Park board votes to turn Fair Park over to private company

Dallas Fair Park and who runs it may be changing soon.

The proposed public-private partnership to manage Fair Park was hotly debated for about eight hours Thursday by the Parks and Recreations Board before voting to approve the proposal.

Craig Spivey opened the goat ranch in February, a colorful, eclectic mashup of beer garden and recreation area. It’s nestled between Fair Park and the Santa Fe Trail on I-30.

Spivey, who also runs a beer booth at the state fair, is rolling the dice that Fair Park and the surrounding neighborhood will clean up its act and become the attraction it has the potential to be.

“It seems like we are really hesitant to try to do any change or do anything new,” said Spivey.

His future and the future of a community rested in the Park and Recreation Board meeting.

One council member stormed out of the meeting over accusations of manipulation and trying to fast track the proposal without board members getting questions answered.

The accusations directed at the board president and at Walt Humann, a retired hunt oil executive who would head up the non-profit ‘Fair Park Texas Foundation’ that would manage the landmark with $400 million from the city over 20 years if the proposal is also approved by the city council.

“That is absolutely and categorically not correct,” Humann said. “And if you read the letter, I said we ought to hear views from both sides and then discuss them, but give the foundation the chance to sit at the same table.”

Spivey recently had a window busted and wants to see the area made safer. He said he wants to see any kind of progress happen with the park before he and others are forced to decide if they stay or go.

“I just keep my fingers crossed every day,” said Spivey. “I just want them to get to the resolution so we can start fixing it and start making it better.”

Mayor Mike Rawlings is in favor of turning over management over to a non-profit foundation. He said improvements to the Dallas Zoo are a good example of what can happen if the city will just get out of the way.

The city would still own the land, but the foundation would run the park with the promise of renovating and remaking it into a year-round attraction.

The 277 acre park opened in 1936 as part of the Texas Centennial celebration. It was recognized in 1986 as a National Historic Landmark.

However, its remarkable Art Deco buildings and architecture are in dire need of repair and the surrounding neighborhood is poverty stricken with high unemployment and an image problem.

Improvements are estimated to cost about $181 million.

The proposal will now be sent to the city council for a vote.