‘Encore Park’ begins construction downtown

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The empty piece of land is part of the entire project “Encore Park” where an amphitheater will be built. The amphitheater will serve as a venue for various performances from all artists, including homeless artists.

Strolling down the sidewalk near the corner of Young Street and Park Avenue in downtown Dallas, a cream-colored building greets you with its zig zag modern-architectural charm and its musical history.

Blues lovers from around the world travel to see and touch the walls of this iconic building, commonly known as “508 Park.” It was built by Warner Bros. Studios in 1929, and contains a movie theater and a recording studio. The famous blues singer and musician Robert Johnson recorded two of his sessions in the 1930s in this historic landmark.

Abandoned and vacant for more than 20 years, 508 Park has seen a lot of deterioration. Today, however, its fate is starting to shine once again. The leadership of The Stewpot, a nonprofit that has been serving homeless and at-risk individuals since 1975, announced that it would restore the structure and preserve its history as part of a bigger endeavor called Encore Park.

The news about building Encore Park together with the restoration of 508 Park has received an overwhelming response from people all over the world, said Rev. Dr. Bruce Buchanan, director of The Stewpot and associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church.

Encore Park is an innovative outreach project, which integrates community outreach programs like those The Stewpot and other nonprofits provide with the arts and entertainment culture around downtown Dallas.

Located on both the east and west side of Park Avenue, in between Young and Canton streets, the entire project covers an area of approximately 133,000 square feet.

The leaders of The Stewpot bought the property when real estate prices went down in 2011, helping “the dream [of building Encore Park] come closer to reality,” Buchanan said.

Funds for the Encore Park project have been pouring in from private donations, Buchanan said. The total cost of the project has been estimated to be $12 million and about half of it has been raised so far.

Encore Park will allow The Stewpot to expand its services, as well as create new space and opportunities for the homeless and at-risk individuals to rebuild their lives.

Many of the services offered by different programs and nonprofits that are part of The Stewpot have outgrown their physical space at 408 Park Ave., Buchanan said.

It was almost karmic that The Stewpot purchased 508 Park at the same time as the idea of expansion of the entire Encore Park came about, said Betty Heckman, administrative coordinator of The Stewpot.

“The historic nature of the building coincides with what we do in our overall programming at The Stewpot,” Buchanan said.

The Stewpot prides itself on providing resources that help homeless and at-risk individuals take care of their mental health. It does that via various programs, such as its Open Art Studio where clients get fine arts education, and find different ways to express themselves.

However, the Open Art Studio has outgrown its 500-square foot of space.

“A lot of the members in the program are very prolific,” so there is need for more room to store their work, Cynthia Brannum, art program director, said.

508 Park is an answer to those needs. The basement of the building will provide a space to store the artwork of the artists. It will also provide space to make frames for these paintings.

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The 500-square foot big art studio in The Stewpot’s building will be transferred to the second floor of 508 Park. This area was selected due to the large windows present on the floor. Presence of good lighting helps homeless artist create quality art.

The Open Art Studio will also be able to expand its services from just offering fine arts classes to offering pottery and sculpture classes as well.

It will also have a private art gallery on the second floor of the building to display the work of the artists in the art program.

Stewpot’s clients say the are excited about the idea of Encore Park.

“It is something that the public has never seen before,” said Arispe Luis, a 51-year-old artist who said he has been homeless for six years now. He said he is looking forward to Encore Park, especially the expansion of the art program that it will bring.

Apart from providing studio space for the art program at The Stewpot, Encore Park will also offer office space to organizations such as Metro Care, which helps homeless and at-risk individuals with free mental health care services, and it will allow for other programs, such a the Crossroad Diner, to expand as well.

Encore Park will also have an amphitheatre and community garden that will allow the marginalized populations to become a part of the larger Dallas community and help build a sense of trust between the two entities, Buchanan said.

One of the features of the Encore Park is the Museum of Street Culture, which will have permanent and rotating exhibitions of historical artifacts and multimedia of blues, jazz and vernacular music, as well as exhibitions of local street art composed by homeless artists.

 

Yusra Jabeen is majoring in journalism and human rights at Southern Methodist University. She can be reached at yjabeen@smu.edu.

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The rooftop of 508 Park will be turned into a restaurant area, as part of the 508 Park building.
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