While promoting a plan to use tax dollars to help the Texas Rangers build a new $1 billion stadium and stay in Arlington, Mayor Jeff Williams has portrayed Dallas as a temptress trying to lure the beloved ballclub out of town.
“We need to show love for the Rangers, right now,” Williams told the Fort Worth Rotary Club the week before announcing the plan for a retractable roof ballpark. “The Rangers don’t want to leave. But there are other cities — and we know one that starts with a D — that want to take them.”
Since then, the city of Dallas and its leaders — Mayor Mike Rawlings, developers, landowners and businessmen with deep pockets — have become the boogeymen Williams and others say can only be scared off if Arlington voters approve a new stadium deal Nov. 8.
While stadium opponents say the threat is being exaggerated, the Rangers did hold on-and-off meetings with Dallas representatives for a couple of years to discuss the possibility of the team moving east.
Both Rawlings and the Rangers say the talks — part of a broad effort by the team to study alternatives for building a new stadium — were serious but conceptual.
I had serious conversations with the Rangers, but they were exploratory at best.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings
Rawlings met numerous times with Ken Hersh, a minority team owner, but their talks never became detailed enough for Rawlings to brief the Dallas City Council or produce a formal proposal to the Rangers. The Rangers’ primary owners, including Chairman Ray Davis, were not active participants.
“I had serious conversations with the Rangers, but they were exploratory at best,” Rawlings said.
Hersh, a onetime associate of the late Fort Worth financier Richard Rainwater who runs an energy investment firm in Irving, is reluctant to reveal details of the talks, saying he considers anything discussed “to be private since they were so conceptual in nature.” Starting in 2014, Hersh said, he was acting as chairman of the team’s facilities committee and reported his findings back to the Rangers board of directors.
“On several occasions, I did meet with Mayor Rawlings, who was interested in gauging the Rangers’ interest in considering a move to Dallas at some point in the future,” Hersh told the Star-Telegram via email. Since the lease on the ballpark doesn’t end until 2024, “there was no real urgency to the discussion.”
When the Rangers eventually engaged with Arlington on its proposal, the team focused on working with the city on a comprehensive plan that is now going to the voters, Hersh said.
On several occasions, I did meet with Mayor Rawlings, who was interested in gauging the Rangers’ interest in considering a move to Dallas at some point in the future.
Ken Hersh, chairman of the Rangers facilities committee
Under that proposed deal, the city says it would share up to 50 percent of the facility’s cost under a 30-year lease extension. To pay for it, the city would extend and redirect part of its half-cent sales tax, 2 percent hotel tax and 5 percent car-rental tax. The sales tax is being used to pay the city’s share of AT&T Stadium construction costs.
Opponents of the stadium proposal say Williams and others are peddling the Dallas threat to whip up votes.
“These are just trash talk, scaremonger tactics that the proponents want to use to win,” said Arlington attorney Warren Norred, a member of the opposition group Save Our Stadium. “There is no evidence that they [Dallas] can do substantially more than what they did in trying to attract the Cowboys.”
I don’t blame Mike Rawlings for going after the Rangers at all. [But] don’t sit here and tell me there was no competition for the Rangers. That is baloney.
Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams
Williams disagrees, saying that Hersh’s involvement “raises the bar of the talks.” An engineer himself, Williams said he heard that engineering and other studies were conducted as part of those talks.
“I don’t take Dallas lightly at all, or the other cities lightly, because of what the Rangers have to offer,” Williams said. “They are one of the best franchises in the major leagues. They are a big economic engine.”
“I don’t blame Mike Rawlings for going after the Rangers at all. [But] don’t sit here and tell me there was no competition for the Rangers. That is baloney,” he said.
Davis declined to be interviewed. Co-Chairman Bob Simpson also did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Trying to ‘steal’ the team
Make no mistake, Dallas would like to have the Rangers in its back yard.
John Crawford, president and CEO of Downtown Dallas Inc., has often crowed about how downtown Dallas would be a good place for the Rangers.
“We’ve had an ongoing interest in attracting the Rangers to Dallas if the Rangers have an interest,” Crawford said. “The ball has always been in the Rangers’ court to take the next step, and we never got that far.”
In 1988, a minor-league pitch was made for the team by the predecessor of Downtown Dallas Inc. with the possibility of building a ballpark near downtown. That effort resulted in an angry response to the city from then-Arlington Mayor Richard Greene, who said that Dallas was trying to “steal” the team.
Two years later, after the team had been purchased by a group that included Rainwater, Dallas businessman Rusty Rose and future governor and President George W. Bush, Arlington and the Rangers announced a deal to build a new ballpark.
Now called Globe Life Park in Arlington, the ballpark cost about $191 million and was financed in part by the city through $135 million in bonds paid off by raising the city sales tax by a half-cent. The ballpark opened in 1994.
In 2014, as the ballpark celebrated its 20th anniversary and fans sweltered in the sun, rumors heated up about building a climate-controlled, retractable-roof stadium to provide some relief, and the idea of moving to Dallas resurfaced. Arlington council members fretted about one of the city’s most recognizable residents moving away.
In June, Rangers officials said they weren’t talking to Dallas, or any other city, about building a new ballpark. But that same year Hersh was appointed as the ownership group’s ballpark liason.
“That’s my job, as it is the mayor of Fort Worth or Irving or Arlington, to present the city in the best light,” Rawlings said.
Timing not right
The recent talks between the Rangers and Dallas were general in nature, “informal updates and what-ifs,” Rawlings said. He said Dallas council members asked him about their conversations, but “there wasn’t anything to share.”
“That is the way deals happen. There is not a day you walk in and say this is a whole plan,” Rawlings said. He said that Hersh was “very transparent” and told him he would not be making the final decision.
“He made it clear that he was not the top guy with the ownership — that Ray or Bob were making the decisions — and his job was just getting information,” Rawlings said.
The timing wasn’t right for Dallas. It would have been hard to make a pitch to citizens about a new stadium years before the Rangers’ lease in Arlington was scheduled to end, Rawlings said. To portray a deal with Dallas in any way as being “imminent” would not be true, he said.
...As a longtime Dallasite and as minority owner, I had other folks approach me from time to time with ideas. People knew the lease was up within 10 years. Again, all simply ideas...
“I might become aggressive, but now is not the time. It is way too early,” Rawlings said. “We couldn’t go to the voters in November to build a stadium. The whole timing of that is critical.”
Rawlings, however, cautioned that the city does not speak for all of the landowners in Dallas, raising the possibility that others may have talked to the Rangers about moving.
Hersh also said that “as a longtime Dallasite and as minority owner, I had other folks approach me from time to time with ideas. People knew the lease was up within 10 years. Again, all simply ideas.”
Speculation about which landowners might be involved typically spins around property owned by Ray Hunt near downtown at the site of the former Reunion Arena. But John Scovell, who recently stepped down as president of Woodbine Development Corp., said no one he knows talked with the Rangers lately.
“To my knowledge, nobody at Woodbine talked to the Rangers. With the challenges in oil and gas, [Hunt] is focused on something that is far from baseball,” Scovell said.
He raised questions about the suitability of the property, since 50 acres may not be big enough for a stadium and that building the necessary parking structures would be very expensive. (Globe Life Park is about 800,000 square feet. The complex sits on 180 acres.)
Rawlings said a possible site might be near the Trinity River west of downtown. Another potential home that is often mentioned is the Cedars area south of downtown. Jack Matthews, who has been involved in redeveloping that area, did not return repeated phone calls from the Star-Telegram.
“There are sites that can accommodate a stadium, but if they are practical” is the question, Scovell said. “I would assume the Rangers ownership has looked at all of those and a ton of brokers are knocking on their door to put it here or put it there.”
Williams said even if the talks were preliminary, Dallas is a formidable opponent. Besides the city having hundreds of millions for two new west-side bridges, he said private money helped pay for Klyde Warren Park and the AT&T Performing Arts Center, all downtown landmarks.
Williams said Arlington doesn’t have a big enough private sector, for example, to raise that kind of cash.
We knew we were in jeopardy. .... It may not just be Dallas, but they have the power and the resources to make it happen. ... They’ve got the money or they can raise it.
Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams
“We knew we were in jeopardy,” Williams said. “It may not just be Dallas, but they have the power and the resources to make it happen. … They’ve got the money or they can raise it.”
Which is why Arlington got aggressive in making a deal with the Rangers years before the current lease was set to expire, Williams said.
“We were trying to avoid a bidding war and competition from other communities. Our big thing is that we could build the facility sooner than the others and that it would also make it cheaper. I firmly believe that the price would have gone up” if the city had waited until near the end of the lease.
Talks between the Rangers and Arlington about the franchise’s future intensified as the two sides launched into discussions in 2015 about the $200 million Texas Live! development next door, said Rob Matwick, Rangers executive vice president of business operations. Arlington is splitting the $100 million cost of the initial development with the Rangers.
“It has come together pretty quickly,” Matwick said.
When the stadium deal was announced, Davis said Dallas never really had a chance because Arlington quickly made the most of its home-field advantage. The Rangers are sensitive about being portrayed as pitting cities against each other.
“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 where we were with Arlington and, very honestly, that we could get in [a new stadium] three to four years earlier than if we went any other place, that was very compelling.”
Arlington jumping the gun was a masterstroke, Rawlings concedes.
“If I was the mayor of Arlington and wanted to keep the Rangers, I would have done the same thing because they had the currency and that was the lease. … They’ve got control of the agenda,” Rawlings said.
If the vote fails in Arlington, will Dallas go after the Rangers again? Rawlings, who admits being desirous of a ballpark, said, “We’ll jump off that bridge when we get to it.” He also confirmed that Davis, as a courtesy, called him before the deal with Arlington was announced.
“I don’t play, ‘What if?’ It doesn’t do much good,” Rawlings said. “I’m happy for Arlington. I’m happy for the Rangers. I’m happy for the Metroplex and let’s go win the World Series.”
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.