Mavs held hostage

Did Ross Perot Jr. strike out when Tom Hicks bought the Rangers?

Or perhaps the timing wasn't so bad after all. Hicks can do nothing but win in this situation: If Dallas votes yes, then he stands to make millions by, essentially, putting up thousands. If the city votes no, then he can consolidate his two teams on one beautiful piece of property in a sports-friendly town ready to welcome a new arena with open wallets.

Hicks has sent the message to Dallas voters that if they drop the ball this Saturday, it lands in right field, somewhere next to Juan Gonzalez.

Which would leave Ross Perot Jr. stranded in the middle of an industrial dump site, where he's optioned 40 acres of nothing.

Which, no doubt, infuriates Perot, who bought the Mavericks because he envisioned moving his basketball team to a new downtown arena and developing the land around it--hotels, restaurants, retail stores, parking lots, the works. Now, only Hicks stands to profit from an Arlington arena, leaving Perot with a handful of desperate, dashed hopes and a worthless basketball team. In time, Perot might even have to sell the Mavericks to Hicks--for nowhere near the $250 million Hicks is paying for a third-place baseball team that always seems to melt in the August heat.

That would suit Hicks just fine. After all, two years ago, he was this close to owning the Mavericks--that is, until Perot played both sides of the barbed-wire fence and filched the team at the last minute. Indeed, Hicks has every reason to yank the arena out from under Perot's loafers.

When God-fearin' Don Carter was trying to unload the Mavericks in 1996, Junior attempted to buy the team himself and joined another group of potential buyers, led by none other than Tom Hicks. At the time, it seemed Hicks had the inside track: The broadcast mogul, whose investment firm Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst owns more than 140 companies worth in excess of $20 billion, had the better offer. He was willing to pay $125 million for the team; Perot and his group were going to pay Carter $110 million.

According to a story that ran in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in November, Perot originally backed out of the deal and agreed to sign on as a minority partner with Hicks. Hicks then gave Carter a down payment of $10 million on the team a few days before the deal was to be signed.

That was on a Friday. The Star-Telegram reported that the very next day, Hicks called Perot's top henchman, Frank Zaccanelli, to find out whether Perot was still in. Zaccanelli said yes--and he was lying.

On Monday, Hicks went to Carter's office with Perot to close the deal for the Mavericks. Instead, Carter gave him the $10 million back and told Hicks he wasn't getting the team---Perot was. Carter said that his old friendship with Perot forced him to give the team to Junior instead. The newspaper reported that Hicks was furious. He had been betrayed by Perot, his alleged partner.

Hicks told the Star-Telegram he didn't feel "comfortable working" with Zaccanelli anymore. Perot, of course, was proud of his handiwork. "I thought it was a pretty good strike," he told the paper.

The Star-Telegram also reported that Hicks and Perot then met to discuss a new arena. Hicks proposed splitting revenues from the new building, consolidating their franchises, and having Hicks run the whole deal. But that never happened, wrote reporters Mitchell Schnurman and Miles Moffeit. "In August 1996, the Perot team told Hicks that a lease provision at Reunion Arena gave the Mavs the upper hand in any new venue. Rather than splitting revenues, as Perot had discussed from the beginning, Perot sent a contract that called for the Mavs to get two-thirds of the money generated from a new arena."

That was when Hicks stopped talking to Perot, and the two parties began drawing up their own separate plans for the arena. Late last year, they finally came to an agreement to share revenue from the new arena--but not before Hicks and Perot presented to the city two separate proposals that revealed how at odds they were with each other.

In a letter dated February 16, 1997, Hicks sent Kirk and City Manager John Ware a rational list of demands. He proposed that he and Perot would run the arena--as ArenaCo, a joint venture between the Mavericks and Stars--and wanted the city to pay for all infrastructure costs around the arena site, including 8,000 parking spaces.

He figured it would cost $180 million--"not including land, infrastructure, and parking"--to build the arena. Of that, he wrote, the Stars and Mavericks would pay $110 million, and the remaining $70 million would come from a loan made by the city to the teams. The Mavs and Stars wouldn't owe any interest on the loan for the first 10 years, after which the interest would become 6 percent annually.

It seemed like a hell of a deal for the city: The teams would pay for the arena, and the city would take care of any infrastructure development. But that wasn't enough for Perot. He didn't want just an arena; he wanted an arena and all of the land around it to support his grandiose visions of a "Times Square in downtown" Dallas.

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