Southern Gateway Park: $25 million federal grant helps fuel community transformation

Story by Bora Laci. Photos provided by Southern Gateway Park.

A transformative park in the heart of Oak Cliff is one step closer to realization, thanks to a $25 million federal grant announced last month.

A rendering of Southern Gateway Park. It is set to provide over 5 acres of green space in Oak Cliff.

The Southern Gateway Public Green Foundation is behind the mission to bring Southern Gateway Park to life. Once it is completed, more than five acres of new urban green space will be built on a highway deck. The initiative aims to offer greenery and catalyze infrastructure reinvestment to uplift the neighborhood’s cultural capital, health outcomes, safety, and economic standing.

The North Texas Council of Governments, which oversees regional transportation planning, applied for these funds. The grant comes from a larger allocation exceeding $3 billion for similar initiatives across the country under discretionary grant programs backed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act.

This funding is earmarked for the second phase of Southern Gateway Park. The allocated amount will contribute to completing a pedestrian crossing that spans from Lancaster Avenue to Marsalis Avenue over Interstate 35E near the Dallas Zoo. While the deck for the first phase is already constructed between Ewing Avenue and Lancaster, additional amenities are yet to be finalized.

Anne Hagan, VP of Strategic Initiatives, and Jessica Muniz, Operations Manager at the Southern Gateway Foundation, are deeply passionate about their mission, their vision for the future, and what motivates them to be part of this remarkable initiative.

Anne Hagan, VP of Strategic Initiatives at Southern Gateway Public Green Foundation.

“Our organization’s goal right now is to build and manage Southern Gateway Park, located in front of the Dallas Zoo,” Anne shares. “It’s more than just a park; we aim to create an amenity that reflects the history and culture of Oak Cliff. Our design choices are rooted in community input, ensuring it aligns with the unique character of the neighborhood.”

Anne adds that equity is central to their mission, and they are proud of their commitment to it: “We want this park to uplift all members of the community. We’re not just building a park; we’re creating opportunities for better health, safety, education, economic development, and diverse housing options.”

Equity is a focus because of the park’s history. The R.L. Thornton Freeway (I-35E) construction in 1956 cut directly through the heart of the Tenth Street neighborhood in Oak Cliff, demolishing homes and businesses. A study done by Opportunity Dallas in 2017 showed how a lack of mobility and investment in low-income communities plays a major role in generational poverty.

The construction of the R.L. Thornton Freeway (I-35E) cut directly through the heart of the Tenth Street neighborhood, demolishing homes and businesses. (Credit caption and photo to AIA Dallas.)

Now, the Foundation aims to bridge neighborhoods separated by highways. The same study, presented to the City of Dallas in early 2018, revealed that the new Southern Gateway Park will connect two of the lowest-income census tracts in Dallas, helping to address the lack of mobility while generating economic investment in the surrounding areas.

Anne says that they plan to address the disparities by emphasizing the educational aspect the park can bring.

“Our park will provide areas for demonstrations and education,” Anne explains. “We’ll offer free Wi-Fi, making it easier for students to do their homework. Our goal is to provide educational opportunities for all ages, covering topics like financial literacy, property taxes, and homeownership.”

Visiting the Southern Gateway Park website, you’ll discover a wealth of information about the park’s features and amenities. The park boasts a multi-level design, inspired by the hills of Oak Cliff. Limestone escarpments and natural landscapes reflect the neighborhood’s unique character. Exciting programming, including concerts, exercise classes, and activities for children, will make this park a hub of community life.

Jessica Muniz, Operations Manager at Southern Gateway Public Green Foundation.

Jessica says that their project team, comprised of three people: Anne, herself, and their president and CEO, April Allen, have all lived in Oak Cliff for at least the last 15 years. This is not only a park in the city’s Southern sector– it is also their home.

“I’ve always loved this neighborhood,” Jessica says. “It’s a project of the heart that it’s in our backyard. We live and work here. It’s an amenity I’ve wanted on this side of the city for a long time. I’m excited to have something where I don’t have to cross highways.”

The community’s excitement for the project is palpable. Kids are thrilled about having a nearby playground, and neighboring communities are eager for new amenities closer to home. The Southern Gateway Park is set to become a beacon of community unity and pride.

Anne and Jessica both express pride in their roles, being part of a project with such a meaningful impact on their community. Anne remarks, “It’s a special thing to do work that moves towards a good goal.” Jessica adds, “I’m proud to say, ‘I helped build that,’ to future generations.”

Community, as Jessica describes it, “is all of us together, thriving together.” Anne adds, “It’s about coming together despite our differences and realizing our shared values.”

The Southern Gateway Public Green Foundation’s mission is a shining example of community-driven development, with equity at its core. As their transformative project takes shape, we can’t help but feel inspired by their commitment to creating a brighter future for Oak Cliff. Together, they’re building a space where the community can thrive, learn, and come together.

In closing, Jessica invites everyone, saying, “Oak Cliff has a lot of heart, and we’re pouring all of ours into this project. We hope that once our park is open, everybody can come visit and enjoy it with us.” Anne emphasizes, “This is your park, and it’s coming. It’s under construction, and it’s coming. Stay tuned for the opening of Southern Gateway Park, a testament to the power of community-driven initiatives.”