Maybe Big Tex is actually waving goodbye to Fair Park.
Fairgoers might get that impression after taking a digital questionnaire this year at State Fair of Texas kiosks in the park. The survey asks some patrons, "How likely would you be to attend the State Fair of Texas if the location was moved out of Fair Park?"
That question is especially conspicuous as the State Fair has come under increasing scrutiny by some Dallas officials, who are weighing Fair Park’s future and whether to turn it over to a private manager.
But State Fair spokeswoman Karissa Condoianis said the question has no hidden agenda and isn’t meant to signal that the State Fair is exploring other sites. Fair officials "don’t have any intentions of moving" after 130 years at Fair Park, she said.
"Just given the current environment, we’re just making sure we knew where our fairgoers’ opinions were on it," she said.
The survey results will ultimately be a reflection of a self-selected sample of people who visit the State Fair, want a chance to win $1,000 and have a few minutes on their hands. Survey-takers also are asked to answer other questions, such as whether they came with other people, how long their trip was, how old they are and whether they feel safe at the fair.
Fairgoers fill out a survey with the chance to win a prize in one of the automobile buildings at the State Fair of Texas in Fair Park in Dallas Thursday, Oct, 12, 2017.
The survey asks some respondents an alternative question: whether they agree that the city should work with the State Fair to keep it at Fair Park another 130 years.
Condoianis said State Fair officials thought the survey results "would be interesting" and could give them data to make decisions in the future.
The State Fair’s contract with the city runs through at least 2028. But the fair’s longer-term status has been thrown in some doubt recently. Some City Council members have wondered aloud whether the city should seek to declare the fair in breach of its contract and try to renegotiate terms — although the city attorney has said he hasn’t been presented evidence that constitutes a breach.
The critics, both inside and outside City Hall, have consistently raised questions about whether the State Fair has lived up to its obligations to take care of Fair Park and its historic structures. Former Trammell Crow CEO Don Williams has also questioned whether the weeks of setup and the 24 days dedicated to rides, events and fried foods directly and indirectly hurt the impoverished surrounding neighborhoods.
In the face of the criticism, the fair has been putting more money into community initiatives and recently reached an agreement with the Park and Recreation Department on how to calculate its "excess revenues" that are designated for Fair Park’s upkeep. The fair also agreed to reimburse the city for overtime for its Dallas police security detail. But some council members still want the fair to pay the full tab, not just overtime.
One of those council members, Scott Griggs, said the fair has "Big Tex waving howdy with one hand, and his other hand is in the pocket of taxpayers." So he said he wasn’t surprised the fair was asking about other locations in the survey.
"Nothing the State Fair does surprises me," Griggs said.
Dallas Park Board President Bobby Abtahi, former chairman of the Friends of Fair Park, bemoaned that the debate over the fair has become the new local "culture war," which he believes is unnecessary. He said he didn’t fault the nonprofit for asking the question and believed it was smart to see how customers would react to the idea.
"We would be fools to think they don’t have other options," he said.
Abtahi said that he would put up a fight to keep the State Fair in Dallas and that any other city eyeing the fair is "mistaken" to think Dallas won’t step up.
But outside the political debate at City Hall, the question didn’t seem to alarm survey-takers at the fair on a recent afternoon.
Jocelyn Hodges, 15, who has attended the fair for several years, said she didn’t care if it was in Dallas.
"It would be kind of cool if it moved around to different cities every year," she said.
Garland resident Thomas Economos, 34, said he probably wouldn’t want to go to the fair if it moved farther away. Fort Worth, for instance, would be too long a drive, he said.
Daniel Gamba, 23, a Colombian who was visiting the fair with Economos, said he hopes the city keeps it at Fair Park and in Dallas.
"It’s a nice time to share with your family," he said. "That’s the point of every society, right? Family."