Fair Park First hopes partnering with Sunny South Dallas Food Park will create a welcoming space for Black neighbors

By Jeffrey Ruiz, Report for America Corps Member
Dallas, TX | Government accountability in South Dallas and West Dallas

December 9, 2022

South Dallas

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The Sunny South Dallas Food Park returns this Sunday, Dec. 11, with the sweet smells of baked goods, new apparel and holiday gift ideas. Sunny South Dallas is the food park’s new name and its new location, at Grand Place in Fair Park, is the result of its new partnership with Fair Park First, the private entity hired to run the city-owned Fair Park.

A Sunny South Dallas Food Park A-frame sign directs visitors to the food park at the Grand Place up Grand Avenue on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. It was the food park’s grand opening day with their new partnership with Fair Park First. Photo by Jeffrey Ruiz

Organizers say November’s event had a strong turnout, but some community leaders want Fair Park First to do more to attract Black neighbors who historically have been excluded from Fair Park.

“What they’re doing is admirable, but they need to have more marketing and more power in terms of getting people to come out,” Hank Lawson says. He’s a member of the Pointe South Revitalization Committee, an organized group of residents, church leaders and landowners in the South Dallas neighborhood pushing back against crime and bad behavior. 

Lawson is rooting for Sunny South Dallas Food Park founder Desire “Dee” Powell. The Do Right By The Streets urban planner was hired by Better Block to create the MLK Food Park with a grant from The Real Estate Council. The first several food park events were at MLK and Holmes in early spring 2021.

Powell later hosted more iterations of the food park across from the MLK Community Center, then moved it to Fair Park this summer because it had the infrastructure to support her plans to grow the event. But, Lawson doesn’t see the food park surviving unless Fair Park First “ponies up” money to help with marketing.

The food park is operating in a South Dallas environment where other events that could build and engage the community have “disappeared or haven’t come back strong enough,” Lawson says.

Vendors of the Sunny South Dallas Food Park sell their products to visitors inside the Grand Place on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. There were a total of 23 vendors, 21 of which were Black and Brown-owned businesses, at the food park’s grand opening. Some vendors were food trucks located outside the event space. Photo by Jeffrey Ruiz

Encouraging the Black community in South Dallas to come out to Fair Park is an uphill battle, Powell says.

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The history of Fair Park is one ”embedded in racist policies, motives, and hatred,” Powell notes on the Sunny South Dallas Food Park web page. Hundreds of Black families were forced out of their homes to make way for the massive park space in the 1960s and ’70s.

“Our intention is not to offer any mediation on Fair Park’s behalf because they were and still are very much responsible for the destruction of Black South Dallas — economically, financially, emotionally, and the possibility of generational wealth,” Powell says on the website.

However, she hopes that the food park can be a living example of Black excellence and history in South Dallas. That’s one of the reasons she decided to partner with Fair Park First.

Powell says she wants to “forge a relationship with a structure that’s caused so much damage to South Dallas but also provides a huge opportunity to pay homage to the Black history that exists in South Dallas.”

Before the partnership, the MLK food parks cost about $12,000 total for operation costs, and was paid for by Friends of Fair Park, South Dallas/Fair Park Public Improvement District and other community sponsors, Powell says. By partnering with Fair Park First, she says, the summer food park series operated for about $3,000 for all four dates. 

Video by Do Right By The Streets

Do Right By The Streets is now being paid by Fair Park First for the duration of the series continuing through 2023 to alleviate any additional costs, which keeps the vendor fees fairly priced and reduces Powell’s personal contribution. She says she’s put in about $1,000 of her own money. 

Aside from infrastructure, the partnership also gives Powell access to Fair Park First’s marketing and events team. However, the terms of that part of the deal have not been fully hashed out yet, Powell says. So, she’s pushing the events heavily on her own social media platforms and urban planning website, and sharing from vendors and local supporters.

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“It’s a great foundation,” Powell says. “No doubt because it’s all organic, literally, but the hope is that marketing does improve so that the food park is promoted on a big stage.”

Julian Bowman, senior director of marketing at Fair Park, says Fair Park has taken steps to engage with its South Dallas neighbors to acknowledge its negative history and change the perception of the fairgrounds without forgetting the past. The food park at Fair Park is one of those steps.

“This won’t be the last thing that we do that involves inviting people to the park in the community way,” Bowman says.

Fair Park First recently rolled out plans for an 18-acre community park that “will provide equitable access to the Jubilee Park, Owenwood, Dolphin Heights, Mill City, Frazier, Bertrand, RUFCO, and Wheatley Place neighborhoods,” according to its website. The community park is expected to open in summer 2024.

Ashley Wade, a pharmacist, author and vendor at the food park, says Fair Park has a negative connotation in the South Dallas community but sees Powell’s partnership as bringing accountability and a shining new light on the space for the community. 

“We’re showing up in our authenticity, and we’re coming for everything that’s ours,” Wade says.

She’s been a vendor since the original 2021 MLK Food Park and has managed to see growth during her time now with Sunny South Dallas Food Park.

“I was waiting on people to come a while back when we first got started,” Wade says. “Now, I’m so busy that I barely get a chance to eat. That also tells me that she’s [Powell] doing well, and the other vendors are doing well with their promotions.”

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Desiree Powell (second to right) speaks to South Dallas community members and vendors at the second community meeting at the Park South YMCA to discuss the partnership of the food park with Fair Park First on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022. This was the second community engagement effort by Do Right By The Streets, an urban planning and space activation firm, to answer questions and address complaints and concerns. The community meetings included the “folks” of South Dallas and demonstrated that “decisions can be made with them,” Ashley Wade (fourth from the left) says, a vendor at the food park. Alyssa Arnold (far-right), director of strategic initiatives at Fair Park First, attend both community meetings to also discuss the community park that will be constructed by 2024. Photo by Jeffrey Ruiz

Shanay Wise, owner of Catering Done Wisely, says the efforts from Powell and the vendors are growing stronger, but the food park needs the community to show up and support. She also has been a vendor from the beginning of the food park.

“The people at Fair Park First … they’re not the same as the people that were there that were keeping us separated from doing this kind of business in that space,” Wise says. “So different owners deserve a chance.”

Wise acknowledges that she’s heard complaints from new vendors who were disappointed by the turnout, but she says the food park still needs more time to be built out before it sees an influx of community members and visitors from the metro area.

The recurring barrier that keeps Black South Dallas from attending is the fair’s history, Powell says,  but the community needs to see it for themselves to believe that the permanent space at Fair Park was curated for them.

“You’re well within your right to be skeptical,” Wade says. “You can either sit in that, or you can come see what it’s about.” 

The Sunny South Dallas Food Park has 2023 dates lined up once a month, March through July. Black and Brown-owned businesses or community organizations of different trades can contact Powell to be a vendor for the upcoming food parks.

Editor’s note: Dallas Free Press partnered with the MLK Food Park in earlier iterations, receiving a complimentary spot for our pop-up newsroom to promote our South Dallas texting service to attendees, who received $5 tokens that they could spend at local vendor booths.

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  1. “she hopes that the food park can be a living example of Black excellence and history in South Dallas. ” so the focus will be on just engaging the Black community rather than trying to attract Dallasites of all colors. Segregation rises