Arlington Shaped by Ten
Things That Didn't Happen
The tenth thing happened in two parts. Without the first, there would have been no second.
10. Cowboys Move to Arlington
10a. When Arlington voters overwhelmingly approved building The Ballpark in Arlington with the half cent sales tax dedicated for that purpose, estimates were that it would take 20 years to pay off the debt arranged with the tax and then it would go away
Ballpark opponents declared the claim to be a lie and tried to convince voters that the new sales tax, if approved, would never go away. Like a lot of things they said about the venture between the city and the Rangers, they were the ones doing the lying. And they really missed the mark on this one. Not only would it go away, it would do so in less than half the time that was projected during the ballpark campaign.
With retail sales exceeding all expectations as the country moved from recession to recovery, sales tax revenues set a growth record never before experienced. As a result, The Ballpark debt was paid off in just nine years and Arlington became the only city in Texas to ever reduce its sales tax. Yes, the half-cent tax went away. As promised.
And that made it possible to consider using the recovered half-cent for something else. That something else turned out to be how the Dallas Cowboys found their way to Arlington. If we hadn’t have paid off The Ballpark so quickly, the Cowboys would be playing somewhere else.
So the first part of thing number ten that didn’t happen was that it didn’t take long to pay off The Ballpark and make that half-cent available again.
Moreover, if the city had not partnered with the Rangers to build The Ballpark, Jerry Jones may have never taken notice of Arlington.
10b. I was asked to attend two meetings on separate occasions at Jerry’s Valley Ranch headquarters where some of his key staff and senior members of the HKS architecture firm (the same firm that had done the working drawings for The Ballpark in Arlington) were holding discussions about Jerry’s dream and potential sites they were looking at in Arlington.
My purpose, along with former city council colleague Dan Serna, then serving as chairman of the Arlington Sports Authority, was to answer questions and share the experience of the Arlington-Texas Rangers collaboration. Other Arlington participants at the meetings included engineering and planning consultants who had worked on The Ballpark project.
Jerry’s planners were very interested in the 2000 acres North of the Trinity River where the Veridian Project is now underway. Such an expanse of available land would open up possibilities of developing a year-round destination of every kind of sports attractions – sort of a Disneyland of sports.
While some exciting possibilities were possible there, I urged them to focus on locating the new stadium in the midst of Arlington’s already established entertainment complex to take advantage of the synergy among The Ballpark, Six Flags Over Texas, Hurricane Harbor, the Arlington Convention Center, and surrounding hotels.
After the second meeting, Jerry’s assistant said he wanted to see me in his office for a one-on-one discussion. After showing me his latest office decoration – Troy Aikman's bronze molded hand, we got down to business. He wanted to be sure he understood more of the details about the agreements between the city and the Rangers to partner on The Ballpark. He explained that he wanted to follow that winning formula.
Then came an invitation to dinner in Jerry and Gene’s Highland Park home during his search for a city where he could make a deal, I was again sharing my certainty that Arlington was the place where it could get done.
Along with former Mayor Elzie Odom, standing in Jerry’s library in front of five Super Bowl trophies, we were in the midst of describing again Arlington’s five decades of reaching for the stars and how each success was built on the previous achievements, he interrupted me.
Preempting my further storytelling, he declared, “I know all of that, Mayor Greene, that’s why I’m coming to Arlington.” Meanwhile Mayor Bob Cluck was bending Gene’s ear over in the dining room.
Since no discussion of any specific arrangements with the city had taken place, Jerry’s pronouncement was more about his certainty that with Arlington’s reputation of getting things done that others could only imagine, he had decided we were where the Cowboys future would unfold.
It seemed that Jerry had been watching what was going on in Arlington for a long time. The city had demonstrated over and over its determination to seize the day. Jerry was going to bring another of those opportunities to us and was confident of the reception he would receive.
Instead, what he wanted to discuss in further detail were the specifics of the Rangers Ballpark deal. The centerpiece was the availability of the half-cent sales tax that had been restored following the early payoff of the ballpark financing. The other key element was the sharing of the cost.
I told him Arlington had arranged financing for The Ballpark in an amount greater than what the Rangers were funding. We had a team to save. In the case of the Cowboys, it was a matter of obtaining something we would like to have. I repeated that my sense of the kind of a fair deal voters would embrace was to share the cost equally.
Jerry said he was thinking the same so it was no surprise some months later when he and Mayor Cluck stood at a news conference and announced the Cowboys were coming to Arlington if voters would authorize that half cent sales tax for another sports facility. To make it fair, they declared, costs would be shared 50/50.
But one other thing needed to not happen before Arlington would become the Metroplex city to host the Cowboys. Jerry wanted to give the team’s namesake city the first chance to help build a new stadium.
On a strategic November election day, with a president to elect and a long ballot of candidates for national, state and local offices, Arlington voters again said yes to a sales tax proposal – this one would bring the Cowboys to town.
As it turned out, the city got a lot more leverage from its commitment than the original 50/50 deal. Arlington’s cost was fixed at $325 Million with a like amount to come from Jerry. But Jerry wanted more and more. By the time the stadium hosted its first game, the place that the national media couldn’t seem to get right, called it “the Palace in Dallas” built at a final cost of almost $1.2 Billion.
In spite of getting undeserved recognition, Dallas didn’t want the Cowboys and Arlington did.
In a highly publicized exchange between Jerry and Dallas Mayor Laura Miller at a luncheon where they were seated together at one of the tables, he said to her, “You know, Mayor, that I can do this somewhere else.”
In typical fashion and consistent with her disdain for using public funding for sports “playthings for rich guys” Laura responded, “Well, Jerry, I think that’s just what you should do.”
Thus, Jerry had gotten his sendoff from Dallas and headed west to Arlington where the deal was waiting to be made.