By Sriya Reddy
Now that the city of Dallas’ Proposition A has passed with almost 70% of voters approving, residents and business owners in South Dallas are concerned about how the millions for Fair Park will impact the surrounding community.
The proposition increased hotel occupancy taxes by 2-percentage points (13% to 15%) in order to help pay for a new Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and the renovations of six historic buildings at Fair Park. It is projected that over the next 30 years, the city will receive $1.5 billion, $1.2 billion of which would go to the convention center, while $300 million would go toward Fair Park, making it the largest investment in the park’s history.
“While I am thankful that there will be some renovations done to Fair Park and Kay Bailey — and thus jobs created — I can’t help but think of the opportunity for funds to go to DISD schools or other initiatives to help the poor in our city,” said Billy Rose, a South Dallas resident and graduation counselor at Cornerstone Crossroads Academy. “I also think that these efforts will expedite already gentrifying areas, and those that will benefit the most won’t be those in the community currently.”
Under state law, revenue from the hotel occupancy tax increase can only be used for repaying bonds to fund a new downtown convention center and related projects, and to renovate the six Fair Park venues.
It wouldn’t be the first time Black and brown residents of Dallas have been concerned with possible gentrification. Residents of fast-growing areas like West Dallas and Oak Cliff face similar worries. While many South Dallas residents, like Rose, voted for Proposition A, they still wonder how this will change their communities.
“You do all this investment right next to our neighborhood, you don’t think that’s going to put pressure on us?” said Park Row resident Hank Lawson, retired executive director of South Fair Community Development Corporation. “Deep Ellum and State Thomas used to be Black neighborhoods, and what do we have to show for it?”
Deep Ellum was a bustling commerce street for Black and immigrant businesses and a spot for blues and jazz music in the early 20th century. By the end of the century, the original residents were pushed out through urbanization.
South Dallas has had a rocky relationship with Fair Park with segregation and displacement through eminent domain. Some residents don’t consider Fair Park as South Dallas at all. Despite the history of disinvestment in the area, local business owners and community leaders are excited about a new and improved Fair Park.
Lawson, who voted for the proposition, said he’s not against the proposition and the investment into Fair Park itself, but he shares Rose’s sentiment.
“We don’t have a problem with you spending $300 million on Fair Park,” Lawson said. “But if you don’t pay attention to our neighborhoods, you’re just going to run us out.”
Brian Luallen, CEO of Fair Park First, said while he’s mostly heard positive reactions from the community members, he understands Lawson’s and others’ trepidation.
“We hear those concerns,” Luallen said. “We have helped advocate for local and state protections for our legacy residents, and that’s very important. … We’ve really tried to fight hard for local protections.”
Community members are on the board of Fair Park First, and the nonprofit works with local organizations and businesses in the area. Luallen said that protections of property taxes have to be municipally supported, and he has been engaged in conversations with City Council members about these protections.
Nicole Sternes, co-owner of Southside Steaks and Cakes, a vendor at the State Fair, said Fair Park needs the money and the renovations. Sternes said she’s heard residents opine that money should go into neighborhoods instead, but that’s not the focus right now..
“That’s a sentiment that goes across the South Dallas area, but one thing about Fair Park is that it brings business to the whole community here, and it drives money for the economy,” Sternes said. “Now we do need to focus more on the community, but right now that’s not what was voted on the table.
Lakeesha Browne, who works at Mount Olive Lutheran Church near Fair Park, said she is looking forward to the investments in the community. Brown is a Collin County resident, but has seen the lack in South Dallas.
“There’s a need in that area for whatever investment is available,” Browne said. “It’s been long-awaited for the city to invest in South Dallas, and this is an innovative way to do it that’s not burdensome on residents.”
For Browne, she just hopes that the city will take effort to explain to residents how the money will be used in Fair Park.
In addition, other community members have been confused on why the convention center receives more money than Fair Park. Luallen said that this opportunity for a park to benefit from hotel occupancy taxes is an expectation, and these taxes are only used to drive tourism to a city.
“We’ve never been able to take advantage of this before with municipal parks, unfortunately, barred from using this funding mechanism,” he said. “We got Park right here in our name. It took this change thanks to our local legislators, and a lot of support from the park board and our City Council to help bring about this opportunity.”
He also is excited for what this could mean for the southern sector in terms of economic growth.
“This is a catalytic investment. We hope to see this bring in further investment for infrastructure in the surrounding community,” Luallen said. “This is a community that’s been underserved for a really long time. And we’re excited about this investment part, and we’re really hopeful and optimistic.”