May 10, 2012

Belo Garden opens on site that was downtown Dallas parking lot

The site of a former parking lot is now a downtown draw, a place to gather and linger.

Belo Garden -- an oasis of trees and grasses, benches and fountains -- opened Thursday morning with a ceremony celebrating the scene and those who made it happen.

"In any urban setting, living well depends disproportionately on a sense of place," Robert Decherd, chairman of the Belo Foundation, told a crowd of about 400 people.

"Belo Garden is an important addition to the fabric of Dallas," he said.

The Belo Foundation and Belo Corp. paid for the design and construction of the $15 million park. City bond money was used to purchase and remediate the 1.7-acre space.

Bounded by Main, Griffin and Commerce streets and high-rise condominiums, the park features a rich variety of native Texas trees, grasses and flowers.

A plaza and walkways are paved in Texas-quarried stone. Zoysia grass carpets a 9-foot-high mound that will help screen the sight and noise of traffic and provide a soft place to relax. For seating, there are also benches and chairs. Three arching fountains offer calming sounds and relief from summer heat. Turn off the fountains and the plaza can become a performance site.

All where asphalt once ruled.

The private foundation of Robert and Maureen Decherd has endowed $1 million toward future capital investment and repairs at the park.

Decherd is chairman, president and chief executive officer of A. H. Belo Corp., parent of The Dallas Morning News, and also chairman of Belo Corp., a television broadcasting company whose properties include WFAA-TV (Channel 8).

Belo Garden is the second downtown park included in a 2004 master plan to become reality. The first, Main Street Garden, opened in 2009. A third, Klyde Warren Park, will open this autumn on a deck over Woodall Rodgers Freeway. Pacific Plaza, a fourth downtown park, is unfunded.

Last month, the city accepted a $150,000 donation from the Decherd Foundation and an additional $15,000 from Maureen and Robert Decherd to update the downtown parks plan.

Seated and standing in a blocked off-section of Griffin, the audience heard speakers praise the Decherds for their vision, commitment and leadership.

The project, more than six years in the making, "couldn't have happened without the Decherd family," Mayor Mike Rawlings said. "This is a wonderful gift. This is why Dallas works."

Said Joan Walne, president of the Dallas Park and Recreation Board: "Thank you for this incredible gift to our city."

Decherd talked of this and other efforts to revitalize downtown. He said the park was created to honor Alfred Horatio Belo, founder of The Dallas Morning News, and past, present and future employees of A. H. Belo Corp. and Belo Corp.

And he halted his remarks while a rushing Dallas Fire-Rescue ambulance screamed through the area.

"We're having an urban moment. I'm going to pause," he said. "Well done, guys. This is an urban park. That's the way it's supposed to work."

In conclusion, Decherd urged the crowd to go experience the park.

"It's all of yours, and I hope you will take the time to stroll through."