Real Estate / Neighborhoods

Notorious Dallas Jail to Become a Beacon of Ambitious New Park

Long Since Shuttered, This Vacant Building in a Prime Location Finds New Life

BY // 06.04.19

The Trinity Park Conservancy, the nonprofit organization responsible for the upcoming Harold Simmons Park, has purchased the former Dawson State Jail near Trinity River. Plans call for it to be an anchor of the overall Trinity Park development, which will include retail, office and commercial space.

The jail was built in 1995 and has been vacant since 2013. Purchased for $3 million in March, the 238,000 square foot building’s development plans are still in the works. This will depend on what the nonprofit feels is the best vision for the area, with input from the community.

“The Trinity Park Conservancy seeks to ensure that the value created by Harold Simmons Park is enjoyed equitably by neighboring communities and all residents of Dallas,” says Brent Brown, CEO/President of the Conservancy.

“Studies show that parks have the ability to create economic stimulus for the surrounding area, but that comes with risk of gentrification and displacement. This building can be the catalyst for equitable development that does not leave behind those who have lived in the area for generations.”

Plans call for Harold Simmons Park to be the first in a series of parks along the river. It will encompass 200 acres bordered by the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and Ronald Kirk Bridge. The idea is to connect West Dallas, Oak Cliff and downtown Dallas across the river, which has just been sitting there for way too long.

The jail property will not be a part of Harold Simmons Park, but is a part of “fulfilling the mission of the Conservancy,” according to the organization.

During the summer, the Trinity Park Conservancy plans to review options for renovation and usage. They’re considering moving offices into the Dawson Jail building for better access to the park and to support its needs. Shared workspaces for nonprofits and small businesses is another idea, as well as a bicycle repair shop, refreshment stand, or mixed-income housing.

Dawson State Jail was considered one of the worst jails in America — with horrific stories and lawsuits centered around cases of medical neglect — but now the building will be put to a good use.

The park has been in the works for quite awhile now. There has even been some concern that this great idea might not actually happen, but hopefully this large purchase indicates some forward movement.

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