Dallas Considers Public-Private Partnership Plan for Texas State Fair Park

Published September 29, 2016

Dallas, Texas lawmakers are considering community members’ arguments in support of and in opposition to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ proposal to create a public-private partnership to improve the quality of maintenance and renovation of Fair Park, a government recreation area built in 1904.

In late August, the Dallas City Council held a public hearing on Rawlings’ plan to hand over control of the 277-acre park, at which the State Fair of Texas is held annually in September and October, to a nonprofit organization to be established by the city government.

If city lawmakers approve the plan, the private organization will receive government funding as payment for managing and renovating the park’s attractions and facilities, such as Big Tex, an iconic 55-foot tall talking statue used for public announcements at the fair.

Various Reasons for Partnerships

Stephen Goldsmith, professor of government at Harvard University, says city lawmakers consider public-private partnerships (P3s) for many different reasons.

“A city may do it because the outsourced entity has fundraising capacity,” Goldsmith said. “A city may do it because the outsourced entity has particular technical ability. They may do it because they have more technology available to bring to bear on a public problem.”

Goldsmith says P3s benefit taxpayers.

“If a city has demands that it can’t meet because of either resources or personnel, then public-private partnerships are a great way to improve quality of service and often to reduce costs at the same time,” Goldsmith said.

Moving Away from Monopolies

Simon Hakim, a professor of economics at Temple University, says P3s can do wonders for taxpayers.

“There’s no miracle in moving from public to private,” Hakim said. “The miracle, if I can call it a miracle, is to move from monopoly to competition. First of all, you’re going to get efficient production. Second, if something goes wrong and they have to get out, the government is not in big trouble. Other companies could pick up or the government could pick up that part of the project.”

Dreaming Big for Big Tex

Hakim says he can imagine a self-sufficient future for Fair Park.

“People don’t come to a park that is completely open,” Hakim said. “They like to sit, drink coffee, have a small meal, rent a bike. People don’t sit in the middle of the grass and watch the scenery for eight hours, but if you offer a restaurant, a small coffee shop, or [the chance to] rent a bicycle, what do you do? First of all, you encourage people to go there. Second, you develop revenue sources to manage that park.

“If you offer opportunities within the park which are completely natural revenue sources, you can keep a high-level quality of services, because the vendors generate the revenue to trim the trees and cut the lawn, and they make the park more viable and accessible to people,” Hakim said.