Arena games

City Hall finds $35 million--and toys with turning Reunion into a reflecting pool

It's summertime--and the living for a City Hall reporter is easy. Primarily because we haven't heard much about the new sports arena. But don't get your hopes up. No news is not necessarily good news. It's just that we're in something of a stall mode right now.

The hangup lies with the arena's three main players--Mavs owner Don Carter, Dallas Stars owner Norm Green, and millionaire oilman Ray Hunt. These three hustled the arena onto the city's agenda last year, but now--oh, sweet irony--their greed and egos are getting in the way of the goal line.

Carter says he's willing to loan some of his millions to the project, but he wants his money repaid first, before the city covers its debt--which the city's bond lawyers have said the city can't do.

Carter wants Hunt to relinquish all the parking lots and air rights around Reunion Arena. Hunt, who has them tied up for 100 years in a sweetheart deal he cut with the city two decades ago, likes things the way they are.

Hunt, of course, instructed the city staff to put the new arena on his land last fall, shortly after the taxpayers spent $500,000 picking out a different site. Now, though, he doesn't like the pittance the city is offering to buy it.

Green, meanwhile, has been shopping his financially troubled hockey team for months. Though heavyweights--Carter, Ross Perot Jr., and mega-investor Tom Hicks--are waiting in the wings with open wallets, Green appears to be holding out for some lesser-known financier willing to overspend for the team.

And the folks in charge at City Hall lurch about, tentatively reacting to all three of these goons.

They wait for the Stars to get a fresh life and enough cash to invest in an arena. They make overtures to Hunt, who sits high above downtown in his oil company office, turning down with a wave of his pen the offers he considers insulting. They meet with Carter, who is naturally suspicious of what great deals the city is cutting with Hunt and Green.

With any luck at all, these three rich guys, through their own shortsightedness and self-absorption, will kill their own project. Until that happens, though, we're saddled with the pursuit of this gold-plated, tax-guzzling mother.

Since the news blackout is still in effect throughout City Hall--shut-up orders to city employees, closed-door briefings to the council, documents prepared (occasionally) for council eyes only, though never left in their hands for fear of leaks--the Observer decided to get what new information we could about the arena through the only means available, the Texas Open Records Act. The last time we did this--at the end of last year--we pried loose a boatload of documents, more than 15,000 pages of them, from the oh-so-reluctant hands of city staffers, who, we quickly deduced from our bedtime reading, were wildly out of control in their lust to build something that Hunt, Green, and Carter could easily build themselves.

This time the paper pickings were slimmer--understandable, given that dozens of supposedly "crucial" negotiating deadlines have come and gone, the city council has been busy with elections and summer vacations, and the Three Wise Men are more interested in one-upping each other than building their palace. City Hall also is much more careful about what it commits to paper--after all, last fall's treasure trove of documents ended up costing the city's number-two man, Cliff Keheley, his job.

Still, among the 7,000 pages of arena documents generated since our last sweep of City Hall, we found intriguing material. Some of the stuff was eye-opening, some exasperating, some downright funny.

We share the best of it with you below--for your edification and amusement.
That Ray Hunt. What a card.
He's owned parking Lot E--located between the Reunion Arena parking garage and the convention center--for 23 years.

Last fall, when Hunt demanded that the city trash its consultants' site recommendation in favor of Lot E, he not only got it done immediately, he managed--as he always does--to keep his name out of it.

He did this by persuading the dimwitted city staff, who then easily persuaded the dull-bladed council and The Dallas Morning News, that he simply didn't own that land any more. He had given it to a family trust, he explained, and the non-profit Communities Foundation of Texas was overseeing the trust--totally removing the land from his control.

Right.
Last week, we came across a letter in the City Hall files. Not in City Manager John Ware's files, mind you--where there should have been a copy--but in the files of the city's property management staff, out in the hinterlands of Oak Cliff. The letter, dated May 23, 1995, is written to the city manager.

"Dear Mr. Ware:
"I would like to acknowledge receipt of your letter of May 17, 1995 and the draft agreement accompanying the letter relating to Lot E. Unfortunately the draft agreement is not acceptable for a host of reasons, and I feel that providing specific comments on it would be counterproductive to our mutual desire to have the new sports complex located in downtown Dallas.

"I would like to reconfirm that we will play whatever supportive role we can with respect to the sports complex remaining downtown. As I have mentioned in previous correspondence, we have some ideas which we think could have as an end result the City acquiring Lot E in a method which would minimize or eliminate the amount of cash required and also meet various third-party requirements for the facility. We are prepared to meet whenever the City and/or the Mavericks would like to visit further on this subject.

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