On Opening Day in 1994 when we cut the ribbon and the majestic gates of the magnificent new ballpark swung away, I borrowed a little inspiration from Winston Churchill and declared, “In the history of our city, there has never been a time when more people have more reason to celebrate the life of their community than today.”
Since then we’ve made a lot of baseball history in our town. We hosted the All-Star Game, we staged the first ever interleague game, we witnessed the rarest of pitching performances - a perfect game, the Rangers quickly won their first-ever divisional championships and then went on to twice capture the American League Pennant resulting in the glory of the World Series being played in our town in front of an international television audience.
We've also seen the guy who put together the investor group that partnered with the city become first, our governor and twice elected president of the United States. When you tour his new library you will encounter a display explaining how his success in managing the Rangers was a major demonstration of his leadership qualifications and business acumen. Some have been heard to say that Arlington voters, when approving The Ballpark deal, are actually more responsible for his ascension to that highest of all positions on the world's stage than anything else.
Headlines in the local newspapers the next morning speculated that the new owners would require a new ballpark and Dallas was where it would be built.
Immediately, I was surrounded by reporters wanting to know what it would mean to Arlington to lose its major league status. How much of an economic impact would the city suffer, they wanted to know, when the Rangers moved away.
No, the Rangers are not leaving Arlington, I replied. Not on my watch.
9. Dallas Tries to Steal the Rangers
From the moment the transfer of ownership of the Texas Rangers was announced at a news conference in 1989, it seemed to most that the future of the team would unfold in Dallas.
Headlines announcing the partnership between the Rangers and Arlington that would ensure the city's continued role as a Major League city.
Hubris? No, not at all. What I had going for me, and what had been repeatedly underestimated, was the extraordinary civic pride of the people of America’s quintessential “can do” city. For almost half a century, Arlington had been seizing the opportunities and meeting the challenges that have always defined our town. I had no doubt that the legacy long established would ensure that my fellow citizens would have my back when we went to battle to protect what was ours.
With continued news reports of Dallas city council members and the Dallas city manager declaring their intentions to steal our team, I knew we needed to prepare to prove a notorious Dallas sports writer wrong when he declared the Rangers would be moving to Dallas – “where they belong.”
My contacts with the new owners’ managing partner, who just happened to be the son of the president of the United States, produced two answers to my questions about their plans. First, George W. Bush promised me that they would discuss their future with Arlington before they did so with any other city. Second, he said it would be a while because their first priority was to get the team on the field moving in the right direction.
It was vital that we were totally prepared when the call did come that the Rangers were ready to talk. With that certainty foremost in my mind, I went to work assembling a team of every kind of consultant and practitioner that had professional knowledge of anything about building a new ballpark.
We called in lawyers, engineers, an architect, contractors, traffic planners, land planners, accountants, bond counsel, Wall Street advisors, and consultants with knowledge of how recent ballpark deals had been structured. There was no problem getting all these people to work with us pro bono because it provided them with access to the project without any of them being promised anything other than the opportunity to be introduced at the appropriate time.
It would be a field of dreams where the games would be played outdoors, on real grass and acchitecturally a tribute to the history and traditions of the national game.
The campaign developed into the most rigorous contest in the city’s history. Opponents challenged every aspect of the deal we had put together. Media coverage provided the naysayers with almost daily coverage of all the reasons they claimed the proposal should be defeated. They really didn’t like the idea of increasing the city’s sales tax to help build the new ballpark and they insisted the projected economic impact on the city would not materialize.
Those of us who felt the arrangement with the team was fair and in the best interest of our city and its future, attempted to fully engage the entire community with the merits of the project. We went everywhere and laid out the plans so that every citizen had an opportunity to know all the details of the proposal.
We asked the managing partners of the Rangers to accompany us in the campaign because we thought it was important for the people to get to know who we were partnering with and to sense the essential element of trust that I thought characterized the relationship.
Election day saw the largest ever turn out of voters for just a single item on a ballot. That record hasn’t been matched since then. I was very optimistic about winning the approval of Arlington voters. After all, I had seen what they had done over and over when the question was making their city a place to be proud of – a place where they and their families could enjoy a quality of life like no where else.
But, I underestimated their resolve to make this project a reality. By an almost two-thirds majority, the people answered with a resounding "YES." Dallas didn't steal the Rangers. Arlington wouldn't let 'em.
"The Rangers are not leaving Arlington... Not on my watch."
Tom Schieffer, who led the negotiations with the city, would also go on to become one of the few men to ever serve as U. S. ambassador to tow nations - first in Australia and then Japan.
And, that economic benefit we talked about during the campaign - well, we missed the mark on that forecast. Our projections fell far short of what we have now actually experienced. Since The Ballpark opened 20 years ago, some 50 million tickets have been sold to people who have shown up to watch the Rangers play.
Using just the average amount of money a fan spends attending a major league game; we’ve seen more than two billion dollars flow directly into our city – not counting the Rangers payroll which is, as you probably know, quite substantial. Neither does that count the significant millions of dollars the Rangers have spent on maintaining and improving the facility during the past two decades.
Economists tell us that such spending rolls over in the community about three times so the total economic impact to date would exceed six billion dollars and counting. No wonder that Dallas wanted our team.
Across the street from Rangers Ballpark today now stands the most extraordinary National Football League stadium in the country. The owner of the team that plays there told me the reason he chose Arlington for his new home was because what this city had accomplished with the Texas Rangers. The economic impact of The Ballpark project now takes on a whole new dimension considering what it has spawned.
As impressive as those numbers are, I believe and will always believe the greatest value of what we did 20 years ago can’t be measured in dollars. It’s intangible. It’s how the city celebrates its own special identity and gives rise to that sense of civic pride that every resident can feel.
It’s all about Arlington, its people and the special place we call home.
We even built a big working model of our vision for a new ballpark. It would be the centerpiece of our presentation.
In the end, all the time and effort we put into getting prepared paid off in a very big way. Rangers’ owners would later tell us that no other city had anything beyond some simple drawings and layouts to show and that none had done the research or had the knowledge or any answers to any level of detail that we presented and were prepared to address at every point in the discussions.
We had succeeded in getting ahead, staying ahead, and setting the bar out of the reach of our competitors. It was the smartest thing we could have done.
When the Rangers owners selected former Texas legislator Tom Schieffer as their partner who would negotiate a proposal with us, we were more than ready. After a couple of meetings between Tom and me and then with all of my colleagues on the city council, we crafted what we thought would be a win-win arrangement in a public-private partnership to build a state of the art baseball park - the finest in the country.