Game plan is taking shape for NFL youth center in Arlington

Details are emerging about one of the lasting elements of the 2011 Super Bowl, and there is some controversy surrounding the news.

Arlington will be the site of a promised Youth Education Town, and it will likely be managed by the Salvation Army. The program provides educational and recreational centers for at-risk youths in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Bill Lively, president of the North Texas Super Bowl Host Committee, calls the National Football League program "the conscience of the Super Bowl." Generally, the centers are located in Super Bowl host cities.

But at least one Arlington City Council member isn't pleased with the process, particularly the clout the NFL and the host committee have in determining the center's location and mission.

"It has become apparent to me that the NFL, not the local City Council, really has the authority to make decisions on issues relative to the Super Bowl," said Mel LeBlanc, whose district includes Cowboys Stadium. "Most of the authority lies with the NFL and what the NFL wants to do."

That information is nothing new. Documents submitted in 2007 as part of the North Texas bid to land the Super Bowl clearly state that the youth center location is decided by the NFL, the host committee and the local team.

Those parties also decide who manages the facility and what its primary function will be.

Mayor Robert Cluck, however, said he has no misgivings about the selection process.

"The NFL is the strongest partner in the decision-making and has said no to a couple of ideas," he said. "But it doesn't bother me to be dictated to [by the NFL].

"I am thrilled. Basically, the NFL gave us a million dollars and the Gene and Jerry Jones foundation will match it. It's a blessing for Arlington."

Salvation Army involved

The Salvation Army is expected to be the primary partner because it is Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' favorite charity.

But LeBlanc had hoped that more consideration would be given to groups such as the Boys & Girls Club of Arlington and the YMCA.

The NFL, in fact, enlisted the Boys & Girls Clubs of America in 2003 to help manage existing youth centers.

"I think we're going to be invited to participate in some way," said Steve Wurm, president of the Boys & Girls Club of Arlington. "But that will be down the line. We are well aware that the Salvation Army is going to be the lead agency and that they have a partnership with the Cowboys."

An NFL spokeswoman said that the Boys & Girls Clubs will be among the groups with a role in the Arlington youth center but that the host committee had selected the Salvation Army as the primary partner. A spokesman for the Salvation Army would not confirm the group's involvement.

The NFL launched the Youth Education Town initiative in 1993, and it has 13 youth centers in 11 cities. The NFL contributes $1 million in seed money, and the local community must raise $1 million in matching funds.

This is how Jones became involved. Because it was doubtful whether Arlington could raise the money, the Gene and Jerry Jones foundation agreed to provide the match; it will be part of the $15 million that Jones pledged to Arlington youth as part of the stadium contract.

It's not clear where Arlington's center will be built, although the Salvation Army has a headquarters on East Abram Street.

It's also not clear what kind of programs will be offered. Lively said there is no "cookie-cutter" template, but existing centers offer after-school programs that provide tutoring, mentoring, sports and other educational pursuits for youths who might otherwise be on the street.

LeBlanc said some have discussed building a homeless shelter for teens, most likely in east Arlington, as part of the youth program. He questions the need for a shelter, although Cluck said the city may have up to 2,000 homeless teens.

The city plans to study the issue, said Trey Yelverton, deputy city manager.

The Salvation Army operates homeless shelters in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas and Denton.

Next steps

The Salvation Army will likely manage the youth center with help from other groups, but by early fall, Lively will also name an advisory board whose primary function will be to raise money to keep the center operating.

Arlington taxpayers will not be on the hook.

"We have $2 million in startup grants, and by the end of the summer we will know the budget and the advisory board will know how much it has to raise," Lively said. "Where YETs have failed is where they haven't made it a big deal.

"We have to remember why we're doing the legacy program. It's to benefit kids in Arlington."

PETE ALFANO, 817-390-7985