other attractions and draw professional sports teams to the area, as well as international competitions (Olympics, World Cup, etc.). The existing stadium, however, is useful for many unique and specialized sports events. While the Cotton Bowl is a famous, historic sports stadium (the past site of the annual Cotton Bowl and current location of the annual University of Texas v. Oklahoma University football match), it is also the former site of legendary music events (like the Texxas Jam and Crossroads Guitar Festival). The stadium should continue to host many large-scale events and festivals. It may be dated, but when it's full it comes alive and looks spectacular.

9. Fairs, Festivals and Music Festivals - Fair Park is made for the purpose of hosting these types of events and should be capable to dramatically increase its impact outside of the State Fair. Some of the potential festival concepts and sizes are noted above, but there are numerous possibilities (in the hundreds) to produce new ones, many with the potential to rank among the largest and most interesting in the state.

10. Outdoor Recreation - The park is an excellent location for recreational events, including walks, runs, cycling events, and more. Due to its proximity to the Trinity River Corridor (as it develops further), Fair Park will dramatically increase in opportunities to join and support regional recreation.


We produced the Big 5 for Big D in August 2017. One year later, Dallas is on the verge of an important new development, new management for Fair Park, which calls for updating our five biggest initiatives for the future DFW Supercity. The five most important initiatives have not changed, but the ability to affect change may improve dramatically if Dallas and Fair Park First take the right course of action. Their order has simply changed as they relate to Fair Park.

The Big 5 for Big D Recommendations

The report was not made using the five or six obvious big projects in Dallas, which (at the time) included:

-Fair Park (at the time a contract was considered to possibly be awarded without a bid process)
-Amazon HQ2
-Dallas Midtown (more than a real estate development, it was/is one potential, nationally competitive site for Amazon's HQ2)
-Trinity River (a massive and long - decades long - planned project that is needed but will have limited impact)
-Municipal Bond Election
-And Grow South

The list of five recommendations was developed to make a much larger and lasting impact than the items listed above. It was created to raise awareness of deficits and challenges that deprive and restrain the city and many of its communities. And to present important ways for the city to improve its allure in the future for local populations and visitors.

Total visitor numbers are a gage of how attractive a place is for visitors. They usually include local people and tourists who choose to visit places in the region. They are an indicator of the quality of life of a place. And visitors are a source of income, which is especially desired and critical in communities that need improvement.

The obvious projects listed above, without greater goals for the city, don't actually offer improvement, but rather means of staying afloat, on even keel with other cities, and to keep up the status quo. In Dallas, a city that has gotten itself ranked among the very worst of cities that suffer greatly from inequality, the status quo is not good. By just moving forward on the projects, even accomplishing them with the current level of hopefulness, the city would still have enormous economic division, social strife, dissatisfaction, poverty, image problems, and so on.

The proposed changes to the management and programming activity at Fair Park will have a chance to do more than even the expectations of the contract suggest. (It is currently under review and pending City Council approval in October 2018.)

The Timeliness of the Change of Management

Fair Park is not simply an entertainment venue, rather it will be a barometer of Texas in the future. During the timeframe of the contract, Fair Park will be the site of what can be expected to be the biggest event in Texas - the Bicentennial Celebration of the state. 2036 will also be the year of the 100-year celebration of historic Texas Centennial, which launched many lasting features of the park itself.

The Texas Centennial Exposition was innovative and set ideas in motion that Texas has only partly successfully built on. There is massive potential in the future to work toward the historic goals and important new ones.

As innovative as it was, the expectations for the Texas Centennial in 1936 will pale by comparison to the expectations for the Bicentennial by a significantly more diverse and culturally literate Texas population and international community. Fair Park will need to be a leader in programming, quality of life and economic development for struggling Dallas communities in order to be successful in serving all the peoples of the state and avert the potential for all its efforts to be overshadowed by the possibility of legitimate criticism and detraction.

The Bicentennial of the state and Centennial of the park are coming fast; 15 or 16 years is not a lot of time to prepare. Each of the years will have to be dedicated to building up to the event for the modern population of Texas by being active in building sincere support across communities.

To be successful, Fair Park will have to be a place that is accurate and realistic about the origins of the state - some of them not pleasant, but easier to face if we are all willing to be honest and objective - and to lead the way to celebrate the diverse state Texas has become. That is why the vision, goals, programming and lasting institutions that the new management (Fair Park First) will need to inspire and incubate will matter tremendously.

Texas Grand Prairie Historical Marker
A Texas historic marker in the center of the DFW region covers the origins of the state's history.

Recap of the Big 5 for Big D

Following is a quick summary of the report's introduction:


The Metroplex won't host a Super Bowl any time before 2023 and it likely won't have the opportunity to host the Olympics before 2036 or 2040. That doesn't mean there aren't big possibilities to do great things in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, though...

Texas cities need to engage in the kinds of activities that World Class Cities and their visitors care about. There are potential opportunities to present national events and initiatives that will build the kind of recognition for the Metroplex that it takes to win bids for other prominent international events. Some of the potential initiatives have even greater quality of life and economic benefits for Dallas and the surrounding cities than major international sports events, and the positive results will have long-term effects on the connotation of the city's name.

These overarching, prescient projects may also affect how the citizens think about the imminent challenges that are in the back of their minds: Fair Park revitalization, the Trinity River Corridor Project, the 2017 Capital Bond Program (to be voted on in Dallas this November), high-speed rail, and others.

Here are the five most timely opportunities to serve residents and visitors to Dallas-Fort Worth, while creating the city of the future...

The highlighted projects are not a group of small, more easily-achieved good ideas (the report committee compiled that list, too). And they are not the largest of humanitarian and environmental objectives - to end poverty, hunger, crime and violence, and to better clean the air by planting millions of trees - but they may help on those fronts, as well.

Read the full topic...

Below are the Big 5 for Big D - the five most timely opportunities to serve residents and visitors to Dallas-Fort Worth, while creating the city of the future. Their ranking is presented in a new order based on Fair Park's potential to impact the recommendations.

The recommendations did not change, but new management of Fair Park may turn out to be a serious game-changer for Dallas and certainly has the potential to add new possibilities to the best ways to improve the city and conditions in its communities.


4. Build future institutions as new social and educational spaces
A. Build the nation's most provident and advanced museum covering critical topics of cultures.
B. Inspire others, like a Cabeza de Vaca interpretive center and a network of museums of culture.

1. Embrace history by understanding its relevance to the region
A. Lead the commemoration of the oldest written history in the modern boundaries of the U.S.
B. Establish a national historic trail to interpret Indian trade routes and the Spanish incursions.
C. To inspire further interests, build on 500 years of history since Cabeza de Vaca traveled here.

5. Write new narratives inspired by digital collections
A. Utilize the network of libraries to build a Supercity of citizen historians, journalists, scientists, and more.
B. Establish avenues to disseminate new collections through museums and historic signage.

2. Aspire to the future by becoming a leading Supercity
A. Recognize that the Metroplex will grow even larger and needs greater cohesiveness.
B. Set a world-leading example through access, opportunity and social transformation.

3. Make connections for interested travelers and recreationists
A. Open a high speed rail station that connects the city and region, and provides great amenities.
B. Build on the cruise terminal concept with a regional tour bus port at the main rail station.
C. Establish a national hiking trail over the southern Great Plains with DFW as its central hub.

Fair Park State Fair of Texas
A coupon booth symbolizes the revenue sources for the State Fair, many vendors and the park.


The recommendations are presented with notes that explain the new opportunities and how Fair Park might affect each one, as well as their potential impact. Keep in mind, the Big 5 for Big D was developed to address visitor potential in Dallas and the Metroplex, and Fair Park is ultimately the visitor destination with the greatest potential. Viewers may click on "Read Complete Text" to see the proposed outcomes of the Big 5 for Big D recommendations from the 2017 report. (The five top recommendations came from a full study of the biggest visitor attractions around the nation.)

Fair Park Dallas Museum of Art
The Dallas Museum of Art started in this facility on the grounds of Fair Park.

1. Build Future Institutions

Visionary Institutions - Museums as new social and educational spaces

While common lifeways like shopping and active occupations are in decline due to the internet and new technologies, DFW must embrace the social, educational and recreational capabilities, as well as visitor impacts, of innovative major museums, as they will serve health and sociological needs in the future.

Ranking just below major transportation hubs, the biggest amusement-theme parks and the top national parks, museums are among the nation's and the world's biggest attractions. But there haven't been many great innovations in museums in over a century, with the Smithsonian Institution being founded in 1846, "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge," and the American Museum of Natural History and the National Geographic Society originating in 1869 and 1888, respectively. The first National Park, Yellowstone, was dedicated for preservation in 1872, about the time of the First Transcontinental Railroad. The National Park Service was formed over 100 years ago in 1916, when cars were barely in use. The British Museum was founded in 1753, before the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.
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Fair Park Recommendation - Museums and programming organizations are and were, more so in the past, a very important part of the attraction of Fair Park. Museums are capable to bring hundreds and even thousands of visitors on a daily basis.

The management organization should not look at the facilities and park spaces strictly as rental opportunities with the expectation that others will launch great new institutions. The management organization should initiate programming efforts that will lead in strategic directions to establish potential museums and other institutions. Steps in key areas should include: Build programming to a successful level; Establish an advisory board and governing board (if the line of programs and exhibits is to emerge as a stand-alone entity); Continue the effort under the new organization.

Successful efforts may eventually outgrow their space at Fair Park and move into the surrounding areas, making room for more success and growth at Fair Park. However, if institutions leave and Fair Park is not involved in the process of incubating great institutions and organizations, the park will be left with perceived deficiencies, as it was several times in the past, rather than strengths as a place that develops great things for Dallas and the world.

Given the amount of radical and sweeping change going on in the world, as well as the many significant milestones from the state's past that are coming up as major anniversaries, there is no shortage of possible institutions. The 500 year anniversary of several Spanish entradas that converged in Texas is coming soon. As noted earlier, the Bicentennial of the state and the centennial of the Texas Centennial Exposition are coming in 2036. The cultural, social and technological changes going on throughout the world merit a visionary new museum on the order of the Smithsonian. New and diverse arts are gaining interest around the world. The music legacy of North Texas has never been properly elevated to an important status. Fair Park has nothing but opportunity draw from past and future interests to inaugurate future institutions.

The many very good to great museums in the United States generally serve about one million to five million visitors. While they may not be fully understood or well supported in the DFW area, good museums are interesting to the populations of the world, with leading international institutions attracting six, eight, or ten million visitors, and in the case of the Smithsonian Institution and its museum collections, about 30 million people annually.

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Fair Park Hall of State Statue
A Native American is prominently featured as a statue in front of the Hall of State.

2. Embrace History

Historical Relevance - Plan the 500 year anniversary of Cabeza de Vaca in Texas

On the 500 year anniversary of the first Spanish-led exploration of Texas, resulting in the oldest written history inside the modern boundaries of the United States, Texas institutions should lead the planning for 10 years of educational and commemorative events across the U.S. and Mexico.

With the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition as a base model, DFW and the state of Texas should reach back to its much older history to produce a multi-year event of international interest.

Dallas has a sad legacy when it comes to historic preservation, only to be outdone by Houston in the competition for who holds the least historic value. A great deal of its history, however, is not strictly preserved in a century of scarce architecture, but rather in written stories and archaeological evidence.
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Fair Park Recommendation - While some Texas cities like San Antonio and El Paso have had a strong connection to their history and their relevance in the world, others like Dallas, Houston and Austin have shown very little competency in utilizing history as an asset (for education, tourism or most any other reason).

Dallas is in an interesting position, with Fort Worth being like a second sun in a solar system that makes up the Metroplex. Fort Worth has some similar strengths in historic interest and preservation as San Antonio and El Paso. Dallas doesn't start off in the difficult position of Austin or Houston in trying to establish relevant interests, though Austin (which benefitted as the seat of Texas government and from the main system campus of the University of Texas) has clearly made major strides in recent years with the establishment of the Bullock Texas State History Museum and by laying claim to the official Texas State Music Museum (to open in the future), along with sponsorship of media and events that garner international attention.

Dallas, along with the surrounding region, may have some of the most compelling history in the state, but it is challenging for a visitor to discover or understand it.

While some of the most historic aspects of Texas - the cultural development of indigenous peoples, from nomadic lifeways of regional western tribes (like the Comanche) to the stages in development of civilizations demonstrated by regional eastern tribes (like the Caddo); the entradas and attempted conquests of Spanish expeditions (Narvaez, De Soto and Coronado) that converged in North Texas; and, the wide diversity of the earliest immigrants in Texas (including Canary Islanders, Filipinos, Germans, Czechs, Sicilians, Alsatians, Norwegians, and many more) - are among the most fascinating, the lure of the modern popular cultural and political events have the potential to attract hundreds of thousands, even millions, of visitors.

The State Fair demonstrates that people of North Texas love recent nostalgia and pop culture. Music and food traditions in Texas have ranked as the most impactful in the nation, but they have not received the level of exhibition and interpretation needed to capture the interests and imaginations of future generations. Arts and culture interests are also highly underutilized and notoriously undersupported in Texas. Political and social histories are nothing short of dramatic and can only be presented openly and honestly to be on a positive path toward the future.

The entire scope of Texas history is fascinating, from questions about who constructed pueblos in the Panhandle to how the Karankawa vanished from the coast (and if they really were cannibals) to the real-life political intrigue in the 1963 assassination of J.F.K. and the mass media question of the day when the top-ranked TV series Dallas posed, "Who shot J.R.?", in 1980.

Note: As an event of mass popularity, the Texas Bicentennial will be significantly larger in its public participation than the 500 year anniversary of Cabeza de Vaca's historic years as a shipwrecked castaway and his descriptions of the region. The Quincentennial of the Narvaez expedition and the writing of Cabeza de Vaca will, however, come much sooner than the Texas Bicentennial; The Quincentennial coming in 2027/28, while the Texas Bicentennial will take place in 2036. The 500 year anniversary of Cabeza de Vaca's epic adventure in Texas may be a useful event to increase interest and awareness of Texas History, as it is an opportunity to host a national symposium and associated educational events.

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Fair Park Dallas Museum IMAX Theater
Keeping up with new technology, an IMAX Theater was added to the Fine Art Building.

3. Write New Narratives

Digital Collections - Increase documentation in libraries and public spaces

DFW should set new standards for use of libraries in the collection and interpretation of cultural history, as well as being the leaders in the effort to digitize and disseminate information of interest to citizens and visitors, with further goals to inspire researchers and media producers.

Technology changed drastically during the lifetimes of hundreds of millions of people and left a great many of them with valuable collections that have no certain future. In these collections are a full gamut of nostalgia, family history and information that is interesting to others. Some of this information is the fabric of communities; some is the history of businesses and organizations; some is needed by researchers; and some of it is the invaluable material artifacts and narratives of the world's heritage.
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Fair Park Recommendation - The nation's top cities have mainly become known to the world through their media and narrative arts. New York became known for Broadway and Los Angeles for Hollywood; other major cities made their narrative exports from popular arts, like comedy in Chicago and music in Nashville.

Diversity of peoples and their interests is one of the strongest characteristics of cities like Dallas and Houston. Without their realities as immigrant cities, they seem to have very little substance, since otherwise they are on the surface made up of ever-regenerating businesses, many generic and uninspiring. It is the lives and the stories of the people that are interesting. While Dallas may not hold a top place in theater or media production, there are many ways and new technologies to explore the narratives and backgrounds of the people of DFW.

Public events are a very good starting place. The presentation of traditional arts and diverse forms of creativity is the entrance into other worlds for most people. It is the way languages and religions become interesting and respected, rather than confusing and alienating, certainly for large populations that may have little means to travel to other places. Workshops, discussions, food and craft demonstrations, and many other kinds of interactive programs in intimate settings are a major part of the attraction for hundreds of thousands who attend the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Jazz Fest and others.

While Fair Park may have a hand in the kinds of technologies and archives that can be the exponential sources of interesting stories for the world to hear and benefit from (possibly through development of institutions described above), as a major public event park it may be best suited to host forums and arts events that bring diverse peoples of the Metroplex together and serve as the catalyst for positive change. This may include festivals and minifestivals that showcase cultural arts and diversity, and it may involve genealogical events, educational exhibits and topical forums that build a high level of cultural competency in the city. Gatherings and interaction are the way the city's stories will reach the world.

It is primarily important to understand the need to do this by being open to diverse participation through community involvement and academic curation, rather than only being open to the communities and businesses with the greatest means to produce events in the park's facilities and spaces.

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Fair Park Art Deco Sculpture
The park is home to numerous examples of historic Art Deco architecture and art, including this sculpture facing the Esplanade Fountain.

4. Aspire to the Future

Prepare for Automation - Transition to the better future as a cohesive Supercity

DFW should lead the way into a future in which the overworked population may become underworked due to artificial intelligence, robots, drones and further automation, and strive to close the massive gaps in access to education, opportunity, nutrition, innovation, arts and transportation.

Artificial intelligence, computers, robots, drones and further mechanization of labor are supposed to make our lives easier. But, who knows? To modernize a phrase: the future is uncoded. One thing is certain: hours of human labor will be reduced for one unstoppable reason - mass efficiency.
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Fair Park Recommendation - Fair Park should host events and curate forums that explore what the future will be like for people and cities, including benefits in the workforce and challenges to the economy and environment. This effort could possibly be a strategic initiative that forms an advanced institution (in the process described above, where effective programming is utilized to launch new organizations and institutions).

Fair Park should also be concerned with being a model for the most positive way to move into a future that may and most surely will change more rapidly with each year. With substantial service industry staff, the park management should work on ideas that help the workforce feel much greater ownership and value for the programming and community benefit of the park.

Fair Park, as a large public park, has an obligation to serve the needs and interests of all the citizens of Dallas. The trends that are unlikely to change:
Particularly in Dallas (which ranked last in an Urban Institute study of 274 cities, "Inclusive Recovery in U.S. Cities", in 2018), large numbers of people struggle financially, while a smaller portion of the population has tremendous wealth and excess disposable income (costs of leisure and extracurricular services are not an obstacle for fewer people, decreasing by percentage), so the park must always be conscious of the capability of the mass of its citizens to utilize the park, while offering ways for the more limited population of financially successful people and businesses in the city to benefit the park;

Food is a vital interest to everyone and diverse food choices are a primary interest. By offering events that are free or at low cost to serve large numbers of people, while providing wide ranging food choices and costs (particularly many in an affordable range for average people), the park and increasing numbers of businesses can benefit;

People seek beautiful spaces, which are in short supply in the urban area, for their impromptu outings, formal events or even photo opportunities (selfies) when friends and family visit. Having beautiful park areas, along with some event rental spaces, will serve the city well and work as excellent marketing for the park. Social media reshares, even awards or discounts, can be given for best selfies that are hashtagged or suitable to represent seasonal themes;

Education and events with educational components remain highly interesting and necessary. Events focused on or centered around culture, environment, narrative arts and technology will motivate large numbers of local citizens and out-of-town visitors, as well, particularly if they are diverse in scope and high quality. Additional institutions that may be developed in the park may be able to address social and political divisions, or even economic and justice system disparities;

Living spaces and energy efficiencies are interesting for many and part of their changing trends. Specific interests in these areas is increasingly focused on DIY (do-it-yourself) capabilities, so forums and workshops are in demand and interest is expected to grow;

And, there are many other trends that will last and serve needs or interests in the greater Metroplex (based on history, media, occupations, ways of life, lifestyles, transportation, science, etc), even as culture transforms much more rapidly in the future than it has in the recent past.

Though it seems an impossibility that artificial intelligence, computers, robots, drones and mechanization are going to truly improve most people's economic or employment situation, the park should prepare to better serve to improve quality of life for everyone, whether people have more spare time in the future, or their limited spare time is more highly valuable to them.

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Fair Park Hall of Religion
Numerous structures and works of art were added during the 1936 Texas Centennial Exposition, most of which reflected diverse aspects of culture, including the Hall of Religion. Many cultural aspects of the park will remain critical and require new objective approaches as preparations are made for the Texas Bicentennial.

5. Make Connections

Attract People to DFW - Embrace diverse modes of transportation

The Metroplex must serve its growing population and visitors with greater connectivity across the region, state, and nation by providing commuters with a thorough public transit network and by utilizing imaginative alternatives for visitors, such as a central train terminal, tour bus port and recreation trails.

The Border Wall might be all the rage in current political circles, but history reveals that connections are the basis of forward progress and economic activity throughout the world. Trade in ideas and products is how the population gets things done and travel is how people fulfill their dreams.
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Fair Park Recommendation - While the location of a planned high speed rail station for the train from Dallas to Houston, as well as a potential transportation hub to connect it with most of the region's public transit and rideshare operations, has been determined, there are ways for Fair Park to play a vital role in connectivity and even more so in serving as a secondary hub for many inner-Dallas attractions.

With the increase in vitality of key areas east of downtown Dallas, Fair Park should strive to be the first stop for many visitors to Dallas, as well as for DFW residents who come from surrounding areas, to be part of its vibrant culture. It should plan quality attractions, as well as ease of transit, accommodations, safety, helpful information, visitor services, orientation and interpretation of all that the inner city offers, and more.

Travel around a circuit that includes Fair Park, Deep Ellum, the Dallas Arts District, Uptown, the Design District, Downtown sites and attractions, West Dallas, Bishop Arts District, South Lamar/the Cedars and the Farmers Market should be easy and done very commonly as a routine for residents and out-of-town visitors.

To be part of the future of transit and as welcoming to visitors as possible, Fair Park should offer incentives for walkers, cyclists, public transportation users, tour groups (in buses) and other non-traditional travelers by keeping access simple for those modes, perhaps by offering discounts (particularly during the busiest days), and possibly by holding events where alternative transportation modes are the audience focus (e.g. events for trekkers, runners, cyclists, and others).

Fair Park should advocate that all the surrounding neighborhoods be increasingly more walkable and bikeable. And the city should strongly advocate that TXDOT work on ways to make Fair Park and Deep Ellum more pleasant and connected with downtown by submerging a stretch of Interstate 30 and even by further considering removal of U.S. Highway 75 east of downtown.

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Fair Park State Fair Auto Show
Auto shows and other types of product displays are a major part of the attractions at Fair Park during the State Fair, even to the point of replacing more substantive programming.

Notes on the Process

Fair Park will most certainly be managed and operated by a newly-created non-profit organization (with national for-profit corporate partners) in the near future. There are issues to be worked out between the new non-profit (Fair Park First) and Dallas City Council, particularly involving the relationship with the existing programming organizations.

The aspects this report, Fair Park Forecast, is concerned with are generally beyond the process and the contract. It is a case where the contract is generally about meeting a low set of expectations, rather than achieving a great potential status and national prominence for the park.

With the addition of some ideas that came out of political offices and community meetings - a community park on the south side of the park, underground parking, etc. - the contract terms will likely maintain a similar requirement for operation that was in the hands of the Dallas Parks Department, which was to keep up with maintenance needs as well as possible, and to offer park spaces for sponsorship and rental, though with a greater emphasis on generation of funds through naming, leasing, renting, sponsorship, etc.

Much of the process has been interesting, including the procurement timeline (the time from concept to the request for proposals to evaluation and negotiations), financials, contract terms, etc. Most of it is as expected. It includes meager plans to benefit the surrounding community and hire women and minority owned businesses. These efforts to reinvest in the community are not wrong or bad in any way, but they are negligible and don't make tremendous progress toward improving Dallas.

Cities have made similar changes and demonstrated their success on paper, without actually realizing benefits in most of the areas where they needed improvement. In some cases, they have actually lost more than they gained. The present process to establish new management for Fair Park, with vague concepts that have been put forward for progress, such as "activate the park," has much potential to look great and do little.

The hope is (at least our hope is) that the new management organization will go above and beyond the contract to do a great deal more for the park and for the people of Dallas and the Metroplex. The goals, as we noted above in the Fair Park Forecast, should be much larger because the park is just that significant as a resource for Dallas. It has potential and historic responsibility far beyond what Dallas leaders expect of it or its management.

While it has underperformed and been underutilized for so many decades, and most people (even most city leaders) may not know what the expectations for its impact should be, it is clear and easy to say that, based on the park resources and its prominence in the city, compared with the capability of similar resources in other cities, the expectations should be extremely high. The park should live up to standards of programming, accessibility, usefulness and impact on urban life on par with or above those benchmarks around the nation.

One major factor that has lead to its underutilization has been the hand-off approach to programming by the management. Perhaps not knowing what to do or how to do it, perhaps relying just on the seasonal successes of the State Fair, or perhaps not knowing how to offer programming while regenerating its costs, or perhaps just not being able to accomplish the basic maintenance needs with the allocated funds, for some combination of reasons in recent decades, the park has underperformed and been a disappointment for the citizens of Dallas.

The strict management role, being significantly hands-off about programming is one of, if not the top key area where the park has failed and largely just languished.

It is unlikely that our reports will cover or comment much on the process for new management to secure the contract for the park. We may propose and advocate for certain programming, since the possibilities are endless and the needs are great.


Fair Park is a major event park that serves the people of Dallas and should be among the very top visitor attractions in the city. Considering the base of its existing programming, and the possibility of new (high impact and low impact) programs, it should be the top visitor attraction in the region and compete for the top spots on the level of most visited and prestigious destinations in the state and nation.

The park should not operate strictly as a rental facility. The management organization, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, should be a programming organization and one that incubates numerous programming partners, and arts and science groups, throughout the city. Like a major museum or cultural district, it is the daily schedule of activities and attractions, which go on every day throughout the day, that is an important key to making the park successful and helping to make revenue-based operations viable (whether small vendors, programming partners, or entities operated by the management itself).

Given the current and historic underutilization of cultural resources throughout the city and region, there is no shortage of possibilities. The excitement and energy are available to be engaged and utilized. To a greater extent than in many other cities, there needs to be development of many of the possible activities and their proponent groups. The park is the place for it, with many of the needs in place (the space and facilities), and others relatively easy to generate (revenue and a base of meritorious organizations).

Though there are hundreds of possibilities, a few benchmark programs should include:
a music festival to rival the excitement and success of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazz Fest);

a festival that represents the diversity of the DFW region and brings together performing artists, food vendors and fans on the scale of Houston's once-renowned Houston International Festival or the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall;

an arts forum with the prestige of Art Basel in Miami Beach;

seasonal park events like those found in New York's Central Park and Governors Island, and Chicago's Grant Park and Millennium Park;

youth education programs like those that bring hundreds of thousands of students to the American Museum of Natural History (NY), Smithsonian (DC), Houston Museum of Natural Science (TX), and many others;

a level of visitor interest in architecture and historic districts that approaches the success of Miami Beach, Chicago, Fells Point (Baltimore), and others (though a seemingly insurmountable challenge, Fair Park should be the hub for these areas of interest that connects tourists with places of interest throughout the region);

and, a merit-based partnership program that provides grants to dozens of programming organizations to produce hundreds of diverse, high caliber public events, like Houston's Miller Outdoor Theatre.

As Fair Park approaches the Texas Bicentennial, it should be a flagship district that has prepared for the state's important milestone (200 years) by being an inclusive place for all populations that call the state home and a place that sets a high standard for cultural literacy in a rapidly-growing diverse world.

If the management is simply charged with maintaining rental facilities and generating sponsorship revenue to cover costs for its larger contracted management constituents, little more than the status quo will happen. Focusing on some large events that generally serve the most financially capable population with commercial entertainment and narrowing interests will limit the real potential of Fair Park to serve the city and build a much more impressive visitor reputation for the Metroplex.

Large, commercial activities will not solve many of the city and community issues that should be significantly addressed by Fair Park and its opportunities. They should be considered a bonus on top of a thorough base of cultural and educational programming that serves all communities and people of all economic levels.

With a constant level of strategic programming, Fair Park will be a top visitor destination, a hub for tourism (and regional destination-connected transportation), a wealth of opportunity for Dallas, and the world's window to the city. DFW's most popular gathering place will have major bearing on improving the social, cultural and economic landscape of the city and region.

External Information Links

Fair Park on Wikipedia

Friends of Fair Park

Fair Park Map (PDF)

Dallas Parks and Recreation

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Fair Park Earth Day Innovation
A solar powered vehicle engineered by area students is displayed during Earth Day Texas.

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The BIG 5 Address Obstacles and Challenges

Prepared: August 20, 2018

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