News that the Texas Rangers and the city of Arlington could build a $1 billion stadium with a retractable roof had J Gilligan’s Bar & Grill buzzing Friday afternoon.
The plan calls for a new stadium just south of the existing one between Stadium Drive and Nolan Ryan Expressway. It would connect to the Texas Live mixed-use project planned just to the west, making a seamless entertainment, hotel and sports venue.
The public-private partnership would be split 50-50, with Arlington’s participation capped at $500 million. The city proposes to fund it using the same half-cent sales tax that’s being used to pay for AT&T Stadium. If Arlington voters approve it in November, the city could keep the same 8 percent tax rate to pay for the Rangers’ new stadium.
The Rangers were already playing in Arlington when Randy Ford opened J. Gilligans in 1979, so the team’s fandom has always been a part of the business. He’s excited about the new stadium and, most importantly, that the city has struck a deal to keep the Rangers.
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It may be 15 or 20 people but you add that up over an 81-game season.
J. Gilligan’s owner Randy Ford on extra business he gets when the Rangers are good
“When they’re playing here and they’re playing well like last year, in August they started getting in contention and they ended up catching up and people catch the fever we see more and more,” Ford said. “It may be 15 or 20 people but you add that up over an 81-game season.”
The World Series runs in 2010 and 2011 gave J. Gilligans a $25,000 bump in October that hasn’t been replicated since, Ford said. The restaurant put a giant inflatable screen in the parking lot and made each playoff game into a block party event.
If voters approve the referendum in November, the Rangers could move into the new stadium by 2021, meaning Globe Life Park’s last season could be four years away.
That might stir some nostalgia for some fans.
Ford understands that. He’s got an orange plastic seat from the old Arlington Stadium where the Rangers played for the first 22 years they were here.
He also understands the reasoning for not putting a roof on Globe Life Park 22 years ago.
What others are saying
Former Mayor Richard Greene, who led the effort to win voter approval for what is now Globe Life Park in Arlington
He said he first heard rumors a couple of years ago that Dallas was preparing to make a play for the Rangers, and that galvanized the city to make a bigger play.
“Slowly but surely, becoming more aggressive with each passing month, the Dallas leaders were working hard to convince the Rangers they could make a deal with them,” Greene said. “It’s beyond speculation. There is a certainty that Dallas’ long desire to steal our team continues. So this ought to put an end to that.”
Councilman Robert Rivera
“Clearly, there’s a lot of excitement about this next chapter in the partnership between the city of Arlington and the Texas Rangers.”
At age 18, Rivera ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 1990 on the platform of having the city buy the Rangers in order to keep them. Instead, voters approved funding in 1991 to build The Ballpark in Arlington.
Rivera said he wasn’t concerned that the price tag of the new stadium would be an obstacle for voters, based on the city’s accelerated payoff of what is now Globe Life Park in Arlington and plans to do the same with bond debt for the $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium.
“The size of this will not intimidate our people. Our can-do spirit has taken on large projects successfully,” said Rivera, who was elected to the council in 2005, just after co-chairing the Vote Yes campaign for what is now AT&T Stadium. But, he added, as a note to the future campaign for the new stadium, “the level of understanding and comfort with the project by the voters is paramount. It has to be a citizen-driven project, much like The Ballpark in Arlington and [AT&T] Stadium.”
Former Mayor Robert Cluck, who spearheaded the effort to win voter approval for AT&T Stadium
He said he started talks with Rangers majority owner Ray Davis about a stadium about four years ago, “really heavily” in his last two years as mayor.
“We had lunch many times together and talked about how we could make it work for everybody,” Cluck said.
Asked if the Rangers would have departed Arlington without such a deal, Cluck said: “I think it was a good chance, I do. I know Dallas, even though they’re not going to tell you this, would love to have the Rangers. I think they have a place downtown they were considering. I don’t know that for sure.”
Anything want me to do, I’ll do. Except pay for it.
Former Mayor Robert Cluck on whether he would help push for voter approval of the new stadium
As several officials talked about the future campaign for the stadium funding, Cluck volunteered to help. “Anything they want me to do, I’ll do. Except pay for it.”
City Manager Trey Yelverton
He said the city hasn’t decided yet on paying off the remaining Cowboys stadium debt but has two options. One would have the Rangers paying off the debt and the city reimbursing the Rangers over time. The city could also “decelerate” the fast pace of its debt repayment.
“We’ve been going very fast,” he said. “So we might just slow down and spread it out so that you have a second smaller payment while running both payments together. But financing will be dependent upon what the market conditions are and the situation at the time.”
Councilman Charlie Parker
He said Dallas’ interest in making a new home for the Rangers lit a fire under city leadership.
“When Dallas created an interest in drawing the Rangers to them, we became a little bit more concerned and we got a little more active in the pursuit of the Rangers.”
Asked if a roof on Globe Life Park was ruled out because of cost, he said, “As the stadium gets bigger, it gets almost un-cost-effective — [Davis] is reducing the size of the stadium to be cost-effective in putting the roof on.”
Parker said promotion of the city’s fast payoff of the Rangers stadium debt and plans to finish off the Cowboys stadium debt early will be important in the pro-funding campaign but not the main chant.
“I think the No. 1 selling point is, ‘The Rangers are staying in Arlington.’ That is the biggest selling point for the whole campaign.”
Councilman Jimmy Bennett
“The ability of the city to finance its portion is well within the capacity of our projections. We anticipate continual development of the entertainment district. In my opinion it’s very affordable. I would also anticipate an early retirement of these bonds [just] as the previous venues’ bonds have been paid.”
Asked if the city’s eagerness to strike the new partnership was driven by fear that the Rangers would move to Dallas, Bennett said no. “It was a proactive move by the part of council. For the past few years, knowing that the Rangers’ relationship was so important, we’ve always had the discussions of what we need to do to ensure their continual presence. It’s only accelerated in the past couple of years.”
Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon
“I would say, not fear of losing but wanting to keep the Rangers here. It’s always been our goal. They’re Arlington’s team, they’re North Texas’ team. But to keep them in the center of the Metroplex in Arlington — it’s their home. This is where they came when they first came to Texas. We consider them one of our citizens, you might say. They can move a block, but that’s as far as we want them to go.”
There was no immediate word on whether new or previous bond opposition groups would ramp up hoping to get voters to defeat the measure. Groups that opposed the Rangers ballpark bond vote in 1991 and the Cowboys stadium vote in 2004 appeared to be defunct. Unsurprisingly, no political action committees on either side of the issue had registered with the city secretary’s office by closing time Friday.
Correspondent Nicholas Sakelaris contributed to this report.