To an extended standing ovation, the City Council on Tuesday cast its second and final vote calling an election to decide whether the city should finance half of a proposed $1 billion, retractable-roof ballpark for the Texas Rangers.
For the second consecutive meeting, more than 100 spectators crowded the council briefing room, drawn by the vote on the city’s partnership with the Rangers to build the climate-controlled ballpark potentially for the 2020 season, three years before the Rangers’ lease ends on the current ballpark.
But unlike the Aug. 2 meeting, in which opponents outnumbered supporters 2 to 1, supporters regained the upper hand Tuesday, with five speakers and 88 non-speakers in favor of the election, according to the city secretary’s count.
Only 13 opponents signed up, including nine who spoke.
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The city on May 24 approved a master agreement with the Rangers to share up to half — $500 million — of the construction cost with the ball club. The deal would extend the Rangers’ lease for 30 years after the current lease expires after the 2023 season. The Rangers would pay $2 million annual rent to the city.
The election would allow the city to extend and redirect part of its half-cent sales tax, 2 percent hotel-motel tax and 5 percent car-rental tax to pay its share of construction. The sales taxes are currently paying down the city’s remaining $175 million share of AT&T Stadium’s construction costs.
Remember what is truly important — the future of our city — not winning or losing.
Councilwoman Victoria Farrar-Myers
Several opposing speakers complained of being blocked from a variety of websites when they posted their opinions, attributing it to the hostility of some ballpark supporters. They said there hasn’t been a public forum to ask questions about the project. Several said the council was rushing the project and asked that the election be postponed to allow more time to learn more about it.
“Ninety days is not enough for us common folk to make a $500 million, 30-year tax decision,” Arlington resident Laura Rea told the council.
Wayne Ogle, a former member of the City Council and Arlington school board, reiterated the concerns of many city officials and other supporters that Dallas was scheming to steal the Rangers if the franchise doesn’t get a stadium impervious to Texas summer heat and rain delays.
“Dallas has a monstrous budget. They’re able to do this without a sales tax,” Ogle said. He urged the council to continue moving quickly to ensure Dallas “gets their stinking hands off our entertainment district … and off our city.”
As the council prepared to vote, Councilwoman Victoria Farrar-Myers urged “civility” as the community debates the project.
“Remember what is truly important — the future of our city — not winning or losing,” she said.
The city and Vote Yes! Keep the Rangers, a political action committee that counts Mayor Jeff Williams and the entire council as members, are promoting the deal as a huge benefit to the city, including an annual economic impact of $77.5 million.
Critics contend the study figures are inflated and that the tax revenues could be better used on city services.
Also on the ballot will be two other taxes, on admission tickets and parking, that the city has offered to levy on behalf of the Rangers, allowing the ball club to assess the taxes, which are basically user fees, and to use the money to finance part of Rangers’ construction costs.
The Rangers haven’t yet decided if they want the tax benefit.
After the vote, City Manager Trey Yelverton said the Rangers won’t have to decide until probably next summer, when the city would draw up a detailed financing plan.
A group opposing the stadium project cited the two “unarguably new” taxes as part of a formal complaint the group said it has filed with the Texas Ethics Commission against the city and the Vote Yes! PAC.
Kelly Canon, a member of Citizens for a Better Arlington PAC, said she mailed the complaint to the commission Friday.
The PAC’s complaint says the city should have included the the bond amount on the ballot, and that the city and committee are misleading voters by campaigning with the messages that the project would be funded with no new taxes, and that the Rangers might leave if voters reject the proposal. The complaint notes that the Rangers’ lease extends through the 2023 season.
The city says the state attorney general’s office has approved the ballot language. Williams and Vote Yes! PAC members have dismissed the claims as frivolous.
City officials are looking at options for splitting revenues between AT&T Stadium debt and the new ballpark proposal.
The city’s current accelerated payments on AT&T Stadium would retire the mortgage in 2021, 14 years early, saving about $200 million from the original $641 million principal-and-interest schedule. Officials want to restructure the existing debt to free up funding capacity for the Rangers’ new home.
The latest option under consideration is refinancing AT&T Stadium debt in 2017, taking advantage of lower interest rates and extending the debt schedule out to 2034, the original payoff date. Even then, the city would generate $114 million in interest cost savings over the original 2004 projection because of the lower interest and previous accelerated payments, according to an analysis by Yelverton and Chief Financial Officer Mike Finley.
Williams said he’s confident sales tax revenues from a new Rangers ballpark will “balloon” as they did after the ballpark opened in 1994, and again after AT&T Stadium opened in 2009.
“Our entertainment district partners are working so well together, and we’ve established a world-class entertainment district,” Williams said before calling for the vote.
“We’ve had challenges, and now we’re moving forward.”