Fair Park First Might Prompt 21st Century Urban Renewal Wiping Out Neighborhoods
Recently, exciting plans for Fair Park were unveiled at an architectural forum by Fair Park First, the nonprofit selected to transform and manage Fair Park’s transformation.
The elements of the proposed transformation are ambitious and have great potential for Fair Park, the surrounding neighborhoods and Dallas. But, as I listened to the presentation, I wondered: Will this be a boon for the surrounding neighborhoods — or the beginning of their ends? In 25 years, will urban historians and sociologists write about how Dallas’ Fair Park transformation and rejuvenation prompted Dallas to invest in and reinvigorate the surrounding single-family home neighborhoods or will they write how Fair Park First created such a successful Fair Park that it attracted massive development next to Fair Park, wiping out the historically black single-family home neighborhoods.
The Fair Park First leadership stressed the neighborhood involvement as plans were developed to create vibrant year-round local, national and international venues, a greener and friendlier reconfiguration of the Fair Park campus, and with new entrances better relating to and connecting with the surrounding neighborhoods. The unanswered question: If Fair Park First is successful, will the surrounding single-family home neighborhoods benefit or suffer?
Fair Park First Makes a Compelling Case for Successful Transformation
Fair Park First made a convincing and compelling case for its plans that include moving back fences to make room for perimeter neighborhood parks, removing acres of surface parking, and in short making Fair Park a beautiful and desirable destination that will attract millions of visitors and spawn a huge amount of revenue and development for Dallas. In the short-term Fair Park will benefit the surrounding neighborhoods by providing additional amenities and parks, and becoming more inviting to those in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Fair Park First Stressed Neighborhood Involvement to Counteract Smoldering Resentment
There is a smoldering resentment and mistrust in the Fair Park neighborhoods towards Dallas and Fair Park for removing 350 primarily Black-owned single-family homes in the 1960s to make room for expanded Fair Park surface parking lots. As a result, Fair Park First CEO Brian Luallen and the Fair Park First board made it a priority to involve all the surrounding neighborhoods in the process of planning a rejuvenated Fair Park. The presentation by the Fair Park First panel frequently referenced the 200 meetings panel members had in church basements and meeting halls with people from 23 Fair Park neighborhoods to determine what the Fair Park neighborhoods wanted for Fair Park. Fair Park First even invited children to Fair Park to draw color pictures of what the younger generation wanted at Fair Park. With neighborhood input, roads and front gates were adjusted, perimeter parks were planned with all-weather outdoor ping-pong tables and fast internet connections so children could do their homework or play video games at Fair Park. Fair Park neighborhoods lack these high-speed connections so that’s an important offering for these residents.
Fair Park First Assembled an Allstar Team of Architects, Community Planners, Constructions Firms and Business Leaders
The team assembled for Fair Park First is comprised of many of Dallas’ most talented and brightest architects, including Overland Partners and Perkins & Will, contractors, and community leaders. Those involved in Fair Park First have received decades of professional and civic honors for their professional skills and contributions to the community.
The Overall Fair Park First Masterplan was Presented by Ron Stelmarski of Perkins & Will
Ron Stelmarski, Design Director for Perkins & Will, is overseeing the new masterplan for Fair Park First. He presented the vision for how the activities and venues of the Fair Park campus would relate to each other and the surrounding neighborhoods. Fair Park will look familiar because of all the historically significant buildings, but it will look and interact with visitors in a much different and better way.
Hotels are Supporting a New 2% Room Tax to go to the Key Building Venues Generating Visitors at Fair Park
Even in its current downtrodden condition, Fair Park is the second leading generator of Dallas visitors. Once Fair Park First has $500 million invested on enhanced design by talented international architects, one can only imagine the popularity of this Fair Park destination.
Overland Partners Senior Interior Designer Katie Miles Presented Plans for Three Main Venues
Katie Miles is a Senior Interior Designer for Overland Partners, which is the architectural firm with the most robust national stadium architecture practice in the country. She showed exhilarating concept renderings of three of the main buildings that will receive funds from the the 2% hotel tax dedicated to Fair Park.
Fair Park – Cotton Bowl
Currently, one admires the Art Deco-designed Cotton Bowl and enjoys ascending the terrace steps to the entrance of the Cotton Bowl, to then be faced with what looks and feels like a mechanical basement. Katie Miles presented the rendering of the new Cotton Bowl interior that shows how the Fair Park Art Deco aesthetic will permeate the interior experience, along with incorporating the technology that relates to new ways people interact with sports and other events. This will be a 21st century stadium that will have the largest capacity for international soccer matches and other huge events.
Fair Park – Band Shell
The legendary Art Deco bandshell, former home of the Dallas Shakespeare Festival, often starring actor T.A. Taylor, will also be transformed. Inspired by the bandshell Art Deco design, its seating will have a curved shade and rain canopy, making this venue much more attractive for a new calendar of events.
Fair Park – Coliseum
I have to say that I like the way the current coliseum is presently. Just like I think a hamburger tastes better at a roadside diner than one would find at a fast food restaurant, I think a 4-H livestock competition or cutting horse competition is always better in this original coliseum. That said, the new plans will expand its allure and usage beyond what appeals to sentimentalists like me.
All in all, I was very enthusiastic about the plans, approach, and design of Fair Park First.
Fair Park First, So Far So Good – What Can Go Wrong?
At the conclusion of presentation, I asked a question of the panel and the answer perplexed me. The more the Fair Park First leadership expanded their answer, the more dismayed I became. The more I thought about this answer, the more despondent I have become about the future of the single-family home neighborhoods surrounding Fair Park.
Fair Park First – Question
Is Fair Park First advocating for the preservation of Fair Park neighborhood single-family homes or the building of new single-family homes in the surrounding neighborhoods of Fair Park?
Fair Park First – Answer
Both the Fair Park First CEO and the Fair Park First president made it very clear that Fair Park First is staying neutral on any type of development that takes place in the neighborhoods surrounding Fair Park. They said their only mission is to transform and manage Fair Park. This position is understandable as they are responsible for only what goes into the Fair Park campus.
Fair Park First Stated No One Expressed Interest in Future Single Family Neighborhood Homes
Fair Park First leadership explained they had not heard from a single person or group in any of the Fair Park neighborhoods express that they wanted single-family homes preserved or built in their Fair Park neighborhoods. I have no reason to doubt that in 200 meetings of people from 23 Fair Park neighborhoods no one mentioned a desire to preserve their single-family home neighborhoods. They might not have thought their single-family homes were in jeopardy, or they might have hoped the development would lead investors to come in and buy their property at a fantastically high price, or maybe it didn’t come up since the conversation was solely on what would go in the Fair Park campus. However, it is interesting that this topic was not brought up, because how Fair Park is designed should be based partly in response to how leaders anticipate the project will affect the 23 surrounding Fair Park neighborhoods.
What Will the Surrounding Fair Park Neighborhoods Become?
Should the new design of the Fair Park campus be the same regardless of how the surrounding neighborhood is preserved or redeveloped?
Here are three potential outcomes for the surrounding neighborhoods:
- Single-family home neighborhoods are preserved, renovated, and the city invests in new curbs, sidewalks, parkways, trees, good infrastructure, and fast internet connections consistent with Preston Hollow, Greenway Parks, and Highland Park that make these neighborhoods increasingly attractive to current homeowners and new homebuyers.
- The city of Dallas, like it has in other southern Dallas neighborhoods, blue-lines the area, designating it for city, state, and federal funds to subsidize the purchase of land and construction of new low-income tax credit apartments and new developer-subsidized mixed income apartments.
- Fair Park becomes an international event destination, spurring developers and investors to buy up land to develop high-rise offices and high-rise residences near all the activities generated at Fair Park.
Flourishing Fair Park Single-Family Home Neighborhoods
If the city decided to invest millions of dollars into the neighborhood infrastructure and physical amenities rather than subsidize developers to build more apartments, the Fair Park single-family neighborhoods could enjoy a wave of single-family home renovations and new homes in-filling the vacant lots. Flourishing single-family home neighborhoods would give a lovely backdrop to the vitality of Fair Park. This outcome, however, is apparently very unlikely if there is no proactive plan to advocate for and to enhance the single-family home neighborhoods or preserve and build new single-family homes in the Fair Park neighborhoods.
More Developer Subsidized Apartments at Fair Park Neighborhoods
It is interesting that the Fair Park First leadership seemed enthusiastic about a new apartment development that was being built in one of the Fair Park neighborhoods. Like many, they described this new apartment development as “mixed income,” as if this is a moral magic dust to sprinkle over neighborhoods to justify single-family homes to be torn down or vacant land to be devoted to more subsidized density. This is the most likely but worst potential outcome for Fair Park neighborhoods. There is a reason architect and retired city planner Daryl Baker is suing Dallas for continuing to subsidize approved apartment development in southern Dallas. In a neighborhood with too much affordable housing, the neighborhood really needs more single-family homes. Low income and mixed income apartments, developers and civic leaders argue, will provide more affordable housing. In fact, each one of these new apartment units cost more to build per square foot than it costs to build or renovate a single-family home per square foot. This sort of development does not offer the charm or safety that will be attractive to visitors from Highland Park (who can drive just a mile and a half down Fitzhugh directly from their Highland Park homes to Fair Park.) For that matter, mass apartments also will not be attractive to national or international visitors to Fair Park.
A New Fair Park Residential and Commercial Center
High-rise office buildings and high-rise residential buildings like in the Dallas Arts District interspersed with restaurants showcasing famed chefs and retail stores of the caliber of Knox-Henderson, Highland Park Village and NorthPark might be the secret holy grail wish and ambition of our Dallas leadership for the Fair Park neighborhoods. If Fair Park First is wildly successful, then the area around Fair Park might be fertile ground for international development.
Dallas Should Anticipate that Fair Park First Will Generate a 21st Century Urban Renewal, Tearing out the Surrounding Neighborhoods
Urban renewal over the last 100 years has come in many forms. Roads have been built through minority neighborhoods. Liberal reformers have said the housing conditions of minority-owned homes are not up to their standards and need to be demolished so new government housing can be built. The government has given developers the money to buy inexpensive homes if they will tear them down and build new affordable or mixed-use housing. The city and HUD have guaranteed that they will buy back the land acquisition cost and apartments if the new development replacing inexpensive rundown houses is not successful. This is a newer type of urban renewal. Invest in a neighborhood and developers will come. Arron M. Renn wrote in New Geography.com an article titled “Why Many Poor Neighborhoods Fear Development.” Renn was surprised the first time he heard about activists in poor communities opposing investment in their parks. They were worried about displacement or inequity in what they call “green gentrification.” Fair Park First would turn out to be the ultimate green gentrification – investment in parks that generates displacement of the existing neighborhood residents.
$500 Million to Transform Fair Park Could Create a New Expensive District Surrounding Fair Park
If a relatively lackluster American Airlines Arena could generate high-rise development in a quasi-entertainment district on land that is already expensive, imagine what the development of a true international destination would attract with the cheapest land around it. How could Fair Park single-family homes possibly compete with an international investment appetite for the hottest new entertainment district west of Miami and east of Las Vegas?
Just In Case this is not a Dallas Urban Renewal Project
Over some or all of the next 14 years, as Fair Park First completes the transformation of the Fair Park campus, the intermediary phases will be implemented and Fair Park will benefit the surrounding Fair Park neighborhoods. If there is a “Hail Mary” chance the city wants to preserve some or all of the single-family home neighborhoods surrounding Fair Park, steps should be taken now.
- Determine the inventory of single-family homes currently in the 23 Fair Park neighborhoods
- Determine how many of the Fair Park single-family homes or neighborhoods can or should be preserved?
- Determine how many Fair Park neighborhoods are eligible for historic or conservation district zoning like the Swiss Avenue Historic District or the Belmont Conservation District in other parts of Dallas?
- Determine what city, state or federal funds are available to enhance the streetscapes and infrastructure (including fast internet connections) are available for the Fair Park single-family home neighborhoods?
- Determine if the city will place a moratorium on subsidizing developments to build apartments in the Fair Park neighborhoods, which creates unfair competition with Fair Park homebuyers?
- Determine if Dallas will prevent short-term rentals in the Fair Park neighborhoods so investors cannot build new 10-bedroom rooming houses with a single-family home permit?
- Determine what portion of the current neighborhoods are zoned single family?
- Determine what areas are planned to be rezoned potentially for new hotels, high-rise residences or office towers?
There need to be advocates for Fair Park single-family home neighborhoods if the neighborhoods have any chance for survival. Maybe these advocates for the existing single-family neighborhoods around Fair Park are already out there. If so, these people need to make themselves known to Fair Park First and Dallas.
Organic Urbanism is Better than Urban Renewal
Organic Urbanism treats a city or a neighborhood more like a garden than a tough urban environment that can be manipulated or legislated to conform to a planner’s wishes. Just like a garden might have tall trees, understory trees, sun-loving plants, sun-loving flowers, shade-loving plants, or groomed lawns that evolve, cities or neighborhoods can have a wide range of uses that evolve. Just as gardens grow, decay and are rejuvenated, the same can happen to neighborhoods. It is exciting that Fair Park First has such an exciting plan to transform and rejuvenate Fair Park. This could spawn the renovation of existing homes and exciting new development. If the city and Fair Park First is truly neutral on development, then organically the best neighborhoods will survive and the best development will take place. If the leadership of Fair Park First and the city management continues to subsidize developers to build apartments, rather than invest in the infrastructure of the neighborhoods, Dallas will experience the blandest urban renewal possible around Fair Park. If the city does not spend money on the infrastructure and the beautification of Fair Park like they do in North Dallas or even East Dallas neighborhoods, then the Fair Park single-family homes will continue to wither and go away. The current low land prices of Fair Park will be a financial rounding errors for international developers taking advantage of the investment and success of Fair Park First. In 25 years will urban historians and sociologists be writing about Dallas’ Fair Park 21st century urban renewal wiping out minority neighborhoods? Or should there be an effort now to combine single-family home preservation, new single-family homes, and the highest quality development to surround Fair Park. 21st century urban renewal might be the best outcome for the Fair Park neighborhoods, but if it is not, then proactive steps to find a better solution for the Fair Park neighborhoods should be taken now.