Arena has a detailed, attractive plan

From an appealing design to a sound (and for property taxpayers, very attractive) financing package, there are plenty of good reasons for Fort Worth voters in Tuesday’s election to approve a new multipurpose arena at the Will Rogers Center.

But careful voters aren’t swayed by pretty pictures, so the details of the proposal have to stand up to careful scrutiny.

They do, but they are complicated.

It would be easier to understand if the $450 million project were being presented to voters as a bond election, but it’s crucial to realize that it is not.

One of the major selling points is that no property tax money would be used for the arena, as would be the case if it were a bond project.

Rather, the financing would be derived from several nontraditional sources. That’s where the complications arise. But individually, the sources are not hard to understand.

The most amazing part of it is that half of the cost — $225 million — plus full responsibility for any cost overruns has been pledged by private donors.

Investor Ed Bass, who has taken a leadership role in organizing the arena proposal, has said “a couple dozen major donors” will provide that money.

Few cities anywhere can count that sort of private support among their blessings.

By contrast, the proposals being put before voters in Tuesday’s election — early voting ends Friday — would cover only about 15 percent of the arena project’s cost.

Still, the vote is the opportunity for Fort Worth residents to say whether the project should move forward. Other important parts of the proposed financing will fall into place only if voters approve.

Three propositions are on the ballot:

• A ticket tax limited to 10 percent of the price of individual admission to events at the arena.

• A tax on stalls or pens used by people who bring livestock for events at the arena, not to exceed $20 per event.

• A parking fee not to exceed $5 per vehicle in facilities that serve the arena.

The parking fee proposal has brought questions. With some exceptions for museum members and others, people already pay as much as $11.50 a day to park at the Will Rogers Memorial Center and in the multistory Western Heritage Garage near the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

The current fee revenue is used to pay back the $27.1 million in certificates of obligation approved by the City Council in 2008 to build the Western Heritage Garage.

City officials say they are “sensitive” to concerns about the already-high parking fees, so they say the arena parking fee will be taken from what people already pay.

But won’t that reduce the amount going to pay off the Western Heritage Garage debt? Yes, says Assistant City Manager Susan Alanis.

“We expect to make it up through volume,” Alanis wrote in an email. “In addition, we will consider refinancing the current garage debt to more favorable terms when it is callable in about five years.”

One more point about the parking fee: The $5 listed on the ballot is a “not to exceed” number. Once voters have their say and more details of the financing package are in place, the City Council has the power to decide on a lower arena parking fee.

That fee would apply to all parking on the Will Rogers campus, all the time.

Other large parts of the arena financing include:

• An 18 percent share, already approved by state officials, would come from incremental state hotel occupancy tax, hotel sales tax and mixed beverage tax within 3 miles of the arena.

The state would keep revenue from those three sources up to the amount it received in 2013. New revenue beyond the 2013 amount would help pay for the arena.

• A 14 percent share would come from incremental local hotel occupancy tax and hotel sales tax revenue within that 3-mile radius. Again, the amount going to the arena would be what’s received beyond 2013 base year collections.

The City Council won’t act on an ordinance devoting local hotel-related revenue to the arena until after Tuesday’s election.

• The city and Tarrant County already have invested about 3 percent of the arena cost in recent years to pay for street and other infrastructure improvements serving the arena site.