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Woodall Rodgers Park Gets Decked Out As Contruction Begins

by Meredith Shamburger

Among the 316 concrete beams that will hold up the deck park over Woodall Rodgers Freeway, one stands out.

Painted by three artists, the 110-foot monolith transitions through the colors of each season and features a picture of the Dallas skyline.

Once hidden away in the $100 million park's foundation, the beam will serve as a sort of time capsule and won't be seen again until it "has lived its life," said Cat Lafitte, a Dallas police officer and artist who helped paint it.

Twin cranes on each side of the freeway began lifting the beams into place over Woodall Rodgers on Saturday, setting the stage for the 5.2-acre park that will cover the freeway between Pearl and St. Paul streets. Construction is to be complete in fall 2011.

"This is a great day for Dallas," said council member Angela Hunt at an event Saturday to mark the start of construction.

On a stormy day, Hunt spoke of the tenacity of the people involved in making the park a reality.

"We're out here in a tornado watch, and we're building a park out of thin air."

Freeway closed

To make way for the construction, the freeway will be closed until 5 a.m. Monday, although the frontage roads will remain open.

Drivers heading south on North Central Expressway and north on Interstate 45 will be directed to westbound Interstate 30. Those heading north and south on Interstate 35E will be directed to eastbound I-30.

Guests at a picnic Saturday at the site where the park will be were allowed to sign the time-capsule beam before it was installed.

Marlene Sughrue of Dallas used to live in Manhattan. She said she loved its parks and is excited that Dallas is getting this park.

Sughrue and her husband, John, brought their son Connor to the picnic. John Sughrue said he can imagine his son growing up in Dallas and enjoying the park in the future.

"I wanted my son to see this day," he said. "He'll remember this day."

Plans for the park include a dog park, walking paths, a restaurant, a performance pavilion and a children's playground.

Lafitte, who painted the beam with Dan Colcer and Jose Sparks, said it represents how Dallas is "embracing nature and the environment" with the park. The single mother is excited that activities at the park will be free.

"You go downtown, and there's hardly anything to do for free," she said. "I'm really, really impressed they're taking people's budgets" into consideration.

Paying for it

As for the cost of the project, public funding is paying for nearly $60 million: $20 million from the city, $20 million from the Texas Department of Transportation and $16.7 million in federal stimulus funds.

The Woodall Rodgers Park Foundation is raising the remaining $40 million from private funds. It has already raised an estimated $26 million.

Linda Owen, president and CEO of the foundation, said the deck park will help unify the city by bridging downtown with the financial district and Uptown.

"In 18 months, we're all going to wake up to a brand new Dallas," she said.