He'd be happy to sing the blues
SUPA class helps alumnus with plans to revitalize Dallas neighborhood
Ed Harris doesn’t want to go home again. At least not to the South Dallas he remembers. That’s why he’s pushing to turn his old stomping grounds into the hub of Dallas nightlife.
Harris, a 1982 alumnus of the School of Urban and Public Affairs, envisions the area around Fair Park blossoming with clubs, eateries and entertainment venues that will revive his former neighborhood, once known for its jazz and blues artists, while giving Dallasites and tourists something to do. And somewhere to spend money.
“We’re not doing it for political or financial reasons. And guess what? I’m having fun,” Harris said. “We’re getting people involved who have never been involved in anything in their lives except work and church.”
He got his alma mater involved, too. Five students in Professor Ardeshir Anjomani’s spring 2003 graduate-level urban planning class—part of the University’s Center for Economic Development, Research and Service—worked alongside Harris. Those students have now moved on, leaving Harris as the main drumbeater for redevelopment.
“We’re not making any money off the visitors, because we don’t have anything to make them stay,” he said. “We have to be included in the visitors bureau [literature]. When they go out and market the city, we have to be marketed. We’re competing with San Antonio and Houston. We have to upgrade and get people to spend their money.”
Harris’ biggest backers have been nonprofit groups such as the Dallas Chamber of Commerce, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (his former employer) and the Department of Labor. So far, more paperwork has been filed than buildings refurbished, but Harris said that will change once he assembles his allies, including, he hopes, local politicians Leo Chaney Jr., John Wiley Price and Eddie Bernice Johnson.
The model they’ll be using is Memphis, Tenn., the “Home of the Blues,” which turned a rundown district into a pulsing place with international recognition. Harris and his team recently visited Memphis. “They’re all working together on the same page,” he said. “It’s not happening here, and it’s not happening anywhere like I saw there.”
The NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones have identified Fair Park as their top choice for a $650 million stadium, which Harris said would speed up the process and create “a lot of spin-off.” It also means that he’d have more work to do in planning for an upgrade of that size. He would welcome the Cowboys but fears getting overlooked in bond issues.
“Jerry went out and made money,” Harris said. “Now we’ve got to go out and make ours.”
In the funding area, Dr. Anjomani’s class suggested a four-phase plan, beginning with securing bonds and lining up low-risk investors. Several of his other classes have worked on similar projects in inner-city neighborhoods.
But Harris, who also earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from UTA, said more help is needed from Fair Park citizens. He plans to go before the Dallas City Council several more times and doesn’t want to be the only one in front of the microphone.
“The residents need to come out and say, ‘We want this,’ ” he said. “They can all remain here—we’re just going to give them a new place. We’re trying to save the neighborhood. We need to upgrade the housing and get them a higher standard of living.
“I don’t care who lives there, if they’re black or white or whatever. I just
want them to buy a cone in our ice cream parlor.”
— Danny Woodward