Arlington blitzing through its stadium debt faster than expected

Flags fly outside AT&T Stadium on Nov. 2.
Flags fly outside AT&T Stadium on Nov. 2. FortWorth

The city is paying down its debt on AT&T Stadium faster than expected — seven years ahead of schedule — and if that trend continues, it could save taxpayers millions of dollars.

Thanks to higher-than-anticipated sales, hotel and car rental tax revenue, Arlington could ultimately pay off the 30-year stadium bond — about $300 million, plus interest — 10 years early, according to city treasurer Ethan Klos.

About 10 years ago, Arlington sold nearly $298 million in bonds to help publicly finance the $1.2 billion, 80,000-seat stadium and bring the Dallas Cowboys to town. The stadium opened in 2009 and has since hosted dozens of high-profile events, including Super Bowl XLV, the NBA All-Star Game, the Final Four and the inaugural College Football Playoff national championship game earlier this year, which has helped draw millions of visitors and international attention to the city.

Those stadium bonds are repaid through a half-cent sales tax, a 2 percent hotel occupancy tax and a 5 percent car rental tax approved by voters in 2004, in addition to $2 million a year the Cowboys pay to rent the city-owned stadium and $500,000 a year from the team’s naming rights deal with AT&T.

Because sales taxes have come in higher than projected, the city has been able to put more money toward paying off the stadium. Earlier this month, the city paid the last of a $64 million lump-sum payment that wasn’t due until 2035, Klos said. This officially shaved seven years off the 30-year bond debt.

To date, Arlington has put $258,606,226 toward the stadium debt, meaning it has paid off 40 percent of the estimated $641 million the debt would have cost if paid off over 30 years.

City leaders expect to pay off the stadium bonds by 2024, a full decade earlier than required. Doing so would save the city an estimated $97.5 million in interest payments over the life of the debt, Klos said.

It wouldn’t be the first time Arlington paid off a stadium early. A $135 million debt on Rangers Ballpark, now known as Globe Life Park, was paid off in 2001, also a decade earlier than expected. Those bonds were paid for through a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1991.

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639

Twitter: @susanschrock

AT&T Stadium and debt

How much did Arlington owe at the start, in 2005?

▪ Total estimated 30-year stadium debt: $641 million, including interest

▪ Principle: $297,990,000 million

▪ Interest: $343 million

How much does Arlington owe now?

▪ Principle owed now : $203,600,000 million

▪ Estimated interest owed if debt is paid off in 30 years: $343 million

▪ Estimated interest owed if debt is paid off in 20 years: $236 million

Where does the money come from?

Stadium bond debt is repaid using revenue from three taxes approved by Arlington voters in 2004:

▪ a half-cent sales tax

▪ a 2 percent hotel occupancy tax

▪ a 5 percent car rental tax.

Those taxes will expire once the debt is repaid.

What does Jerry Jones pay to the city?

Contrary to popular belief, Arlington actually owns AT&T Stadium.

▪ The Dallas Cowboys owner pays rent, $2 million a year since 2009, which is when the stadium opened. And he will as long as the team plays there.

▪  Just last year, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones started forking over $500,000 annually as part of the stadium’s multimillion-dolllar naming rights deal with AT&T. That’s in his contract with the city.

▪  Rent and naming rights money are both applied to Arlington’s debt. The city received its first naming rights check in December 2014.