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Cowboys Ready to Unveil $1.15B Stadium to NFL

Wed August 26, 2009 - West Edition
Jaime Aron

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones could have just renovated Texas Stadium. Or he could’ve built the Cowboys a nice, new place for about $650 million.

Then Jones really thought about it.

With only one chance to do something like this, he didn’t want just another stadium.

He wanted one of the biggest and the absolute best, something that would establish a new category of sports venues, like the Astrodome did decades ago and, in his wildest dreams, the way Rome’s Colosseum did centuries before.

Nearly $1.2 billion later, Jones believes he might have done it.

“This,” he said, “is the real deal.”

Cowboys Stadium is a masterpiece of architecture and engineering, a facility that manages to be flashy without feeling like an amusement park, overwhelmingly big without making visitors feel swallowed.

The list of features is a roll call of first-this and biggest-that. The most stunning are the video boards, a pair of high-definition screens 50 meters long and 20 meters tall, each the equivalent of more than 2,000 52-in. TVs.

Other highlights include a retractable roof and retractable walls on both ends; bars that seem plucked from five-star hotels; museum-caliber artwork; field-level suites with patios pratically bumping into the sidelines; a club players can walk through from the locker room to the field; and mingling areas for tens of thousands of fans who buy a $29 “party pass” instead of a regular ticket.

Since the doors opened two months ago, it has hosted an international football tournament and concerts by the Jonas Brothers and Paul McCartney. U2 is coming next month, the NBA All-Star game in February, and the Super Bowl in 2011. The Cowboys played a preseason game in their new home on Aug. 21.

“I had heard everybody saying it’s big and da-da, da-da,” said receiver Roy Williams. “Then [I] finally saw it with my own eyes and it’s the greatest thing on earth.”

The Cowboys called the Cotton Bowl home for their first eleven and a half seasons, then moved to Texas Stadium in suburban Irving in 1971. The new building cost $35 million, a whopping sum at the time, and was considered a state-of-the-art marvel. It was packed with luxury suites and a hole in the roof “so God could watch his team,” according to lore. Players responded by winning their first Super Bowl that season.

Jones took over in ’89, knowing all along the lease would expire early in the 21st century. He started thinking about it more seriously as the millennium approached. He looked into moving back to Dallas, but city leaders never took the idea to voters. He wound up being wooed by the folks in Arlington, already home to baseball’s Texas Rangers and Six Flags theme park.

In November 2004, Arlington voters approved a hike in sales tax to raise $325 million, supposedly half of the stadium’s price tag, with Jones vowing to cover the rest, no matter how much that was. It didn’t take long for the price to jump to $1 billion, then it kept going. From the groundbreaking in April 2006 to the ribbon-cutting in May, Jones spent the equivalent of about $1 million per day.

Jones and his family traveled the globe for ideas, hitting Wembley Stadium in London, the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, and facilities in Germany, Japan and France. They kept finding things to add, “changing the scope” of the project, as Jones likes to say. The airport in Nice, France, was the inspiration for the building being wrapped in glass.

The building fills 3 million sq. ft. (280,000 sq m), triple the size of its predecessor. It is tall enough for the Statue of Liberty to stand inside and about as wide as the Empire State Building is tall. More than 100,000 people are expected for the NFL regular-season opener on Sept. 20, with around 120,000 likely for the Super Bowl.

The bigger the stadium became, the more the big-screen TVs were needed to make folks feel closer to the action. The screens are so dominant hanging in the center of the stadium that it’s easy to focus on them instead of the live action. To fend off complaints from people who may wind up watching the game on the overhead TVs, the boards will carry images from eight stadium-run cameras, offering views far beyond what the networks are showing.

“We want it to be a great source of entertainment…that you can’t get in a living room somewhere,” Jones said. “When you leave, you won’t know which way you saw it, all you know is that you had a different experience than any place else.”

Premium seat licenses range from $2,000 to $150,000, and that doesn’t even count the tickets themselves, up to $340 each. The prices drew so much backlash that the team ran an ad campaign emphasizing tickets were available for less than people thought. They must have worked because the team said about 95 percent of its club and reserved tickets are sold, and about 280 of the roughly 320 luxury suites were sold.

One thing Jones didn’t sell was naming rights so, for this season at least, “Cowboys Stadium” it is.

There are still people who prefer names like Jerry World and Jones Mahal. While there’s no doubt this will be as much Jones’ legacy as the Super Bowl titles won during his tenure, he deflects the credit for the building. He insists this is a tribute to what the Cowboys have been and, he hopes, a reflection of what they will continue to be.

“Yes, we’re proud of our building,” Jones said. “More importantly, everybody that’s got any Cowboys in them at all, have ever had it on them, I want them to walk in here and say, ’That’s my Dallas Cowboys.’ That’s what this is about.”

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