After hearing from backers and critics of a proposed $1 billion air-conditioned home for the Texas Rangers, the City Council on Tuesday voted to call an election to determine whether Arlington residents want to redirect taxes for the project.
The council must vote one more time before the item can be added to the Nov. 8 ballot. The second vote is set for Tuesday, narrowly beating the state’s deadline.
Speakers opposed to the new stadium outnumbered supporters at least 2 to 1, in sharp contrast to the overwhelming support that greeted the council May 24 when it gave unanimous approval to the ballpark’s master agreement and 30-year lease.
Tuesday’s vote was 8-0, with Councilman Charlie Parker absent.
The election would ask voters whether to allow the city to redirect some of its half-cent sales tax, 2 percent hotel-occupancy tax and 5 percent car rental tax to begin paying for a new Rangers ballpark, which would be built across East Randol Mill Road from the Rangers’ current home, 22-year-old Globe Life Park.
If a majority votes no, that would effectively kill the project.
About 20 people signed in as opponents of the project, including speakers who questioned the need to replace the still handsome Globe Life Park, and challenged findings of a study that Arlington would realize a $77.5 million annual economic impact.
“You’re going to outspend us, but we’re going outwork you,” said Faith Bussey, president of Citizens for Better Arlington, who acknowledged that the organization is small. “So you do your thing, and all seven of us will do our thing, and we’ll see who wins out.”
Under the master agreement, the city and the Rangers organization would evenly split the project’s cost, but the city’s commitment would be capped at $500 million. The city would own the stadium and lease it to the Rangers for $2 million a year.
Some residents have criticized how quickly the proposal came about. The council’s May 24 approval of the master agreement and 30-year lease followed its public announcement by four days.
Mayor Jeff Williams has always contended that the city had to move aggressively to thwart any plans brewing in Dallas or other cities to steal the Rangers. But in an interview, Williams added he feared that a delay might encourage competition that would drive up price.
“We know we needed to do something, because I did not want to get into a bidding war with multiple cities,” Williams said. “Bidding would have started out at $600 million [the city’s portion] next year, there’s no doubt.”
Williams said that although he believes the project has overwhelming support, he thinks critics are getting or will be getting help from outsiders. Defeating the proposal could put the Rangers back in play for suitors, although their lease agreement with the city runs through 2024.
“It’s a very small opposition inside,” Williams said. “But we anticipate there will be cities sending people in, and we think they may have been already doing that, because this is high stakes.”
He’s obtaining intelligence, he says, “from political consultants, community leaders, business leaders, Tarrant County. They’ve all said Dallas will be sending people in. It’s been almost unanimous.”
The city is working to find the most fiscally sound way to squeeze its $500 million half of the Rangers stadium into the ongoing financing of AT&T Stadium.
The city of Arlington and Cowboys evenly split the originally projected cost of Cowboys Stadium, now AT&T Stadium — about $650 million. The deal included a cap on the city’s obligation at $325 million.
The city, which paid off Globe Life Park a decade early in 2011, has AT&T Stadium on a similarly fast payoff schedule. At the current pace, the stadium could be paid off 14 years early, in 2021, saving about $140 million from the original $641 million, 30-year note.
But at the moment the city still has $175 million remaining on its stadium debt, which the city expects to have paid down to about $155 million by election time, according to Mike Finley, the city’s chief financial officer.
If voters approve the stadium, the city would slow down its accelerated AT&T debt payments and return to the 30-year payment plan, redirecting those larger principal payments to begin funding the new Rangers stadium. Even making that switch to the 2034 payoff year, the city would save about $100 million because of the big principal payments made so far, officials say.