Is Arlington ready for the next big event at Cowboys Stadium?

Posted Sunday, Apr. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Big draws

Top 10 highest-attended games at Cowboys Stadium since Super Bowl XLV

Dec. 11, 2011: Cowboys vs. Giants, 95,952

Dec. 16, 2012: Cowboys vs. Steelers, 95,595

Oct. 28, 2012: Cowboys vs. Giants, 94,067

Dec. 23, 2012: Cowboys vs. Saints, 92,570

Sept. 26, 2011: Cowboys vs. Redskins, 91,017

Sept. 1, 2012: Michigan vs. Alabama, 90,413

Nov. 22, 2012: Cowboys vs. Redskins, 90,166

Oct. 1, 2012: Cowboys vs. Bears, 90,080

Sept. 3, 2011: LSU vs. Oregon, 87,711

Nov. 24, 2011: Cowboys vs. Dolphins, 87,418

Source: Dallas Cowboys

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ARLINGTON -- Last week's news that Cowboys Stadium will be the site of the new college football national championship in January 2015, less than a year after it hosts the NCAA Final Four basketball games next April, means that Arlington will be thrust back into the national spotlight.

Though a seating snafu and an ice storm marred the 2011 Super Bowl experience, Cowboys officials say lessons learned from that game and other major events, like last month's NCAA basketball regional, world-class soccer matches and performances by entertainment phenoms such as Taylor Swift, will help them avoid a repeat of stadium problems.

Each of the college championships is expected to draw at least 80,000 fans, who will descend on North Texas for a week. So while the big games will be at the stadium, the impact will ripple out in all directions.

"It goes beyond a football game at a stadium. It's hotels. It's transportation. It's public safety. It's practice sites," Dallas Cowboys spokesman Brett Daniels said about the bid for the football championship. "It was definitely a regional effort."

Despite the Cowboys' success at landing major events, city officials and community leaders say Arlington needs high-end hotels, more entertainment options and public transportation to give it an edge in bringing big tourism dollars and business opportunities to the region.

"Ultimately, if we are going to take full advantage of this, we have to have more hotel options. It's great to have the big event here. But if the five-star hotels are all in Dallas or Fort Worth, that is the piece we don't get," Arlington Chamber of Commerce President Wes Jurey said.

"Secondly, you've got to be able to move people into and out of that arena in a much more rapid, efficient and effective manner than we do now," said Jurey, who is among community leaders who believe that Arlington needs to connect to the regional rail system. "We can move people out of the arena, but if it takes three hours, that is not rapid nor efficient."

Big paydays

The AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, the Dallas Cowboys, and the cities of Arlington and Dallas worked for months to persuade conference commissioners to select Cowboys Stadium over Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., as the inaugural site of the new national championship game.

The pitch worked. On Wednesday, commissioners chose the Arlington stadium for the game, set for Jan. 12, 2015. But that wasn't the only big score.

The AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, played annually at Cowboys Stadium, was selected to be part of the semifinal games for the new College Football Playoff system every third season.

Though the stadium has hosted highly attended sporting events since the Super Bowl, including a Brazil-Mexico soccer match and Alabama-Michigan and LSU-Oregon football games, nothing has brought the weeklong spectacle and media attention that the basketball and football championship games will attract.

"It's the type of event I believe Mr. Jones envisioned bringing to North Texas when they were putting together the design and ideas for Cowboys Stadium, to make this the center stage for hosting championships," Daniels said, referring to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

While seating arrangements have not been finalized for either event, Daniels expects attendance to exceed the stadium's 80,000-seat capacity because of the ability to add standing-room-only tickets.

"The [stadium's] size does help us get the major events," Daniels said. "If you can get an additional 10,000 people in the building, that's a whole lot more ticket revenue."

Economic impact studies have not been conducted for either championship. But some, including Arlington Budget Manager Mike Finley and Mayor Robert Cluck, say it isn't a stretch to expect as much as or more than the $33.9 million projection for the 2013 AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic or the $50.8 million projection for last month's NCAA basketball South Regional semifinals, better known as the Sweet 16.

Such sold-out events bring big sales tax revenue to Arlington, which helps fund city services like police and fire protection as well as pay down the stadium debt faster, Cluck said.

"It's an important source of revenue for us," he said.

In 2004, Arlington voters approved a 30-year, $325 million bond package to help build the $1.15 billion stadium.

The bonds are being repaid with a half-cent sales tax, a 2 percent hotel occupancy tax and a 5 percent car rental tax. Because of higher-than-expected sales tax revenue, city officials recently said they expect to pay the debt off years early, saving taxpayers at least $64.5 million.

'The right vision'

As the stadium continues to attract large sporting events, it's become more evident that Arlington lacks the hotels and entertainment venues that fans have come to expect. As a result, that tourist business is leaving the city.

But such development is possible in Arlington, local real estate experts say.

High hopes were once pinned on Glorypark, a 75-acre urban town center proposed for land south and west of Rangers Ballpark by former team owner Tom Hicks. It was to have shops and restaurants, a hotel, entertainment, offices and residential development -- all of which would support the ballpark as well as Cowboys Stadium.

But that project died during the economic downturn.

"It's a blessing it didn't happen," said Bob Kembel, president of JCKPL real estate development firm, who was the Huffines Communities executive who developed the Viridian community in north Arlington.

"All Glorypark did was educate people on the process," Kembel said. "The market has changed."

Kembel said Viridian, being built off Collins Street and Green Oaks Boulevard, would have never been funded if the stadium weren't there.

"The Cowboys Stadium put Arlington on the map with the capital markets," he said.

Real estate professionals say the stadium area is too good of a location for additional development not to occur.

"Somebody's got to have the right vision," Kembel said. "Eventually someone will solve that puzzle. I'm very bullish on that whole part of the market."

Kurt Cherry, executive vice president with PM Realty Group, agrees.

"I do believe a substantial development around the Cowboys and Rangers stadiums will come to fruition during the current economic cycle," Cherry said. "The DFW economy continues to outperform the nation at large. With area businesses expanding and companies looking to relocate here from other markets, development can't be far behind."

But expanding the business sector is not easy, particularly when Arlington lacks new Class A office space, said Nanci Johnson-Plump, an independent commercial real estate broker.

"There's going to be some development," Johnson-Plump said. "It just takes time and a planned effort to make that happen."

Burk Collins, a real estate developer who is building the Arlington Center Street Station project at Center and Division streets, which included the renovation of the Arlington Music Hall, said the land between the stadiums is ideal for entertainment-related projects.

Collins said the area needs a project like the Great Wolf Lodge or the Gaylord Texan, both Grapevine destinations that provide hotel space as well as entertainment.

"If I had it, I would do it as an entertainment complex," Collins said. "There's a lot of potential there. It is not for a mall."

Ready to grow

Developers may be eyeing several sites.

One of the largest nearby tracts available for mixed-use development is the 28.5-acre Eastern Star site at the northeast corner of Division and Collins streets.

Separately, the city has been working since 2008 to attract a private developer to expand the Arlington Convention Center on Ballpark Way and build an adjacent first-class hotel.

Tony Rutigliano, president and CEO of the Downtown Arlington Management Corp., a booster organization, agrees that the next step is getting a quality hotel and sees downtown as the best spot for a boutique-style property. But a hotel will need meeting space to boost Arlington from a regional convention site to a national one, he said.

Business growth downtown has been good, but it's primed for further expansion, he said. Just a few years ago, there were only a few restaurants downtown. Now, there are 25, Rutigliano said.

"We've built some brand awareness and brand loyalty," he said. "I see downtown Arlington really taking advantage of that significant economic growth. I'm 100 percent motivated to get a hotel in downtown Arlington."

Developer Ryan Dodson's renovated buildings now house Flying Fish, Twisted Root Burger Co., Hooligan's Pub, Freebirds World Burrito and the new Capital Bar.

None were open for Super Bowl XLV, but Dodson is confident that those spots and other downtown dining and entertainment venues will see a boost in business during the basketball and football championships.

"There's plenty of parking in downtown. There are plenty of places to eat and drink," Dodson said.

To help draw even more customers, Dodson said, he would love to see the city or the Downtown Arlington Management Corp. coordinate a shuttle service between the stadium and downtown during the championship festivities.

But some say the city needs to look beyond shuttle service to improve mobility.

Jurey said Arlington should continue exploring high-speed rail or light rail to help move visitors in and out of the city. Many out-of-town fans who come to the stadium for big events are from areas with public transportation, he said.

"They are bewildered and stunned when they get here to find so few options to get to the game," Jurey said.

Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578; Twitter: @susanschrock
Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727; Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST

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