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Commentary: Klyde Warren Park gives Dallas a new place to pin its hopes

Posted 11:26am on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012

Are we world-class yet?

It seems that question comes up every other week as the city of Dallas pulls the curtain back on some big project designed to make the planet perk up and say, "Damn! Dallas has got it goin' on. Move over, Paris."

In the past couple of years, we've had the opening of the stylistically disconnected Winspear Opera House, Wyly Theater and City Performance Hall in the Arts District and the completion of the swooping Santiago Calatrava-designed Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. Just last weekend, Dallas premiered its latest gambit for urban street cred and global shock-and-awe: Klyde Warren Park, the $111.7 million green space built on a deck spanning the Woodall Rodgers Freeway.

Downtown and Uptown Dallas have long been separated by a trench of noisy, smelly traffic, but they are now linked by this five-acre civic front lawn. After years of trying, Dallas might finally have its meeting place, its beating heart.

You could almost sniff the ambition Saturday, the first of a two-day opening celebration. Between the kids' treehouse, yoga sessions, chess matches, mini dog park, ubiquitous food trucks, fireworks, performances from Trombone Shorty and the Polyphonic Spree, and throngs of the curious (an estimated 40,000 were expected to have trooped through by weekend's end), visions of a scaled-down version of NYC's Central Park or Chicago's Millennium Park may have been dancing in some organizers' heads.

But we've been down this road before. Back in 2007, Victory Park -- $3 billion worth of ultra-contemporary entertainment/retail/office/residential sprawl surrounding the American Airlines Center -- was touted as Dallas' new focal point, our Times Square. Even The New York Times rhapsodized that it "looks like something out of Blade Runner on a sunny day."

While the apartments and office space reportedly are doing well, stores and eateries have come and gone faster than a Justin Bieber fan at a Slayer concert. And the plaza that was to be the city's front room is mostly empty much of the time, a bleak reminder that reality often has to play catch-up with creativity.

Victory Park was badly set up as a public gathering space from the start. Seemingly separated from the rest of the city by a lasso of freeways, parking remains a mystery for most who aren't familiar with the area, and the DART line's Victory stop is not optimally situated. The result is that Dallasites will come down for special occasions -- BigDNYE on New Year's Eve, a concert or game at AAC -- but not just to hang out.

With luck, the well-designed Klyde Warren Park won't suffer a similar fate. Certainly, on Saturday it seemed much more welcoming, already a part of the fabric of the city. People streamed in on foot and trolley from Uptown and downtown. It helped that designers couldn't have mail-ordered a sunnier, prettier day.

Reportedly, the city of Los Angeles has been inquiring about how to transform one of its many freeways in such a dramatic fashion.

Yet something keeps tugging at me, suggesting that we may be in for more of the same, that once the novelty wears off, the park will become another empty field of unrealized dreams. I hope I'm wrong.

Still, Dallas does have two more chances to burnish its world-class credentials. Dec. 1 is the grand unveiling of the punishingly post-modern Perot Museum of Nature and Science, that giant metallic cube that has been looming over the Woodall Rodgers for months now.

And there's a bid being put together for Dallas to host the Olympics in 2024, organized by local attorney Matt Wood, who was involved in Sydney's successful bid for the 2000 games.

At least one of these has to work out, right? Paris, are you listening?

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