Cotton Bowl Stadium at Fair Park is home to the annual college football game between Texas and Oklahoma. (Kevin Brown / State Fair of Texas)

Fair Park’s new manager making plans to improve 277-acre Dallas complex

Spectra has its hands full in Dallas, charged with revitalizing historic Fair Park, home of the State Fair of Texas and multiple sports and entertainment venues.

In January, the facility management firm officially took over operations of the 277-acre property. Spectra signed a 20-year deal with Fair Park First, a nonprofit whose mission is to restore the complex. It’s a big move for the city of Dallas, whose park and recreation department ran Fair Park for decades before handing the reins to Fair Park First to strengthen its future growth.

Peter Sullivan, a veteran of several NFL stadiums, is Fair Park’s GM.

Spectra named Peter Sullivan, an industry veteran whose resume extends to NFL stadiums in Jacksonville, Pittsburgh and Phoenix, as Fair Park’s general manager. His second in command, assistant general manager Scott Norton, worked with Sullivan at University of Phoenix Stadium, now State Farm Stadium, in Glendale, Ariz.

Together, they’re responsible for booking events and working with resident groups on campus that run the African-American Museum; Texas Discovery Gardens; the Hall of State, home of the Dallas Historical Society; and the Music Hall, among other buildings. The 3,420-seat Music Hall is gearing up for the tour of “Hamilton,” the smash Broadway musical, with 39 performances scheduled from April 2 to May 5.

As part of improving Fair Park long term, Spectra partnered with Biederman Redevelopment Ventures, a New York consultant specializing in refreshing urban environments. Its client portfolio encompasses Titletown, the NFL Green Bay Packers’ mixed-use development next to Lambeau Field; Exposition Park, home to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and venues of similar age to Fair Park; and Coney Island, which opened a new amphitheater in 2016.

In Dallas, BRV is responsible for helping Spectra update a master plan for renovating Fair Park venues and developing additional green space on the property. Some buildings date to the Texas Centennial Exposition, a world’s fair held in 1936, and others such as Cotton Bowl Stadium are even older; many are in need of renovations. The Music Hall, for example, was last upgraded in 1999 with new seats, new carpeting, a fresh paint job and a permanent gift store.

“It’s a big undertaking,” Sullivan said. “We see so much opportunity here, whether it’s on the event side, food and beverage and the community side. It starts with reimagining the master plan. One of our key phrases is ‘putting the park back in the Park,’ and determining where that may best be done. There’s a lot of work to do.”

The consultant has two years to complete the master plan. At this point, the cost for improvements is unknown. The city has $50 million set aside for upgrades and Fair Park First is undertaking a fundraising program to generate additional money for the project, according to local reports.

The Cotton Bowl, home to the annual Texas-Oklahoma college football game during the state fair, underwent $57 million in renovations during the past decade, including a 28,000-seat expansion that increased total seating to 92,000. The stadium, site of next year’s Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, could use new scoreboards and ribbon boards, Sullivan said. At this point, nothing is confirmed.

“The Winter Classic is a big deal,” he said. “We’ve had numerous meetings with the NHL and there’s going to be a lot more in terms of the game and other ancillary spaces they want to use. We’re also interfacing with the Dallas Stars.”

Aside from college football and pro hockey, the Cotton Bowl has four international soccer games scheduled for 2019. The first match, pitting Liga MX teams Pumas UNAM and CF Pachuca, is set for March 23. Since Spectra took over, officials have booked Jmblya, a music festival set for May 3 in Dallas and May 4 in Austin featuring Travis Scott and Lil Wayne, plus A-Kon, a gaming and music convention, June 27-30.  

Spectra runs several facilities nationwide similar in scope to Fair Park. On his own, Sullivan has experience operating multivenue complexes in Jacksonville, in Lansing, Mich., and, most recently, the Singapore Sports Hub, which drew about 23 million visitors annually. Overall, he understands the issues tied to older facilities and how to improve them.

“What’s interesting to me is that Fair Park probably does between 2 (million) and 2.5 million visitors a year (apart from the state fair’s 3 million in attendance) and close to 1,000 event days,” Sullivan said. “We’re fairly busy, and one of our goals is to make it even busier. We’re looking forward to rolling up our sleeves, pulling it all together and making it work.”

About three miles west, Spectra just signed a multiyear deal to run the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas. Similar to Fair Park, the convention center is contracting with private management for the first time since it opened in 1957. Spectra officially takes over April 1.