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Belo Foundation buys land for proposed park in Dallas' Farmers Market area

A jogger on Young Street passes buildings that are part of the 1.57 acres acquired for a proposed park in downtown's burgeoning Farmers Market neighborhood.

Plans for a public park in the burgeoning Farmers Market neighborhood moved forward Tuesday with the announcement that The Belo Foundation had quietly bought land for it before development pushed up prices.

Robert W. Decherd, chairman of The Belo Foundation, said the nonprofit organization purchased 1.57 acres in the southeastern section of the central business district. The purchase secures the site for Harwood Park, which was proposed in a 2013 update of the Downtown Parks Master Plan.

The park would provide open recreational space in an area that looks to become thick with midrise apartments and townhouses. But much remains to be done.

"In baseball terms, this is the first inning," Decherd said.

The Belo land consists of two parcels that are separated by Wood Street. Plans call for the city to close a portion of the street and donate the land toward construction of the park.

The Belo Foundation land and Wood Street account for about two-thirds of the 3.8-acre site envisioned for the park.

Land along Harwood Street on the western side of the site remains in private hands. To the east, the Ballet Dallas Building and an adjacent parking lot on South Pearl Street would not be affected by construction of the park.

Willis Winters, director of the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, said the department has no money to buy the rest of the land or to develop a park once the land is acquired.

Such funds would come either from private sources or from voter approval of a future city bond package - and more likely a combination of both. The soonest such a proposal could go on the municipal ballot would be 2017, he said.

Winters called the Belo acquisition critical to the park's future and said it provided important momentum.

"We now have 2.4 acres as a contiguous site," Winters said. "That's why this is so crucial; it now puts the park within reach, with or without any additional acquired land."

The Dallas Park and Recreation Department has presided over a rapid expansion of green space downtown over the past few years, with the opening of Main Street Garden in 2009 and then Belo Garden and Klyde Warren Park in 2012.

The Belo Foundation played a significant role in the development of Belo Garden, in partnership with Belo Corp., Maureen H. and Robert W. Decherd and the Dallas Park and Recreation Department. The Decherd Foundation also funded the 2013 update of the parks master plan.

That update called for expansion of downtown green space from 52 acres to 87 acres, and for four new parks - one of them on land acquired by The Belo Foundation.

When Harwood Park is built, "it's going to be a godsend to the residents in that area," said Larry Good, chairman of Good, Fulton and Farrell.

Good's architectural firm has served as planners and architects for the Dallas Farmers Market, after which the neighborhood was named, as well as for new apartment construction and streetscaping in the area.

"When you're building at higher densities and people don't have open space on their own lot, a park is the only opportunity for walking the dog or getting some sunshine," he said.

Rapid development in the area required secrecy in purchasing the land, Decherd said.

Over the past 15 months, a company called Lake Avenue LLC, owned by The Belo Foundation, bought the land without the participation or knowledge of city officials. Decherd declined to say exactly how much the land cost, other than characterizing the purchase at "several million."

The purpose was to acquire the property before developers, attracted by growth in the Farmers Market area, pushed prices beyond the city's ability to compete, he said.

"When we saw how successful the area was becoming, we became worried that the site would disappear," he said.

Good said private money will be crucial in making Harwood Park a reality.

"When you look at the history of Belo Garden or Klyde Warren Park, it's clear that all these parks are going to be created with private money," he said. "It's just the wave of the future."

By DAVID FLICK, Staff Writer at the Dallas Morning News