Not as dome as you think

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

So far, Berger has raised $28 million in suite sales. It's not nothing, but it's a long way away from everything. Even if Berger manages to bring in $75 million from the sale of suites and private seat licenses (known in the business as PSLs), it's likely the foundation will still have to borrow the other half of the money. According to Paul Dyer, director of the city's Park and Recreation Department, construction can't begin on the Cotton Dome until the foundation can prove it has all the money in hand through cash and loans.

That doesn't deter Berger, who speaks, like everyone else associated with this project, with a salesman's golden optimism.

"In developing $28 million in commitments last year, we feel that's been a good start," he says. "We're not going to be successful by achieving one suite sale at a time. We're out there making company-by-company presentations, but what's going to get us there are multimillion-dollar commitments from select companies and organizations."

So far, Jordan has managed to convince most everyone he's come into contact with to help out in some way--and to work for next to nothing, hoping it would lead to a big something down the road.

SMG joined the cause with the hope that it would be awarded the opportunity to manage the Cotton Dome. HKS Inc., the architectural firm that built the Ballpark in Arlington and is currently constructing a $250-million retractable-domed stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers, came up with the conceptual design to see if the Cotton Bowl could support a dome. Same with Datum Engineering, where Jordan's old University of Texas fraternity brother Tom Taylor works. (Appropriately, Taylor was once employed by Frank Chappell, the civil engineer who redesigned the Cotton Bowl in the mid-1940s.)

According to everyone involved in the project, only Coopers & Lybrand was paid to conduct its study in 1995. For everyone else, "this is our charity work," says HKS' Bryan Trubey, who's spearheading the project for his firm.

"We've gotten paid for our expenses," he says. "But I grew up here. I live in North Oak Cliff and lived in places all over the world, and I just feel this is one of the most important things that can happen in Dallas. When Darrell asked us, it felt like the right thing to do. And as an architect, it's something fine to do for our city."

Such is the happyspeak that seems to come from the mouths of everyone interviewed for this story. They're involved for the good of the city, because they want to rebuild Fair Park and the Southern sector; they beam with civic pride and responsibility and glow when they talk about restoring a piece of this city's history. It's the feel-good project of the year.

Darrell Jordan, an attorney at Hughes & Luce, says he initially began thinking about covering the Cotton Bowl in 1995, three weeks after he lost the mayor's race to Kirk. He says he was approached by some private investors about building luxury boxes in the Cotton Bowl. They wanted him to represent them in their bid to the city.

Jordan explains that he became interested in doing far more than that when he discovered the Cotton Bowl had lost its Tier I status with the NCAA's Bowl Alliance, the governing body that dictates where the national title game--if such a thing truly exists in college football, and it doesn't--would be played each year. The Alliance, using the same criteria as the NFL when picking a Super Bowl site, insists its big bowl game be played in stadiums with at least 70,000 seats. But more importantly, the NCAA also wants the host city to guarantee that the game won't be played in weather colder than 51 degrees--something Dallas, home of the surprise January 1 ice storm, can't do.

When Jordan, who got his bachelor's degree from the University of Texas and went to law school at SMU, learned that the Cotton Bowl had become a place where only the losers fought it out on New Year's Day, he became convinced the old place needed a lot more than just a few luxury boxes.

"I told them I didn't think what they were talking about was going to fix much," Jordan recalls. "So we started doing a bunch of what-ifs."

He called his old fraternity brother Tom Taylor and asked him how feasible it might be to dome the Cotton Bowl. Taylor was initially intrigued by the idea--he had, after all, learned from the very man responsible for the building's current look--and brought in HKS and HCB Contractors to begin working up models and studies to determine whether the structure could support a dome.

In the end, Taylor says, they found it would actually be rather simple: The new dome wouldn't rest on the current frame at all, but on four new foundations (or columns) to be placed around the structure. The existing walls would then be built up to meet the new roof. Easy.

But before Taylor and Jordan could proceed, they had to get their proposal past the Dallas Historical Society in Fair Park. Without the society's approval, the project was dead.

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