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Cowboys Build Stadium of the Future

Wed November 29, 2006 - West Edition
Lori Lovely

Nearly 40 years after America’s team put Irving, Texas, on the map, the Dallas Cowboys plan to mosey over to a new stadium in nearby Arlington. They’ll take up residence on 35 acres across from Ameriquest Field, where their new neighbors will be the Texas Rangers, with whom they will share a parking lot, and Six Flags Over Texas amusement park.

After Arlington voters approved the agreement in November 2004, property negotiations to purchase 150 homes and 1500 apartments began the following July. The city of Arlington and Tarrant County commenced demolition in November. “We hauled 750,000 yards off site,” recalled Mark Penny, senior project manager of Manhattan Construction Company. Approximately 70 trucks per hour — 700 per night — conveyed debris to the Arlington landfill for processing. Penny noted that the hauling was done at night so as not to interfere with traffic. The Rangers’ game schedule also was taken into consideration.

Once the land was cleared, underground and overhead power and gas lines were relocated. Excavation and utility work was performed by Mario Sinacola & Sons Excavating, who Penny said had a lot of heavy equipment on site. A retention system was then installed by Craig Olden. Penny explained that a 50-ft. hole was dug and a soil nail wall system put in place to avoid over-excavation. A permanent concrete facing wall will stabilize the reinforced soil slope.

Griffin Dewatering Corp. of Houston was called in to keep the site dry. As Penny detailed, the 50-ft. hole was 25 ft. below the water table, the land slopes and the site in next to a creek — all combining for potential moisture problems. In addition, the storm sewer was “beefed up,” Penny said. Although it was already substantial to serve the considerable residential audience, it had to be adapted for “totally different usage.” Despite all the precautions, Penny was grateful for a dry summer.

Stadium Features

The structure has a slab-on-grade foundation with elevated concrete deck floors that will take approximately a year to complete. Once the structure is in place, according to Penny, crews will begin placing structural steel, with guidance from structural engineer Walter. P. Moore Engineers. “We plan on setting the first piece in July of ’07. That will be a major milestone. We expect to be topping out in November 2008.” He indicated that a pair of arches spanning the domed stadium calls for a “large portion” of structural steel. Currently on site to place deck floors are six tower cranes and four crawler cranes, all rented equipment.

Although he said details of the design must be kept secret until a press release scheduled for December 13th, Penny did reveal that the stadium will have a retractable roof and retractable end zone glass doors for a “truly open-air game. Few stadiums have it; there’s a ballpark in Arizona, but this hasn’t been seen a lot.” He counted 75,000 seats, but said it’s expandable to 92,000. Other sources indicate precise numbers that include 15,222 premium seats in the first three tiers, 43,760 general seats in all four tiers and 2,304 obstructed-view seats. Penny estimated more than 200 suites, seating 6,177 and divided into six levels, and said there will be several restaurants and club lounges.

The hush-hush nature of the plans has been a bone of contention with residents and media. The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram sought architectural plans for months, citing the Texas Public Information Act. The newspaper’s request chided the Cowboys for withholding the plans, stating that since taxpayers are covering half the $650-million cost of the stadium and the city jointly owns the plans, they should be allowed to view them. However, the Cowboys insisted the plans remain confidential, claiming that making them public could leave the stadium vulnerable to terrorist attacks or cause “substantial competitive harm” to the team.

The state attorney general’s office responded that the drawings are “too preliminary to contain technical details about the complex’s vulnerabilities,” and in early November ordered the Cowboys to release the plans. The Cowboys fought back, arguing that the materials are confidential because of ongoing stadium lease negotiations. However, the attorney general recognized the Star-Telegram’s request asked for drawings, not lease information, and instructed the Cowboys to reveal them.

Next, the Cowboys claimed the drawings are trade secrets, although they failed to explain why or how releasing them could cause “substantial competitive harm.” The state attorney general pressed; the Cowboys relented — but not before one last attempted stall. They told reporters the plans could not be reproduced due to the Cowboys’ exclusive copyright. Although the Star-Telegram pointed out that reporting is fair use of copyrighted material, a team representative issued fliers indicating that the Cowboys could sue organizations that reproduced the plans or published photos without the express written permission of the team. Mayor Pro-tem Ron Wright was surprised by the Cowboys’ blocking maneuver and called on them to stop the interference.

When finally viewed, the preliminary sketches revealed a “glazed, aluminum wall system” and limestone veneer on the exterior façade. The Star-Telegram reported that more complete plans hint at European flair and a “spaceship design.” The main concourse includes three terrace bars, a team merchandise store and football-shaped skylights. Another level includes executive office space for both the Cowboys and the Dallas Desperados, their arena football franchise.

The information shown to the media did not include plumbing, food service, other mechanical specifications or the final construction plans that were given to the city in September. This time the city joined the Cowboys in withholding the final plans, citing Homeland Security concerns.

Residents attending town hall meetings asked to see what they’re paying for, and Councilman Steve McCollum called for full disclosure. “As more and more information becomes available, there is no reason in the world why the plans should not be released.” But the Cowboys are holding firm until December 12, when architectural renderings will be unveiled at a formal, invitation-only event a day before public release.

The Players, Payers

The general construction management team consists of Manhattan Construction Company and local minority-owned firms Rayco Construction and 3i Construction. Minority- and women-owned businesses have received nearly 20 percent of all money paid to contractors on the project thus far: 48 firms received $14.17 million of the $72.23 million paid through October. More opportunities await, with 35 bid packages available in December and January.

Dallas Cowboys Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones welcomed Manhattan, saying, “As a consultant, Manhattan has been a part of our organization as we progressed through the development of this stadium project. The experience they have in this type of construction is invaluable.” As Penny pointed out, Manhattan worked on Reliant Stadium in Houston, which featured the first retractable roof in NFL history, and Ameriquest Field. Stadiums are “starting to be our specialty,” he reasoned.

Tulsa-based Manhattan Construction Company has been in business since 1896. The family-owned company, now in the hands of its third generation, has offices in Dallas, Houston, Tampa, Atlanta and Washington D.C. that focus on regional markets. Penny explained that Rayco and 3i provided staff — project managers and engineers — to help them “ramp up” for the large project. “It’s good to get help!”

The Arlington City Council is turning to a 30-year tax increment reinvestment zone to help pay for the $650-million stadium, hoping that two proposed special taxing zones will encourage development in the entertainment district and help pay for roads and other improvements. As Penny noted, the city is responsible for infrastructure in the area. “The DOT is building a complex of bridges to help traffic flow,” he said. “The city and the Cowboys are putting in new thoroughfares.”

The city council’s proposal calls for a tax district carved out of 2,187 acres that includes Ameriquest Field, the stadium, Six Flags and the proposed Glorypark development. Glorypark developers could get as much as $48.8 million for road, utility and park improvements. The zone also could fund $66.7 million for other projects, such as the restoration of Johnson Creek ($13.95 million), public art ($1.12 million), a public safety center for police and traffic operations ($4.98 million) and additional road improvements and signage ($21.17 million). As reported by the Star-Telegram, “Glorypark has submitted an application for [an additional] public improvement district where the city could levy more property taxes on the development to pay for landscaping, parking and security within Glorypark.”

In a tax increment zone, property values are frozen. Tax revenue generated by high-value properties from new development is used to finance public improvements within the zone. Mayor Robert Cluck favors the reinvestment zone, saying it will help the city build necessary infrastructure for the entertainment district. As proposed, 70 percent of the property tax increase and a half-cent of the city’s sales tax collected in Glorypark will fund projects within the zone.

The tax zones are Texas’ new novel way to pay for a stadium. In the late 1960s, the state paid for Texas Stadium through another inventive scheme: the sale of seat option bonds, nicknamed SOBs — a forerunner of personal seat licenses later used to finance other stadiums. At the time, the city of Irving couldn’t afford the stadium and refused to use taxpayer money; instead, it sold bonds.

The cost of the bonds, as well as the tight-fisted interest rate, initially irritated fans, some of whom sued the Cowboys and the city of Irving. But because purchasing bonds was the only way to get season tickets, people lined up to buy them when they went on sale December 26, 1967 – eventually purchasing $31 million in bonds.

As long as the team played at Texas Stadium, holders had the right to buy tickets. They also had a money-back guarantee on the bonds, which will mature December 26, 2008. By that time, funds will be available to pay off nearly $25 million in outstanding bonds. Bondholders will get $300 for each $250 bond.

The innovative gamble paid off. Kevin Delaney, Temple University sociology professor and co-author of Public Dollars, Private Stadiums, contends that few cities have a strong enough fan base to purchase sufficient bonds to pay for a stadium, and he cautions against expecting it to happen again. Texas Stadium cost $35 million, comparable to $170 million in today’s dollars. That’s a bargain compared to the $650-million price tag for the new stadium, and fans in those days even got to see for what they were paying. CEG

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