Desperate dealing

City scrambles to finance arena privately--and steal racetrack back from Fort Worth

Hunt, of course, is primarily responsible for the current arena crusade. Two years ago, Stars owner Norm Green recruited Hunt to help him get the city to build a new arena (something our mayor promised Green when he moved here but, of course, could only deliver with the help of Hunt's political leverage). Just over a year ago, Hunt and Green persuaded a reluctant Carter--who at that point was merely interested in renovation--to join them.

Now Hunt, through his bulldog, Woodbine Development chief John Scovell, is in negotiations with the city, too. Hunt owns the proposed site for the new arena. And he must sell or sign a long-term lease for the Reunion parking lots and air rights, arena negotiators say, to clear the way for the city and Carter to cut a deal.

"Right now, this is the number-one issue as far as Carter goes," says one person close to the negotiations. "Hunt's known for a year that he had to resolve this problem, but he never will. It's gotten to the point where the city's had to start offering little private parking lots all over downtown as an option--some as little as 26 spaces. It's a joke."

As usual, the problem comes down to the basic instinct of the too-wealthy: greed. "So far John Scovell has been pretty much as you would expect--he understands it would be in his best interest to get this accomplished, but he's not going to give the land or the parking lots away," says one city arena negotiator. "We were hoping for some kind of land swap, but unfortunately, there's nothing in the city's inventory that he wants. I don't think it's gotten to the point where it's an obstacle. They're cordial and cooperative--to a point. Sure, they could make it easier for us and say, 'you can have the land,' but I haven't felt like they've been asses either.'"

Give them time. If Ray Hunt were the philanthropic civic booster that he's always held himself out to be, he would make it easy to do this deal. He would sell the arena land cheap (he bought it for a song 23 years ago), then lease the parking lots to the city for a $1 a year for a hundred years (his favorite arrangement for Reunion land he leases from the city).

Come on, Ray. It's time to pitch in for your new arena. We'll even name a luxury suite after you.

Speaking of Hunt, his bright idea to develop a dirty, noisy car racetrack in the middle of a residential area of North Oak Cliff is all but dead in the water.

That's the second major undisclosed conclusion reached at City Hall last week. Using Pinnacle Park as a racetrack was a stupid idea for many reasons, but it got as far as it did for only one reason: Ray Hunt, for reasons still unknown, was willing to put his name to it, as developer of the project.

Billy Meyer--a short, small-time drag-strip owner from Waco--could never have gotten the time and attention he received from city staffers, who began meeting with him in private as early as last May, without Hunt's keys to the city. And when a real racetrack contender, Bruton Smith of Charlotte, arrived on the scene in November, Mayor Bartlett became absolutely apoplectic. His maneuverings on behalf of the Hunt-Meyer proposal made his year-long arena crusade look downright lethargic.

"I think it's just so terrible that as far back as November, Bruton Smith was making overtures to the mayor about coming to the Metroplex--and that included Dallas--but the mayor never told the council," says councilwoman Donna Blumer. " Instead, he publicly endorsed Billy Meyer--meaning, 'I want to get rid of Bruton Smith because it interrupts Ray Hunt's plans to do Pinnacle Park.' That's what makes me so angry about this whole thing. Because had I known Bruton Smith was looking at Dallas, I would have prostrated myself before him."

Last week, after several months of desperate political skirmishing between the two racetrack camps, John Ware finally took the bull by the horns and, with the help of outside consultants, determined that Smith was by far the stronger applicant, with a far more appropriate site--in South Oak Cliff.

But this never went public. Because two days before Ware was to brief the council on his recommendation--which had been kept strictly confidential--Fort Worth beat Dallas to the punch and cut a deal with Smith. It was a bombshell. And the Dallas City Council knew instantly that it had blown the big one.

Last Wednesday, just as Ware and top staff were about to begin the racetrack briefing to try to determine what to do with Pinnacle Park, where Meyer's project was still on the table, Paul Fielding asked that the council withdraw into a closed-door executive session. No one was told why, and when the council emerged several hours later, no one knew what had transpired inside--except that Ware supposedly needed a two-week delay to gather more information from the Pinnacle Park group.

In truth, the delay was needed so that Ware could try his best to cut a deal with Smith--to steal the racetrack back for Dallas. The city council had belatedly wised up, and in that closed-door meeting, its members were mad as hell about the way things had turned out. "The mayor just sat there all hunkered down," says one council member. "And [Sandra] Crenshaw, [Glenn] Box and Fielding were leading the charge to try and salvage this thing. I think most of the council realized what a very, very big blow this is to the city."

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