During the debate over Fair Park’s future, questions have been raised at Dallas City Hall over how involved someone from the Park Cities should be in Dallas city affairs.
At a city council briefing Aug. 29, Scott Griggs, representative of District 1, challenged University Park resident Walt Humann to move to Dallas within one year if he wants to run Fair Park.
Humann, who founded the Fair Park Texas Foundation, will serve as chairman of a nine-person board that will manage Fair Park through a public-private partnership with the city if council approves his plan. But Griggs said he “would like to see all Dallas residents on the board.”
His stipulation was not far out of line with concerns raised by other councilmembers over transparency, representation of Fair Park’s neighboring communities, and a private outfit’s lack of accountability to South Dallas constituencies.
But Humann shrugged off Griggs’ challenge as “just politics downtown.”
Humann, who is a former Hunt Oil executive, argues that his decades of civic engagement in South Dallas should matter more than where he lives.
“I’ve been volunteering for 35 to 40 years in Dallas,” Humann said, citing his contributions to desegregating education in Dallas by starting DISD’s magnet schools, creating DART, and revitalizing Jubilee Park. “No one has ever raised any question,” he said, about where he is from.
In fact, he is from Oak Cliff. He says he only moved to Highland Park because he “went to law school at SMU and only had one car.”
Laying down an ultimatum the way Griggs did “sends a chilling effect to people like myself,” Humann said. “And it is disrespectful of people in the Park Cities that have contributed to Dallas.”
But the contributions of the Park Cities philanthropic community to South Dallas have not always been viewed as well directed. The Dallas Morning News published an editorial in August by Ellen Williams, a trustee of the Foundation for Community Empowerment, who argued that “Humann’s plan enables a handful of elites to subjugate this Dallas treasure for another 30 years.”
Her criticism stems from the documented history of Dallas’ white ruling elite pushing poor black communities south of Fair Park.
However, these are the very things Humann criticizes about the management of Fair Park. He says racial discrimination and the use of eminent domain are evidence that the city has not served South Dallas well, and maintains that the only way to save Fair Park is through private donorship.
“Overt racism and discrimination has taken place,” he said. “We’ve neglected [Fair Park]’s surrounding communities. When we get this thing opened up and revitalized, we’ve got to get rid of the bottleneck in Jubilee Park, Dolphin Heights, Mill City.”
He says his first priority for Fair Park is to create an eight-acre park on Cullum Boulevard, which is currently taken over by parking lots.
City council agrees that the neglect of Fair Park has gone on too long, but several councilmembers insisted the surrounding areas deserve greater representation on Humann’s board. (As it stands, the board has one of nine seats allotted to a member of the Fair Park community.)
Mayor Mike Rawlings has pushed for city officials to get on board with Humann’s plan.
“If this doesn’t happen, this doesn’t happen for the next 20 years. It just won’t. It’s taken too much work, we’re too close,” he said in his closing remarks at the Aug. 29 briefing. “People are going to look back and say this was a critical point in Dallas’ life.”
Council is under the clock now to at least gesture towards approval of Humann’s plan by the end of September by fitting Humann’s requested expenditure for Fair Park ($11.5 million for the first year) into their budget for the fiscal year. At press time, the budget had not been set.