What’s Wrong With The Kalita Humphreys Theater Restoration Master Plan?


The Dallas Park and Recreation Board was supposed to hear a briefing Jan. 26 on the Kalita Humphreys Theater Master Plan — but that didn’t happen. 

In fact, sources close to the project say such a meeting has been delayed until March at the earliest, and possibly as late as summer.

Rudy Karimi

District 14 Park Board member Rudy Karimi represents the area on Turtle Creek Boulevard where “the Kalita” has been home to the Dallas Theater Center since 1959. Karimi said he was told the Dallas Theater Center asked for more time to review the latest master plan proposal. 

“Presumably, this is a result of the current proposal’s recent criticism by the press, the City Council’s quality of life committee, myself, and many others,” Karimi said.

The Kalita Humphreys Theater is the only free-standing theater ever designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Karimi spoke with CandysDirt.com last week and provided background on the proposed master plan, what he thinks is wrong with it, and how implementation could be funded. 

What are your concerns?

Karimi: I suspect there will be a new version of the master plan proposed sometime between now and summer. As for the existing plan, my primary concerns are:

  • Gross commercialization of the park.
  • Over-programming of this park.
  • The financial and operational sustainability of the DTC. Parking lots are oftentimes half-full during performances. Revenues were down as much as 27 percent year-on-year before the pandemic. The road to recovery in a post-pandemic world isn’t happening. 
  • The fiduciary responsibility we as Park Board members have for our public parkland. 
  • Impact to the environment.
  • The cost. $49 million of the implementation cost is set for underground parking for 350 spaces, at a cost of $140,000 per parking space. When you consider that 219 parking spaces are currently on the campus, this is a net gain of 131 spaces at a rough cost of $374,000 per net-new space. 
  • The quality of life for citizens living closest to the park who are rightfully concerned with extra noise, traffic, and smell (from the restaurant). 
  • Inequity of the plan. The Turtle Creek corridor is one of the most affluent areas of Dallas. Why here? Why not in east, south, southeast, west, or even far north Dallas where there are fewer entertainment districts? This area is already saturated with them. 

What do you mean by the “commercialization” of the park?

Karimi: One of the parts to our park department’s mission statement is to be good stewards of our public lands. As I dive deep into this, I simply cannot fathom good stewardship is giving away acres of this highly valuable and densely forested land for another group’s financial gain. Specifically, I know that introducing things such as a pay-for-parking lot, a restaurant, a cafe, and large venue spaces that can also be rented out will eventually turn this space into something it never was for the DTC, a money maker. This should never be happening on the backs of our public lands. 

Is there a way to restore the theater that doesn’t impose a massive burden on taxpayers?

Karimi: Yes. There was a 2010 master plan that was voted down [by the Dallas City Council] and shelved. This plan focused exclusively on the restoration of the Kalita. The current plan should focus on what was actually asked for several years ago. Creating an entertainment district was not what city leaders asked for several years ago when tasking the DTC and the [Office of Arts and Culture] with the creation of a new plan. 

What do you hope will be the outcome of the Parks Board briefing? 

Karimi: My expectation is that the DTC will use this extra time wisely and give the good people of Dallas what they universally want, a comprehensive plan to restore the Kalita, minus the extra buildings and underground parking garages that will permanently scar this park for generations. Our world is on fire and the last thing we need to be doing is filling it with concrete. 

Voters approved a proposition in November to invest Hotel Occupancy Taxes into the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Dallas and Fair Park. Is the Kalita a good project for a 2024 bond package and do you think voters would support that? 

Karimi: For better or worse, the Kalita is to the current DTC proposal as Fair Park was to the KBH. Each of these plans needed to sweeten the deal. And neither of these deals would have a chance without the “sweetener.” The restoration of the Kalita could be its own standalone proposition in the 2024 bond in some capacity. However, I do not support any park and recreation bond dollars to go toward this or the potentially revised plan we might see in the next several weeks. My biggest park needs in Council District 14 are the teardown and rebuild of the Exall Recreation Center ($24 million) and funding the recently-approved Santa Fe Trail Master Plan ($27 million). You can see these are sizable needs that actually fall 100 percent in line with the other part of the department’s mission statement, which is to promote lifelong recreation. 

What needs to happen in order for the public, the Park Board, and the City Council to get behind a master plan? 

Karimi: The DTC should have stayed within the guidelines of what City Council scoped them with several years ago. I believe Councilman {Omar] Narvaez and Councilman [Adam} Bazaldua’s comments at the recent quality of life committee meeting were spot-on when they called the current plan a “bait and switch,” and a “vanity project.” Additionally, there was another breakdown in the process, particularly around the DTC’s steering committee throughout the entire planning phase. The “voices of reason” on this steering committee weren’t listened to, or there weren’t enough of them. One of these is true and is also a contributing factor to why the best outcome was not put forward in the plan delivered at the end of 2022. 

Anything else you want to add? 

Karimi: Yes. A common sentiment about William B. Dean M.D. Park is that it is underutilized and used in undesirable ways, and this is a primary catalyst to needing to drastically overdevelop the park with structures and programming. Honestly, we could say this about dozens of parks across our city. Being underutilized and used in undesirable ways is absolutely NOT exclusive to this park. What’s exclusive to this park is that people see the tremendous land value (somewhere between $17 million and $25 million an acre) sitting unused and hence, the need to develop it. The beauty, uniqueness, and value of this park is that it is NOT overly programmed or heavily utilized.

The entire south side of the Kalita is a precious urban forest with a super diverse variety of mature trees not found in many places within our urban core. You simply cannot recreate that no matter how many promises you make to plant new trees. Imagine grazing down 20 small, historic homes in a diverse neighborhood. Then imagine replacing those historic homes once full of diverse families with 60 three-to-four-story townhomes that attract just one type of person — young, white professionals. You’ve lost that diversity forever. It’s similar for trees.