Flying blind

With the mayor and city manager leading the charge, the city council moves full speed on an arena deal that doesn't even exist yet

Only two council members--Stimson and Donna Blumer--see how ludicrous it is to ask the voters to consider approving an arena deal in January when we don't have one. (Al Lipscomb joined them in voting against the ballot initiative, but his vote was suspicious. A rabid pro-arena supporter, Lipscomb went off on a bizarre rant last week about not wanting to offend his South Oak Cliff constituents by choosing the wrong downtown arena site.)

Blumer and Stimson could have taken things one step further--turned up the temperature a bit. They could have called for a vote to terminate the arena deal entirely. According to the letter of intent, they have every right to do so: "This Letter of Intent may be terminated...by any party, if the Master Agreement is not executed and delivered by the City and ArenaCo on or before November 12, 1997."

Instead, the city council voted to proceed with the deal at full speed--with no solid information.

Let's take the simple issue of what will happen to Reunion if we build a new arena.

The letter of intent says Reunion Arena is coming down with a wrecking ball. Period. "You can't have competing facilities and make this work," Kirk snarled at the council members who questioned him about it last month.

Last week, though, was a different story--Kirk and Ware were talking about saving Reunion after all. (One thing the $1 million pro-arena campaign is learning through its phone polling is that people don't like the idea of demolishing a 17-year-old building for which they still owe $28 million.)

"The teams have backed off their previous position and have indicated they would like to see if they can operate Reunion Arena and see if they can make it a viable situation," Ware told the council last week.

An "indication" is not a commitment--but try telling that to our city council, so eager to be on the team. Both Don Hicks and Larry Duncan swallowed Ware's comments whole--good, Reunion Arena will be saved, they said. Then, as the pro-arena people no doubt expected, The Dallas Morning News published a lead editorial the next morning that precisely echoed the councilmen's misinterpretation of the facts. "The Mavericks and Stars no longer insist that Reunion Arena be torn down," the editorial stated triumphantly. "Instead, the teams will manage the facility. That resolves a significant criticism about building a new arena."

But nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing is resolved. Nothing.
Just ask John Ware--ask him directly and firmly, blocking his attempts to wriggle away from the truth by using weasel words such as "indicate."

"Are you saying that the master agreement is going to specifically state that Reunion Arena will not be torn down--that the teams will manage it instead?" I asked him immediately after last Friday's briefing. (I rushed to the horseshoe so fast that a City Hall employee tried to have me ejected from the area--"for security reasons," she said.)

"Don't know," Ware said with a shrug as he tried to walk away. "That's part of our negotiations."

OK, so let's move on--to a question that had been asked repeatedly during the briefing, one that Ware repeatedly dodged. "The city promised to contribute $110 million for arena construction and $15 million in infrastructure," I said. "Now that the teams are asking for an additional $22 million in infrastructure improvements, will that be in addition to the $15 million the city already promised?"

"Not sure," Ware said. "We're negotiating that right now."
And how about this: Ross Perot Jr. says he's buying 13 acres from TU Electric for the arena and a parking garage. He's also buying an additional 15 acres from TU for surface parking. Then there's another 15 acres he wants from two other landowners--all of which is needed for surface parking, according to maps Perot has provided to the city.

So if all the land Perot hopes to buy--those magical 43 acres he keeps talking about--is needed for parking, where is he going to put all this fabulous private development he promises to build around the arena? (I'll give you a hint: Perot initially promised $1 billion worth of private development around the arena; once that got him in the door at City Hall, the $1 billion quickly shrunk to $472 million; and then once it was time to commit a number to paper, the promise disappeared altogether.)

If there's going to be any ancillary development--apartments, office towers, shops, restaurants, hotels--evidently, it will have to be built in the middle of Stemmons Freeway.

Right, John Ware?
"That's something we're negotiating right now," he said. "Everything's being negotiated."

Well, you can forget any private development. Just do the math--I'm sure Perot has. If he gets the 43 acres he wants, the total number of parking spots he'll have if every bit of that land is used for the arena and parking is 6,110 spots, according to David Morgan, the bureaucrat in charge of the city's arena effort.

That might sound like a lot, but, as I pointed out to Morgan, Reunion, which is much smaller than the proposed arena, currently boasts 6,300 spaces. Oops.

"I don't think I know where the ancillary development will go or what the plan is," Morgan said. "That's what we're discussing with the teams right now."

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