Associated Press

Arlington voters to decide whether Cowboys stadium worth expense

The Associated Press State & Local Wire

August 24, 2004, Tuesday, BC cycle

Arlington voters to decide whether Cowboys stadium worth expense

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional; Sports News

LENGTH: 754 words


As America’s Team bids to become Arlington’s team, Mayor Robert Cluck insists he’s not enamored by the star on the Dallas Cowboys’ helmet.

Rather, the mayor and other city leaders working to lure one of professional sports’ most storied franchises say they’re all about bringing new business to this cash-strapped municipality between Dallas and Fort Worth.

“If we did not think this was a good deal, we would not be pursuing it,” Cluck said of the city’s effort to persuade voters to split the cost of a $650 million stadium for the Cowboys.

But some residents and sports economists are not so certain.

“On the surface, it doesn’t look like a good deal because the dollars don’t add up,” said Craig A. Depken II, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Arlington voters are to decide Nov. 2 whether to increase sales and other taxes to pay for half of a retractable-roof, 75,000-seat stadium that would be among the NFL’s largest. The City Council unanimously gave final approval for the referendum Tuesday night.

Arlington is the state’s seventh-largest city with about 350,000 residents, but sales tax revenues are declining. A city-commissioned study found Arlington could add $238 million a year to its economy by helping build a Cowboys stadium, Cluck said.

However, economists who study the impact of professional sports teams find that hard to believe.

“That sounds like a lot of cost benefits studies paid for by people who want a stadium,” said Bruce Johnson, a sports economist at Centre College in Danville, Ky. “You get what you pay for.”

The Cowboys are the latest in a long list of teams to seek what critics deride as “public welfare for billionaires.”

From 1990 through last year, public subsidies covered more than $10 billion – or roughly 60 percent – of the $17 billion spent on 75 construction and renovation for major-league baseball, football, basketball and hockey teams, according to the League of Fans, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

The Cowboys stadium would be built next to the Texas Rangers’ Ameriquest Field and near the Six Flags Over Texas amusement park, creating what city leaders envision as a sports and entertainment Mecca. Arlington is about 15 miles west of Dallas, but the team would still be called the Dallas Cowboys.

Owner Jerry Jones wants to replace Texas Stadium in Irving, where the team has played since 1971. Jones began negotiations with Arlington after talks with the city and county of Dallas apparently fell apart.

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller has criticized Arlington’s offer as “flabbergastingly generous.”

Responds Cluck: “I don’t know what that sweet lady is talking about. We feel like we have a very good deal.”

Still, he and others expect a tough election fight.

“It’s always a close election in Arlington for these types of things,” said Diane Brandon, spokeswoman for the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We have a very active group of taxpayers in Arlington, and that’s a good thing. It keeps everybody on their toes.”

At a Chili’s restaurant near the ballpark, waiter Brian Ward, 28, said he hears mixed reviews of the Cowboys’ proposal.

“I know a lot of people from the business side … love the idea because it’s going to bring more traffic in,” Ward said. “But at the same time, talking to some of the customers about it, I know some people are really upset that again they’re being forced to pay for something that really a city shouldn’t be involved in.”

A group called Concerned Taxpayers of Arlington is mobilizing opposition, while the pro-stadium Touchdown Arlington rallies support.

Opponents say Arlington did not realize the benefits promised – such as an amphitheater, shops and other development – when voters passed a half-cent sales tax in 1991 to fund 71 percent of the Rangers’ $191 million ballpark.

“Look at what the ballpark did for us – look at our police department, our fire department, our streets,” said Gary Abernathy, 46, a flight paramedic who lives less than a mile from the proposed stadium site. “What is our city getting out of it?”

Elizabeth Snow, a 37-year-old daycare supervisor, said the stadium would mean more people eating at Arlington restaurants, staying in its hotels and visiting all year long.

“The community is going to benefit in a way that is only going to make it prosper,” she said.

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