Brian Luallen Touts Fair Park Initiatives, Advocacy

Fair Park First CEO Brian Luallen
Fair Park First CEO Brian Luallen | Image by Fair Park First

Almost five years into his tenure as the chief executive officer of Fair Park First — the organization that oversees operations at Dallas’ historic landmark — Brian Luallen already has a reason to celebrate.

“We spent roughly two years engaged in advocacy that resulted in [a] change in state law to facilitate Proposition A from last November,” Luallen told The Dallas Express.

“It passed with over 70% of the public vote. Sen. Royce West headed that, and those efforts were pretty unique. I think if you can chalk up anything to an accomplishment for our organization during my time here, that is a huge one. To say Prop A is a game-changer is a radical understatement,” he said.

Since state legislators amended the Brimer Law, the passage of Proposition A is projected to generate more than $300 million through a 2% increase in the City’s hotel occupancy tax, which ticked up from 13% to 15%. That money is being allocated to the redevelopment of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center and renovations at Fair Park.

“Those efforts were pretty unique,” Luallen said. “Before that, municipal parks were excluded from using that funding mechanism. We could not have used that mechanism without that accommodation from the legislature. We see 6 million visitors a year. The State Fair of Texas each year alone draws 2 million.”

For Luallen, this is not just his job but his life.

“They recruited me as inaugural chief executive shortly after taking on management of the park,” he told DX. “We took control of the park as part of a public-private partnership in 2019, and they announced I was taking the role on July 15 of the same year. My background is in public-private partnerships, specifically in big events, and there is a model for success.”

Luallen has worked with Stone Mountain Park in Atlanta, Georgia; the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California; and the Witte Museum in San Antonio.

“I am fortunate enough to work on exactly what I love to do,” he said. “Fun to me is museums, concerts, festivals, events, and spending time in the great outdoors. Somewhere, there is a balance for me in very large crowds and large concerts and being outside climbing mountains. I’m also a pretty avid vinyl music collector.”

Luallen, 45, grew up in the “blue-collar area” near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

“It’s a lot like this area of Fair Park,” he told DX. “When I came to this area, what I knew is that if managed correctly, this could create a lot of opportunities for kids growing up like I did.”

In 2021, the Texas Commission on the Arts approved the Fair Park Cultural District. This designation allows it to “harness the power of cultural resources to stimulate economic development and community vitality.”

“Fair Park certainly has a history that is rather challenging,” Luallen said. “When we took on the park, we had somewhere in the neighborhood of $333 million in deferred maintenance. We are currently engaged in a very large capital campaign that will help address critical needs, including the Cotton Bowl, Music Hall, and Magnolia Lounge, which is a very historic and extensive renovation.”

The 277-acre National Historic Landmark also includes 11 organizations — Friends of Fair Park, Broadway Dallas, Dallas Sports Commission, Live Nation, State Fair of Texas, African American Museum, Dallas Historical Society, Children’s Aquarium, DAR House, Texas Discovery Gardens, and WRR Radio.

“Dallas is not alone in having historic sites that need significant improvement,” Luallen told DX. “It’s very common, whether in the public sector or private sector, for people to say, ‘If only a philanthropist would come along and write one big check and solve all the problems,’ but that is unfair. These are publicly owned assets. The Dallas City Council just approved $140 million for the Cotton Bowl.”

However, Fair Park First has raised $44 million of a $115 million philanthropic campaign separate from what Proposition A is expected to generate, Luallen said.

“It’s pretty significant,” he noted. “No organization has raised that amount of capital on the park in many decades. I take a certain amount of pride in having a hand in shaping an organization that has the capacity … for what it can be in the region. People talk about Fair Park like it’s a crown jewel. And it is. There’s nothing quite like it in the world.”

Luallen said he expects Fair Park to become more than an occasional or annual attraction.

“The State Fair happens here, but not a whole lot happens in the surrounding community,” he said. “This is a pretty unique opportunity to do right by a historic site that honestly deserves better funding and better treatment than in the past. The park has always had a chicken and egg problem.”

“The condition of the facilities is, frankly, quite poor. Any success that I have had here over the last five years is capturing the public and private imagination to work as a team,” he said.

Fair Park First partners include OVG 360, Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, In the City for Good, Rise360, Studio-MLA, and K Strategies.

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