Some Dallas City Council members say they support rebuilding the Kalita Humphreys Theater but want cheaper options than a recently proposed $308 million plan that also includes redevelopment of the 10-acre park that houses it.
Several elected officials who serve on the Quality of Life, Arts and Culture Committee said at their Tuesday meeting that the cost of the master plan released by the Dallas Theater Center earlier this month gave them pause. However, they acknowledge that without some serious investment in the 64-year-old theatre, it will be difficult to maintain.
“I don’t want to be the city that destroyed Frank Lloyd Wright,” council member Paula Blackmon said, referring to the famous architect who designed the Turtle Creek building. She suggested that the Dallas Theater Center focus on proposing alternative plans that focus on restoring the building to Wright’s original design, which is estimated to cost $52 million in the master plan, as well as reducing campus upgrades.
But the question of how much of the bill will be paid by taxpayers remains unclear.
Jennifer Altabef, chairman of the Dallas Theater Center board of directors, told a seven-member council committee that “it would be great” if the city planned to ask voters to approve up to $50 million in bonds that would be pooled with funding for other projects. in 2024. She said the Dallas Theater Center plans to enlist local theatres, artists, parks and urban planning advocates to offset the rest of the money through private donations.
She cited the need to refurbish the building to keep it operating as a working theatre, build more space for other bands to perform, and make better use of the space in William B. Dean Park as reasons why it could attract dollars.
“I think it’s very attractive,” Altabef said.
But council member Omar Narvaez expressed skepticism. He called the latest redevelopment roadmap like “bait and switch” as it goes well beyond the 2010 Kalita Humphreys Theater master plan, which cost $25 million and focused on renovating the building. The city council never passed the plan.
“We’ve had enough of those moments where people come in and say, ‘Oh city, put your skin in the game and we’re going to raise the rest privately’ and the rest don’t come up,” Narvaez said. , who represents West Dallas and is the council’s interim deputy mayor. “And who was left with the bag then?” Taxpayer”.
He added that competition for money would be fierce. Narvaez noted several other ongoing fundraising efforts for major Dallas arts and parks projects requiring partial funding from private donations, such as a $75 million plan to restore the South Dallas Forest Theater and redevelop the surrounding area.
According to council member Carolyn King Arnold, another such project, South Gate Park, is “struggling” for funding. The $172 million project is a new park being built in her neighborhood above I-35E next to the Dallas Zoo, modeled after Clyde Warren’s uptown park.
“He will probably come back to the city because we don’t have the same charity dollars that went to Clyde Warren Park,” said Arnold, the interim mayor representing South Oak Cliff. “We can’t conscientiously sit here and support all these millions of dollars coming in on bond packages that are bypassing us in Deck Park.”
The Turtle Creek Boulevard Theater is one of the last completed works designed by Wright, who died before it opened in 1959. The building was built for the Dallas Theater Center and the group donated it to the city in 1974.
The venue is a Dallas landmark, still owned by the city, and leased to the Dallas Theater Center for $1 a year to operate a nearly 500-seat auditorium.
Lack of investment and neglect led to the fact that the theater fell into disrepair. In 2020, the city council approved a $525,000 contract to upgrade the theater’s electricity, roof repairs, and other repairs due to water damage, but prior to that, the city had not made any major investment in the Kalita Humphreys theater since 1989.
The Kalita Humphreys Theater’s latest master plan, in addition to $52 million in restoration work, requires $168 million for four new buildings, courtyards, plazas, walkways, a restaurant and cafe. Another $22 million is being proposed for infrastructure construction for a new 380-space underground parking garage, $10 million for a footbridge at the site connecting the nearby Katy and Turtle Creek trails, and another $56 million for other land and nearby trail improvements.
According to the Dallas Theater Center, the expanded scale is designed to meet the needs of the area outside of the theater building. The steering committee that oversaw the latest master plan process included city officials and representatives from local theater groups and architecture firms, as well as trail, park and historic preservation advocates.
The latest master plan is an upgrade that the City Council in 2019 directed the Dallas Theater Center to complete under the terms of the most recent lease agreement.
Between this month and March, the group plans to present the master plan to the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, the Arts and Culture Advisory Commission, and the Landmarks Commission. Some time after that, more briefings are scheduled for city council members, and they will eventually decide whether to accept the master plan or some version of it later.