A lot of people get praised for “leaving a mark” on a city, but Gail Thomas will be retiring from the Trinity Trust Foundation with fingerprints all over Dallas.
She co-founded the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. As head of the Trinity Trust, Thomas raised money for the signature Calatrava bridges, the revitalized Pegasus over the convention center, and the Ron Kirk pedestrian bridge.
She’s retiring from the Trinity Trust at the end of the year, with her biggest dream within reach – an urban park along the Trinity River. That project has been mired in controversy for almost two decades, mainly over a proposed toll road between the river’s levees.
Though she’ll be retiring with no ground breaking on the park, Thomas says changing people’s thinking about the Trinity River has been a monumental shift.
Interview Highlights: Gail Thomas…
…On whether she’s spent her career fixing city planning mistakes:
“I don’t feel that way at all. I really think that everyone has in their heart the dream to make a living world, I really believe that. In the 20th century, we built a really, really good 20th century city. Lots and lots of roads, lots of concrete, lots of shopping centers and we created a place for commerce. 21st century is different. We’re building a different kind of city now, totally.”
…On Dallas’ difficult relationship with the Trinity River:
“We’ve come so far. We don’t realize how far we’ve come in our relationship to the Trinity because this problem started in 1908 with The Great Flood. The flow of the river and the riverbed was just in front of the Old Red Courthouse. That flooded, so [George] Kessler, the great city planner, was brought to town in 1910 and he said, ‘you must move your river.’
Today, we would never move our river! We would do what San Antonio did. They didn’t move their river, they just created a bypass and when the great rains came, you’d close the downtown waterway and all the floodwaters would go down the bypass. But we didn’t do that, we moved the river and because we did that in the 30s and 40s, we turned our backs on the river.”
…On whether a park along the Trinity River is possible without a parkway:
“The park’s going to have a road through it, you have to get to the park. Over the last year, what’s called the “dream team” [Trinity River Design Charette] has worked so hard to create a park that would accommodate a road that would be a beautiful access to the park itself, yet still move cars. I have the good faith that that’s going to happen.”
…On why she’s not frustrated the park hasn’t been built yet:
“I’m not surprised. It’s huge what we’ve done. To turn around people’s thinking on what the Trinity River can be for our city has been enormous because we’ve moved from 20th century thinking to 21st century thinking, and that’s taken a long time. So now, people want nature.”
Gail Thomas is the president and CEO of the Trinity Trust Foundation. She retires at the end of the year.