Baseball legend Nolan Ryan is the latest public figure to back the 14,000-seat multipurpose arena proposed for the Cultural District in a final push to voters in the Nov. 4 election.
“On Nov. 4, Fort Worth has a major-league opportunity to have a large multipurpose arena near our historic Will Rogers Coliseum,” Ryan, a Fort Worth property owner, said in a recorded telephone message to voters Tuesday afternoon.
“I strongly encourage you to vote for Propositions 1, 2 and 3 — a new multipurpose arena without using property taxes.”
Residents are being asked to approve three taxes aimed at arena users: a tax on each ticket sold for an event there; a parking tax; and a tax on each stall or pen used by livestock.
Those taxes, combined with the state’s and city’s portion of the hotel/motel tax within 3 miles, will fund the public portion of the $450 million arena, which would include a 2,000-space parking garage, infrastructure improvements and a plaza.
Event Facilities Fort Worth, a nonprofit group chaired by businessman Ed Bass, has pledged to raise at least half the arena cost.
And many of Fort Worth’s political power players — specifically Bass — aren’t taking any chances on the election. Forward Fort Worth Partnership, the political action committee heading up fundraising and advertising, has collected $1.465 million to promote the user-financed taxes to voters.
Most of that money is connected to Bass.
Bass has personally donated $390,000, while Event Facilities Fort Worth has donated $100,000, according to campaign finance reports filed with the city.
Thru Line L.P. and Fine Line L.P., Bass’ real estate development companies, have donated a total of $900,000. The Good Government Fund, run by the Bass family, donated $65,000.
The smallest donation, by Fort Worth attorney Dee J. Kelly, was $10,000.
By the end of the day Monday, 32,632 Fort Worth residents had turned out in person for early voting, which ends Friday.
“I implore people to get out and vote as you see fit for these propositions,” said Councilman Dennis Shingleton, whose district would include the arena.
Shingleton has been on a roadshow of public meetings hosted by the city and other business groups, like the Stockyards.
Seven people attended Tuesday’s public meeting in east Fort Worth and asked a wide range of questions, from the role of public transit in the arena to why the city needs the arena in the first place.
Brian McCarthy, on the board of directors for Fort Worth Bike Sharing Inc., came to Tuesday’s meeting because he didn’t want to “vote on this thing uninformed.”
“I have a sense that it is going to happen, so I wanted to have some input on the process,” McCarthy said. “My thoughts are I hope they consider early and often the transportation impact and have a lot more public-transit options to include the whole palette — pedestrian infrastructure, bike infrastructure and other options.”
Sherry McReynolds, also at Tuesday’s meeting, said she is worried that the increased density in the Cultural District will harm the historic area’s character.
“To watch them approach something so ambitiously and that it doesn’t look thought out worries me,” she said, referring to the lack of traffic studies and transit options. “The two things that comforted me were David Schwarz, the architect, and the Basses, because they don’t do junk.”
The city-hosted meetings have had modest attendance, ranging from one to 15 people, but Shingleton said the small showing does not worry him.
“I’m not too overly concerned that the attendance has been sporadic,” Shingleton said. “I think it is an indication that they don’t have questions or they are supportive of an arena that is not going to cost them anything.”
“I hope there is not a problem. We have worked very hard to assure that there isn’t,” he said.
Besides the eight public meetings planned by the city, The Eppstein Group, hired by Forward Fort Worth Partnership, has launched an aggressive campaign of bilingual television ads on network, cable, Telemundo and Univision channels; radio ads; newspaper ads; mailers; recorded phone messages; and a door-to-door push.
Endorsements of the arena have come from Mayor Betsy Price, the Fort Worth City Council, businesswoman Rosa Navejar and Fort Worth school district basketball coach Robert Hughes.
Brian Eppstein, political consultant and owner of The Eppstein Group, said he is not worried about low attendance at the public meetings.
“We view that as people being informed,” Eppstein said. “So the city is putting out educational information and from the campaign perspective, we are putting out positive information and offering good reasons to support the three propositions.”
Still, the arena plan is causing some concern in area neighborhoods, especially Arlington Heights. Residents are worried that the arena, to be at the southeast corner of Harley Avenue and Gendy Street, will put even more pressure on neighborhood streets.
In response to those concerns, Shingleton is putting together a committee to study various parking and traffic-flow solutions that would keep arena-goers from parking on the side streets off Montgomery Street.
Shingleton said “everything in the books” is an option for the committee to study, including towing zones, fines, patrols and parking permits.
Sergio Yanes, an Arlington Heights resident selected to serve as chairman and establish the committee, said he hopes to start meeting soon.
The parking problem “is already going on down by the Western Heritage Garage,” Yanes said. “We see that the arena is going to make it even worse, or spread the problem down to the other end of the neighborhood. So that is the concern.”
Yanes expects other issues with the arena to arise during the meetings, including noise, light pollution and increased crime.
“Putting in a 14,000-seat arena near a residential area, the question is, How do you maintain that same quality of life in the neighborhood? Obviously change is inevitable, but it is trying to find a way to coexist,” Yanes said.
With construction on the parking garage — the first phase of the project — expected to start in 2016, Shingleton said, officials still have “plenty of time” to devise a parking solution. They hope to have the arena finished by 2019.
The arena will range from 9,300 seats to 14,000 seats, depending on the event. Concerts would seat 12,500 to 14,000 people; basketball could hold 13,300; hockey and family shows could hold 12,200; and equestrian and rodeo events could seat about 9,300.