How to renovate Reunion

Architect details low-cost plan to save arena--and poll shows public wants it done

Jack Yardley has been waiting a year for the phone to ring.
Three weeks ago, it finally happened.
"Bob Stimson called me one day," says Yardley, referring to the Dallas city councilman from Oak Cliff. "He said, 'I don't know how much you know about Reunion Arena, but why can't we just renovate this thing somehow?'"

As it turned out, Stimson had called the right person. Yardley is the architect who designed Reunion Arena--the person who put pen to paper 18 years ago and came up with 20-foot-long concession stands, and 17,015 seats, and a 24-foot-wide band of bronze-tinted glass that wraps all the way around the top of the building.

"It was such minimalist architecture that we were looking for something to give it warmth--we wanted Reunion to glow," recalls Yardley. "And when the lights are on inside the building, it does just that."

Yardley is not some faceless designer of buildings, pressed to wax nostalgic about a project he hasn't seen or thought about in years. He isn't speaking via a long-distance telephone connection from some far-flung office in Chicago or L.A. or Singapore.

Yardley is sitting in a small, 11th-floor meeting room at HKS Inc., the Dallas architectural firm where he has worked for 24 years and is a partner. The firm's offices take up four floors of the Plaza of the Americas in downtown Dallas--another local landmark that Yardley designed.

When Yardley stands in the enormous central atrium of the Plaza of the Americas complex during a busy lunch hour, surveying the buzz of activity--the shimmer of the ice-skating rink, the maze of walkways and staircases and glass elevators--he is quietly proud. And it is no different with Reunion Arena--a place he not only conceived but has frequented on a regular basis ever since, from a Rod Stewart concert several years ago, to last year's post-Olympics all-star ice-skating show, to seven years of Sidekicks soccer games.

"I noticed it immediately when they replaced the seats last year because for the first time my knees were up against the seat in front of me," says Yardley, who towers in at 6-feet-4-inches. "I had designed the seating with a person like me in mind so there'd be extra leg room--about an inch more than the standard--between the rows. But the new seats have backs that are thicker and more curved, and that extra inch of room is gone."

Listening to Yardley talk, one thing is certain: this man knows this building. He knows it better than any other person in this city.

So when Jack Yardley snatched his newspaper off his lawn in the Bluffview area of North Dallas one morning last October and saw a big front-page story announcing that city staff and a team of hired consultants want to demolish his beloved arena, Yardley felt bad. To put it mildly.

Mostly, though, he just wanted somebody to call him and ask him the magic question--the one Stimson, and only Stimson, finally asked.

"Sure, you can renovate it," Yardley says he responded when the phone rang. "There's a real easy way to do it."

Bob Stimson (and, to a lesser degree, Domingo Garcia and Paul Fielding) are the only council members who seem to understand what the citizens of Dallas want and don't want--and are making an effort to give it to them.

This is what the citizens don't want: to pay for a new arena.
The citizens say so at town hall meetings with their councilmembers. And they say so when they're asked to submit a wish list of capital improvements--as they were at a series of public hearings on priorities for an upcoming bond election. In a fat spiral notebook filled with those citizen wish lists and recently given to each councilmember, there are plenty of pages that implore: "No sports arena."

What the citizens do want, according to those lists, is White Rock Lake dredged, potholes filled, Fair Park preserved, better flood control in neighborhoods that get swamped far too often when it rains, sidewalks, bike paths, and better libraries.

Reasonable things. Affordable things. Quality-of-life things.
And those who submitted such lists are not alone. In fact, as it turns out, they are in the majority.

Two weeks ago, Nancy Kennedy, who heads the local office of a Cincinnati-based marketing research firm, called the Observer. Kennedy explained that her firm, Alliance Research, had some free telephone polling time because a job had unexpectedly fallen through. And she was offering to do a poll on the arena, as an unpaid public service--though Alliance, which was new to the area, was also clearly in search of a little publicity.

Would the Observer be interested in the results of such a poll?
Alliance mostly conducts marketing studies and customer service polling for corporations. It counts Clorox, U.S. Shoe, and McKinsey Consulting, among its clients. In 1992, though, Alliance did an arena-type telephone poll in its hometown after Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was accused of slurring blacks, Jews, and Asians. Alliance's results--that 70 percent of Cincinnati residents believed she should remain as team owner, as opposed to 46 percent nationally--made headlines in several newspapers, including USA Today.

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