By Michael Hubbard
For years South Dallas/Fair Park has longed for community revitalization and economic development. Both have been absent in this part of the city for a very long time. Contrary to popular belief, there were once businesses that flourished in the neighborhoods surrounding Fair Park that were not associated with fast food or liquor. I remember running Saturday morning errands as a boy with my mother. Our jaunts included trips to the hardware and shoe stores on Second Ave. and stops at the furniture, grocery and drug stores located in the strip mall at Hatcher and Second. There was not one but two movie theaters to choose from, the Lagow Theater and the historic Forest Theater. But those days are long gone and the businesses I mentioned are nothing more than distant memories.
While neighborhoods in West Dallas and Oak Cliff are getting dressed up for the big dance, South Dallas/Fair Park is the forgotten step child waiting for Prince Charming to invite them to the ball. The disturbing lack of economic development in the South Dallas/ Fair Park area is puzzling when you consider the close proximity to downtown, I-45, I-75 and I-30. Sure, there are challenges when it comes to attracting businesses to this area, but are they any different from the ones that face The Bishop Arts District, Ft. Worth Ave. and West Dallas?
The GrowSouth Initiative was an integral component of the campaign strategy for City of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, and I applaud Mayor Rawlings for making southern Dallas a priority during his tenure. But the omission of South Dallas/Fair Park from those plans speaks volumes to the kind of leadership these neighborhoods have been entrusted to.
For years South Dallas/Fair Park has been known for the “Pay to Play” philosophy of its elected officials and community leaders. Over the years that philosophy has produced nothing more than scandal and has directly contributed to the stagnant state of the South Dallas/Fair Park community. What we are seeing today is the decision of developers not to “play”. They have opted to take their projects and their capital to areas and communities that are easier to work with. Areas where the leadership is willing to build partnerships that become win-win situations for all those involved. South Dallas/Fair Park has literally been left in the dust while the rest of Southern Dallas is surging. There is even talk of making Jefferson Ave. the “Main St.” of South Dallas. MLK Jr. Blvd. makes more sense to me, but apparently the “gatekeepers” for South Dallas/Fair Park don’t see the value in that designation and the development sure to accompany it.
Residents of South Dallas/Fair Park must realize that much more can be accomplished through active neighborhood associations (i.e. Sunset Hills Association of Neighbors, Westmoreland Heights Neighborhood Association) as opposed to the outdated, strong-arm tactics favored by their “leadership”. It’s time to implement strategies that include collaborative partnerships. Maybe then the landscape in South Dallas/Fair Park will begin to change. I can only hope so.