Desperate dealing

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

On February 4, according to several council members, the city had, in fact, offered Bruton Smith an incentive package to come to Dallas. "It was in writing, two pages long, with about $30 million worth of incentives, which is ironic, when you think about it, because it's more generous than what we're currently offering Don Carter," says one councilmember. It was made clear to Smith at the time, however, that even if he accepted it, the city council still had to approve the package. Which meant, of course, a guaranteed escalation of political shenanigans from Bartlett.

When Fort Worth offered its deal last week, the politicians there were already signed on. It was cleaner and easier and without the obvious land mines. Smith signed on, not surprisingly, with the city where he was wanted.

Now Ware will try to salvage the situation--with the council's blessing of the package in hand. "John Ware is going to take essentially the same deal he offered before and put it again to Bruton Smith," says another councilmember. "Because it's pretty much what Fort Worth offered. With a sports authority and infrastructure incentives."

According to key people in the Smith camp--Smith himself will not publicly discuss the possibility of a renewed Dallas overture--the developer's agreement with Fort Worth and Denton County has plenty of escape hatches; after the formal signing, scheduled for this Wednesday, he will have 30 days to get out of it at a relatively modest cost of $100,000.

Smith, who has reasons to prefer the Dallas site (such as better roads already in place), is by no means unwilling to hear Dallas' pitch. But it's all being handled delicately, through lawyers for the city and Smith. Both sides are eager to avoid a lawsuit by Ross Perot Jr., who believes he has the track sewn up for land he owns next to Alliance Airport. "The big problem we see," says a councilmember, "is a potential lawsuit from Ross Perot, who has a track record of suing people for tortious interference with his business deals. So we're making sure that we don't interfere. We're just here."

Bartlett is crying in his cups, though you'd never know it publicly. Last week on Channel 13's "Between the Lines" he continued to chirp about Billy Meyer's integrity and great financial capabilities (that's a surprise to city officials--they've yet to see a financial statement from Meyer, though they've been asking for one for months.)

"At the end of our meeting, even though Bartlett clearly had his tail in a crack, he was still weakly defending the Pinnacle Park site," says one councilmember. The mayor finally acquiesced in the last-ditch bid to salvage a deal with Smith. Recalls the councilmember: "He said, 'I don't think this is the right thing to do, but if y'all want to...'"

Only two other councilmembers joined Bartlett in fighting for the Pinnacle Park site, councilmembers say--Donna Halstead, whose campaign treasurer is Dan Petty, a Ray Hunt lieutenant, and Barbara Mallory, who owes her election two years ago to the Bartlett-Hunt political machine.

And then there was poor Bob Stimson, who, to his brethren's chagrin, became enamored of Bartlett and Hunt after the mayor sent him on a trade mission to China last fall with a bunch of business leaders. Stimson has infuriated his constituents by working arduously behind the scenes for months with Scovell to bring the track to his district. "Bob was quiet in the meeting," says one councilmember, "because he realizes he's been riding the wrong horse. He can't wait to be able to vote for a Bruton Smith deal because he's got political problems now."

Even if Smith cannot be turned back to Dallas--and, thanks to Bartlett, making that happen is a long shot--the people of North Oak Cliff can celebrate, for it now seems certain that Pinnacle Park will never be an auto racetrack.

"I don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell that a track will ever be built there," says one councilmember who is pro-arena and quite fond of Hunt, but has looked at the racetrack situation objectively. "Everybody but Bartlett seems to know that.

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