Bud Kennedy

Arlington, usually bold, was slow to respond to stadium criticism

Arlington mayor Jeff Williams
Arlington mayor Jeff Williams Star-Telegram archives

Long known as the city where ballpark nachos were invented, Arlington now wants a new air-cooled stadium for serving them.

Some years, the nachos were all Arlington could brag about. But lately, the Rangers have been among baseball’s best, and now they’re important to keep almost regardless of price.

When the calculators quit spinning after a WFAA/Channel 8 report last week, that price was set at $500 million in city debt plus $120 million in city-authorized Rangers debt, numbers that don’t seem to make a hill of beans since tourist dollars pay the arenas off fast anyway.

Look, there are no stadium deals where cities make all the money. The Rangers have a 44-year history as the only major-league sports team ever based in Tarrant County — the city also hosts games for a certain football team that will be officing in Frisco — and Arlington can’t just invent a new 3-million-per-year attraction.

The city already tried a marine life park once. It’s easier to care for starting pitchers.

As usual, some Dallas-centric writers and radio hosts are calling it a bad deal. It’s definitely a bad deal for Dallas.

For new Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, it’s an essential deal for a city that depends on sales and tourist taxes to keep property taxes low and bureaucracy small compared to other North Texas cities.

“Ever since Mayor [Tom] Vandergriff brought General Motors and Six Flags, Arlington has counted on this revenue to pay for police officers and firefighters,” Williams said. “Losing this revenue is not an option.”

I believe that’s a premier location, and it raises the question.

Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams on whether

He is new as mayor, but not new to stadium projects. As a civil engineer, Williams’ Graham Associates led that work to build the Rangers and Cowboys stadiums, Johnson Creek between them and major regional churches and malls.

Sure, he’s an engineer. He likes building new stuff.

But it all works out well. (His company is withdrawing from any new ballpark project.)

Williams’ regional work also means he knows where new development is headed.

“There is very much a Dallas initiative to bring the Rangers,” he said, and a prime location available with The Dallas Morning News and A.H. Belo Corp. considering a move from Ferris Plaza next to Union Station.

Much of the same criticism was leveled in the 1991 election. It passed with 64 percent of the vote.

I asked if he believes in a Dallas real estate conspiracy.

“I believe that’s a premier location, and it raises the question,” he said. (That location and one of the planned parks on the east side of downtown long have been publicly discussed as potential sites.)

Williams knew making the case for a covered stadium would be tougher than for the 1991 Ballpark vote, when the celebration for a 64 percent victory had to be muted because young George W. Bush’s father had just sent troops to Operation Desert Storm.

But he and Arlington leaders seemed stuck in 1991 last week. They were slow-footed and reticent to tell their side of the city’s arena deals and their resounding, long-standing success story.

“We expected some Dallas backlash,” he said, calling the Arlington response “uplifting.”

“We have overwhelming support,” he said: “People see through what’s going on. They want to move forward.”

Arlington voters have shown they’ll move, if they’re sure which way is forward.

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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