Not as dome as you think

Dallas attorney Darrell Jordan wants to cover the Cotton Bowl--anyone got $150 million to spare?

Once upon a very long time ago, Ty Cobb and Dizzy Dean came to the Cotton Bowl to play in one of their final baseball games, appearing during the minor-league Dallas Eagles' 1950 season opener. More recently, young college quarterbacks named Joe Montana and Troy Aikman came to Dallas on New Year's Day and started their long walks toward Canton, Ohio.

But the Cotton Bowl is an antique now, the childhood home no one wants to live in anymore.

Jordan's plan to rebuild the house has been greeted with everything from gleeful optimism to derisive naysaying. Coca-Cola, Bank One, and a few other local corporations believe in the idea enough to have committed a few million dollars to it, donating seed money and even agreeing to purchase one of those phantom luxury boxes that do not yet exist.

To some Dallasites, the notion of putting a dome on the Cotton Bowl is like pouring gold on a pile of manure. If nothing else, they've heard it before--ever since 1965, when state legislators looked into creating a domed stadium in Fair Park, then backed off once Clint Murchison decided to move his Dallas Cowboys from the Cotton Bowl to Texas Stadium in Irving.

The Cotton Bowl has always had an inferiority complex: It has forever been too small, too shabby, too puny to withstand the onslaught of steel-and-muscle stadiums that came in during the 1970s and '80s. It's never been good enough, ever since the rickety, long-gone State Fair stadium stood on the current site way back in 1921. Now, with the new city-supported arena for the Mavericks and Stars about to begin construction near the old TU plant and with Jerry Jones still talking about either doming Texas Stadium or building an entirely new shrine to himself and his Cowboys, it's one step closer to obsolescence.

Frankly, the only thing standing between the Cotton Bowl and the wrecking ball is the fact it's a registered historic landmark protected from demolition.

So it's hard to find fault with Jordan's plans for doming the Cotton Bowl: How can you argue with a man who wants to rescue a historical landmark by hitting up the private sector instead of raiding the public till? Besides, it's not like anyone's using it: According to the city, from October 26, 1996, through September 25 of last year, the Cotton Bowl was rented out only 33 times--a mere 13 times if you take out all those Dallas Burn soccer games (which may or may not stay in the Cotton Dome, depending on whether anyone can figure out how to grow grass inside).

SMU's football team played there a whopping three games. The Dallas Independent School District rented it out once. There was a one-day film shoot. A three-on-three soccer tournament was held. DeSoto took on Nimitz in a high-school football showdown. Cornerstone Marketing of America leased it for a photo shoot. Two concerts came through, including U2, which turned the Cotton Bowl into a giant Kmart.

And, of course, there was the annual Texas-Oklahoma game, the misnamed Cotton Bowl Classic, and the annual Al Lipscomb Classic featuring Grambling State and Prairie View.

What's not to like about Jordan's desires to fill the Cotton Dome 150 days of the year with college football games, conventions, rodeos, tractor pulls, maybe even the occasional Super Bowl? After all, any improvement to the facility is bound to bring much-needed money and warm bodies into Fair Park and South Dallas: Unlike the basketball and hockey arena, which draws local patrons, the Cotton Dome actually snares fans from out of town--fans who stay in hotels and rent cars and can help pay for the new arena.

And it's not as though the Cotton Bowl pours much money into the city's coffers now: During fiscal year 1996-'97, it brought in a meager $636,673 from rent, concession, and parking revenues--which is almost as much as it costs to maintain the decaying facility, according to Cotton Bowl manager Roland Rainey.

Jordan's got the right idea. The only question is: How in the hell will he make it work?

Mark Berger spends several days every month in the Magnolia Building in Fair Park, working in a small temporary office that doesn't hint at the grandeur that might one day be the Cotton Dome. All he has to point to is a model featuring the domed stadium smack in the middle of a glorious, whitewashed Fair Park--one that belongs to a possible tomorrow, not forgotten yesterdays.

Berger works for Network International, a subsidiary of the Philadelphia-based Spectacor Management Group, the latter of which manages stadiums and arenas and theaters all around the world--from the Superdome in New Orleans to the Oslo Spektrum in Norway. It's SMG and Berger's hope that if--no, wait...when--the Cotton Dome is completed, SMG will take over, booking events and managing the stadium's financial operations. Network International develops the stadium's advertising and merchandising concepts. That means, in short, it's Berger's job to sell the Cotton Dome.

Which isn't such an easy thing to do: He must market a product that doesn't exist. He pitches artists' renderings instead.

Since January 1997, when SMG and Network were brought in by the Cotton Dome Foundation, Berger has had to go to Coca-Cola, Southwest Airlines, Dr Pepper, EDS, NationsBank, and dozens of other multimillion-dollar corporations and peddle Jordan's dream of a Cotton Dome. He has had to ask the city's wealthiest companies to buy luxury boxes (for $1 million to $650,000) and club seats and private seat licenses (from $25,000 to a mere $5,000) in a Cotton Dome that may never happen.

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