Rangers could play in new, air-conditioned ballpark in 2021 season

The Texas Rangers could be playing in a new, air-conditioned ballpark in Arlington by Opening Day of the 2021 season, club and city officials said Friday.

“The Texas Rangers have chosen to stay in Arlington,” Mayor Jeff Williams announced at Arlington City Hall.

City officials and the Rangers have agreed on a plan to build a stadium with a retractable roof that would be funded in part by tax dollars that are currently being used to pay off AT&T Stadium, the next-door home of the Dallas Cowboys.

The stadium will be built in parking lots A and B south of Globe Life Park and connected to a separate $200 million development of shops and restaurants known as Texas Live!, where patrons could have a view of ball games from an outfield courtyard area.

The ballpark construction, which is estimated to cost $1 billion, still must be approved by Arlington voters in a Nov. 8 election. If the referendum is successful, construction could begin by late 2017.

The announcement capped off months of behind-the-scenes negotiations, during which city officials showed an aggressive determination to keep the baseball club, which has called Arlington home since 1972.

“We knew this was something we needed to be proactive on,” Williams said. “Our storied relationship with the Rangers over the last four decades meant that there was not any other option. They are part of the fabric of our community. In fact, many times we say they are part of our DNA. They are who we are.”

Rangers co-owner Ray Davis, who sat beside Williams during a roughly 45-minute news conference Friday, acknowledged perhaps the worst-kept secret in town — that business and political leaders in Dallas had been trying in recent months to woo the team away from Arlington.

But he said Dallas never really had a chance. Davis said Arlington representatives, who had the home field advantage, stepped in too quickly.

“They came to us and said, ‘What would it take to get you to stay here?’ and that started our conversation,” Davis said. “We had other calls, but because of where we were with Arlington and, very honestly, that we could get in [a new ballpark] three to four years earlier than if we went any other place, that was very compelling.”

Arlington Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon said she didn’t mind if the Rangers moved — as long it wasn’t too far.

“They can move a block, but that’s as far as we want them to go,” she said.

The ballpark’s costs will be split equally between the city and the Rangers. The city’s contribution would be capped at $500 million, with the baseball club paying for any overruns.

The agreement would extend the lease with the Rangers through 2054, officials said.

No new taxes

Officials emphasized that no new taxes will be used for the stadium. Instead, the half-cent sales tax, 2 percent hotel occupancy tax and 5 percent car rental tax being used to pay for the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium would essentially be re-purposed.

The AT&T Stadium debt is scheduled to be paid off in 2021, and city and Rangers officials didn’t provide details about how they would arrange financing for the new baseball facility prior to that.

Instead, they said the city and club would first sign a nonrelocation agreement and master development agreement. The Arlington City Council is scheduled to vote on the master agreement Tuesday, then call a Nov. 8 referendum on the issue later this summer.

If voters approve the ballpark deal, the amount of money raised by bond debt would be sufficient to pay off the remainder of the football stadium debt as well as the funding for new construction at the baseball park, officials said.

Also, the Rangers would be able to use certain city-authorized user fees to pay part of their construction costs. Their fees could include a tax on admission tickets, a parking tax and revenue from “stadium builder licenses” charged to customers for certain seats in the new ballpark. To help cover those team costs, the city would issue bonds backed solely by ticket and parking sales.

Classic baseball look

Davis said “Arlington is a natural place” for fans to attend Rangers games. He also said that, while he would leave the design details to the experts, he personally hopes the architecture remains mostly true to the classic retro look of Globe Life Park.

“I love the brick,” Davis said. “I love the classic baseball look. Put a roof over it, and I’m happy. But we’re going to get a lot of input from all over the community.”

Davis said the decision to build a new stadium came after it was established that putting a roof on Globe Life Park would be too expensive, plus it would leave the Rangers without a place to play while work was being done.

“We can add technology that will make the fan experience much better,” Davis said.

Officials said the name “Arlington” will be featured prominently inside and outside the new ballpark. Globe Life will be given the option to retain naming rights.

Most of Globe Life Park would be demolished but officials said there would be an effort to preserve the centerfield offices and perhaps parts of the facade and other historic features at the ballpark.

Mayor’s row in Arlington

The news conference was attended by a who’s who of Arlington leadership from years past. Among them were former Mayors Robert Cluck, Elzie Odom and Richard Greene. The latter was mayor when the deal was reached for Globe Life Park, which was then known as The Ballpark in Arlington.

Cluck was mayor when the city reached a deal with the Dallas Cowboys for AT&T Stadium, which was first Cowboys Stadium.

Greene acknowledged that he “winced a little bit” when he learned Globe Life Park might soon be at least partially demolished. But he said he agrees that a retractable roof is needed to meet fans’ expectations in the 21st century, and he fully supports the new ballpark and plans to speak in favor of it leading up to the possible Nov. 8 election.

“We’ve seen a transition from perhaps the traditions of the past to current demands,” Greene said.

Greene said he is confident that voters will say yes to the new ballpark.

“The key element is to fully inform the voters,” he said. “When they understand the uniqueness and benefit to the community, together with the intangibles and the emotional connection of being a Major League city, then they will support this.”

Counting on presidential vote

By staging the ballpark referendum this fall, Arlington officials are counting on a big turnout for a presidential election. During years in which Americans choose a president, more than half of registered voters typically turn out —and that means a younger cross-section of the population is likely to go to the polls.

On the other hand, during a more routine election involving only municipal issues, turnout can often be less than 5 percent of voters.

Arlington voters have twice approved using the tax revenue for sports venues: $135 million in 1991 for what is now Globe Life Park; and $298 million in 2004 for what is now AT&T Stadium.

Globe Life Park, which opened in 1994, still feels like a new sports venue, but it is now the 11th oldest facility in Major League Baseball. Eighteen other clubs now play in newer stadiums.

By national standards, the Rangers always have solid attendance, even when the team stinks. Only once in the past two decades, during the economic nightmare of 2008, did attendance drop below 2 million.

In 2012, the year after the Rangers’ second World Series appearance, a record 3.46 million fans walked through the gates.

But even so, club ownership believes potentially hundreds of thousands of additional customers are being kept away from Rangers games by the stifling summer heat.

With a roof and air conditioning, a new ballpark could also draw additional corporate sponsorships, and more fans from the northern and eastern suburbs of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Texas Live! work to start in fall

Construction of Texas Live! is separate from the new ballpark proposal and will begin this fall, Williams said.

For that project, the Rangers and Arlington are teaming up to build a planned seven-acre development at the corner of Randol Mill Road and Nolan Ryan Expressway outside the ballpark that will include 100,000 square feet of restaurant, bar and retail space, 35,000 square feet of convention space and a 300-bed, high-rise luxury hotel.

Nolan Ryan Expressway will now dead-end at Randol Mill Road, instead of continuing south to Cowboys Way, to make room for the Texas Live! and the new ballpark, artist renderings of the plan show.

For Texas Live!, the city agreed to provide the developer with tax breaks that include refunds of hotel occupancy tax, property tax, sales tax and mixed beverage tax for 30 years, plus hotel occupancy and sales tax for 10 years from the state.

It will be developed by Maryland-based Cordish Companies, the same company that helped create Ballpark Village outside St. Louis’ Busch Stadium.

Correspondent Faye Reeder and Nicholas Sakelaris contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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