Arlington-Rangers hotel project to be called ‘Texas Live!’

Update Wednesday morning: The development will be called Texas Live!, officials with the Texas Rangers and the city of Arlington announced. The Cordish Cos. will be the developer, and the project is expected to create 1,800 jobs, including construction, of which 800 will be permanent jobs.

The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to team up with the Texas Rangers in a $200 million development in the city’s entertainment district.

The public-private partnership calls for a 300-bed hotel, a convention center annex and 100,000 square feet of dining, retail and entertainment venues on the southwest side of Globe Life Park in Arlington.

The city would invest $50 million in the retail and entertainment portion of the project without going into debt, City Manager Trey Yelverton said.

“We will be able to cash-fund” the project, Yelverton told the council. “I want to make clear: There are no new taxes and there are no tax increases for this project. These are all existing dollars.”

The city’s contribution would come from the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation, a nonprofit agency created in 2006 to use oil and gas lease royalties to fund community projects.

The city would initially take half of the foundation’s $100 million principal, but over 15 years would gradually restore not only the principal but also its projected bond earnings that would have been lost, a staff report said. The city would consider all the “lawfully available funds” it could tap to begin boosting the foundation’s account back to $100 million.

The Rangers will match the city’s $50 million contribution to the retail/entertainment portion and pay the entire balance of the project, which is the hotel and convention center annex.

The city also agreed to give the Rangers “performance-based incentives” funded with hotel-occupancy taxes, property taxes, sales taxes and mixed beverage taxes.

Once the hotel is built and operating, the city will allow the Rangers to keep the tax revenue for 30 years. And the Rangers could keep the state’s share of the hotel occupancy tax and sales tax for 10 years.

Those incentives could total an additional $50 million over 30 years, said Jay Warren, the city’s communications and marketing director.

The council voted 9-0 on five resolutions needed to move forward with the project.

The council also approved a change in the city’s sign ordinance that would accommodate the project’s signage. The ordinance change will require another reading and vote.

On the last unanimous vote, many in the audience stood and applauded.

Construction on the retail/entertainment part of the complex is expected to start next year and take 12 to 15 months. Groundbreaking on the hotel/convention center portion is expected in 2018.

Among about two dozen speakers was Steve Zimmer, chairman of the advisory committee to the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation, who reported that the committee voted 5-0 to back the project’s financing.

Supporters outnumbered opponents 35 to six, including speakers and others who noted their opinion on cards, according to a tally by the city staff.

Former Mayor Richard Greene called it a good deal for Arlington and said the Arlington Tomorrow reimbursement plan “is probably the best thing anyone could have imagined.”

Craig Ownby, a political consultant and a board director of the Arlington Lone Star Tea Party, called the plan “the right thing to do. I think it’s the best thing for Arlington.”

But several speakers called the city’s use of the foundation’s money misguided.

“I feel betrayed,” Jane Lynn of Arlington said. She and others said they were told that the Arlington Tomorrow funds would be used for charity and for improving safety and monitoring of natural gas wells.

“I’m someone who feels the impact of gas drilling in my neighborhood. I feel this is the wrong use of funds,” Lynn said.

The Texas Rangers had been tight-lipped before Tuesday’s vote. But Rob Matwick, who serves on the boards the Texas Rangers Foundation, the Arlington Convention & Visitors Bureau, and the Arlington Entertainment Area Management District, said the Rangers expect the project to provide “world-class” entertainment and restaurants.

“With your affirmative vote tonight,” he said, “the Rangers stand ready to deliver.”

The development will fill a niche in an already robust entertainment industry, proponents said.

“We welcome over 10 million visitors a year in Arlington, and we’re on the world stage for many national events,” Ronnie Price, president and CEO of the convention bureau, said in an interview.

Arlington has about 6,000 hotel rooms but said that’s not enough, he said. “The pieces that are missing are more hotel rooms and venues that offer entertainment and nightlife in a walkable environment.”

A 2010 city-commissioned study said tourism has a $593 million economic impact annually in Arlington. Without it, Yelverton said, the city would have to find an additional $413 per household to meet its budget each year.

“Arlington is fortunate to be positioned where it is,” he said. “This entertainment district being here serves the region very well.”

Separately from the Rangers, the city also is laying the groundwork for another project on the north side of the ballpark that would expand the existing Arlington Convention Center, a 68,000-square-foot project including a top-of-the-line, 750-bed hotel. The city staff has been working with MGM Grand, Price said.

Both the 300-bed and potential 750-bed hotels would be rated “upper upscale,” comparable to Marriott and Hilton, said Mark Wisness, director of the 30-year-old Arlington Convention Center.

“This project is not something that has happened overnight, and not anything that was done in haste,” Councilman Robert Rivera said. Residents’ “input has been overwhelmingly grateful. It’s an exciting day.”

Councilman Jimmy Bennett said, “It’s a mistake for people to underestimate Arlington.”

Robert Cadwallader: 817-390-7186, @Kaddmann_ST

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