Arlington voters hit it out of the park for the Texas Rangers on Tuesday, giving overwhelming approval to public funding for a $1 billion retractable-roof stadium.
In unofficial returns, with all 137 precincts reporting, 60 percent of the voters approved a financial package that includes extending a sales tax and a hotel/motel tax to pay as much as $500 million towards a state-of-the-art facility next to the existing Globe Life Park, which opened in 1994.
The final vote total was 69,939 votes to 46,621, with the measure only losing in five precincts.
Throughout the campaign, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams and others expressed fears that if the city did not reach a new stadium deal with the Rangers, the team — which has called Arlington home for 45 years — would seriously consider moving to Dallas or another city in North Texas.
Williams, hosting an election night party at the Hilton Arlington Hotel attended by more than 200 supporters, said he arrived guardedly optimistic. But his tension dissipated when the early vote tally came in showing an overwhelming lead for the proposition.
“We have so much at stake here in our city that, absolutely, I’ve been very concerned,” Williams said. “We were expecting it, but you’re still relieved when you actually see it.”
Vastly outspent by the Vote Yes! campaign, opponents scoffed at the idea that the team would run off to Dallas and accused city leaders of using scare tactics to drum up votes. Since the current lease doesn’t expire until after the 2023 season, they said there was plenty of time to hammer out a more equitable deal.
Opponents also portrayed the deal as out on strikes. They believed that extending the sales tax is really a tax increase and that the city was providing exaggerated economic projections.
But members of Citizens for a Better Arlington who fought against the measure were ready to throw in the towel early Tuesday evening. About a dozen group members sitting around a table at Rock Wood Fired Kitchen went from quiet to somber when the early vote totals showed a 60-40 early vote favoring the stadium.
Kelly Canon, one of the group’s leaders, quickly figured the opponents would have to win 100 percent of the election day votes “just to break even.”
“We gave everything we had. We left it all on the field. We educated as many voters as we possibly could — considering we didn’t have the bankroll that the other side had. That’s what you get when you’ve got a $2 million bankroll,” Canon said.
Voters were asked to extend the half-cent sales tax being used to pay off city debt from construction of AT&T Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys play. The measure would also continue a 2 percent hotel-occupancy tax and 5 percent car-rental tax to pay for as much as half of the estimated $1 billion stadium’s cost.
In addition to the three taxes that will pay for the city’s share, voters also will decide two other taxes — a maximum 10 percent admission tax and $3 parking tax that can be used by the team to pay off its costs for the new stadium. The team has not decided whether it will use those revenue streams. It also allows the ball club to sell naming rights to the new stadium. In return, the lease is extended through the 2053 season.
Construction could begin as early as next year, with plans to open in time for the 2020 season.
The vote “reinforces the 40-plus year relationship the Rangers have with this city,” said Rob Matwick, Rangers executive vice president for business operations. “Our objective is to carry it forward for the next 40 years. So we’re very excited.”
Ray Davis, chairman and co-owner of the Rangers, appeared at the Hilton to thank Arlington citizens for their support. “And for those of you that did not vote for us,” he said, “I’m strongly hoping that in the next two or three years you’ll see what we’re doing with Texas Live! and the new stadium, and you’ll say to yourself, ‘Gee, I should have voted for that new stadium.’ ”
The 60-40 percent margin, if it holds, would easily exceed the 55-45 percent margin of victory in the election for AT&T Stadium. Nearly half of the 186,000 registered voters in Arlington voted early, according to Vote Yes! campaign manager Becky Cowan.
Proponents of building a new stadium said it would inject $77.5 million into the Arlington economy annually and $137.6 million in benefits for Tarrant County, since fans often stay in hotels and eat in restaurants in other cities.
To show what kind of development the new stadium would spur, construction began last month on Texas Live!, an entertainment complex and high-rise hotel next to Globe Life Park. Since that announcement, celebrity chef Guy Fieri and Revolver Brewery have announced plans to set up shop in the project.
The Cordish Cos., which is developing Texas Live!, is also looking at ways to re-purpose the current park.
The Rangers have said for years that they’ve wanted a climate-controlled ballpark. In 2014, as the ballpark celebrated its 20th anniversary and fans sweltered in the heat, the team looked at putting a shade structure on the ballpark but found it too costly and cumbersome.
The Rangers also held “conceptual” talks with Dallas about building a new stadium near its downtown. Waiting longer to strike a deal with the Rangers would have only driven up the cost, Williams said, not only from a construction standpoint but particularly if there was a bidding war with other cities.
Going into Election Day, the vote was considered close. On Tuesday, a handful of supporters and opponents set up next to each other outside Young Junior High, standing just beyond the 100-foot marker from the entrance to the polling place.
Bill Hanna, 41, said he voted for a new stadium deal.
“I can’t stand going to a game after May. That’s one reason. Two, it’ll just bring more attractions to Arlington, with the Cowboys and the new restaurants in that area,” he said.
Shaniqua Holland, 26, voted against the proposal. She doesn’t mind extending the current tax, but she doesn’t see the need for a new stadium.
“The stadium we have now is great. It’s excellent,” Holland said. “It doesn’t have the roof, but I don’t think we should be spending millions of dollars to build a new one.”
Brian Mayes, the political consultant for the Vote Yes! campaign, said their internal polls showed support for the stadium. But to keep the heat up, Mayes said Vote Yes! planned to make more than 30,000 phone calls to voters on Monday and go door-to-door pushing the issue.
The Vote Yes! group had far more money to spend on their campaign, with the latest report showing it had amassed nearly $1.5 million. By comparison, The Citizens PAC fighting the stadium proposal had raised about $8,000.
Staff writer Ryan Osborne contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.