Pickin' Cotton

While Dallas fools around with the Olympics, the Cotton Bowl crumbles

By now, Darrell Jordan figured he would be in the middle of building a dream. Not two years ago, he had this moment so perfectly pictured in his mind: Construction trucks rumbling through Fair Park, workers rebuilding one of this city's few remaining historic monuments, engineers getting ready to raise the roof that would forever seal Jordan's place in history.

The way Jordan had it figured, the Cotton Bowl would be the Cotton Dome by the year 2000--home to an annual Texas A&M-Texas Tech football game, home to NCAA Final Four basketball and world-class rodeo and so many other grand sporting events. The Cotton Dome's Web site still touts the opening of the Cotton Dome in late 1999 or early 2000. Oh, how glorious it was to have been: If the Cotton Bowl was The House Doak Built, then the Cotton Dome was going to be The House Darrell Rebuilt.

And, hot damn, without a penny of the taxpayers' money.
But Jordan's dream remains just that--a figment of his imagination.
Ron Kirk--the man who beat Jordan in the Dallas mayoral race in 1995--saw to that in September 1998, when he decided to go chasing after Olympic gold and put a halt on the Cotton Dome plan. Never mind that the city wasn't putting a cent into the project. Never mind that the Cotton Bowl has been silently rotting away for decades.

The way Kirk explained it, it wouldn't be "fair" to "handicap" the Cotton Dome Foundation by asking Jordan to raise money to rebuild a facility that might not "be relevant in terms of our Olympic bid." The way Kirk saw it, in order to bring the Games to Dallas, he needed to take the Cotton Bowl away from Jordan and put it back in the city's hands, at least until he figured out what to do with it. Kirk promised the delay would be no longer than 60 to 90 days, after which point the foundation could once again begin raising money.

That was almost six months ago. And still there has been no resolution, no plan.

So the Cotton Bowl--which brings in less than a million dollars a year and barely pays for its own upkeep--remains neglected. It melts beneath the summer sun, rusts away in thunderstorms, cracks during the occasional December ice storm. And for what?

That's just what Dallas City Council member Charlotte Mayes would like to know.

Unlike so many of her colleagues--who long ago turned over the keys to the city to Tom Luce and other Dallas wallets--Mayes couldn't care less about the Olympics. In September, when Kirk, without consulting the council, told Jordan to stop raising money for the dome, Mayes was so livid that she yelled at the mayor. (Sources say Jordan also lost his temper with Kirk, though Jordan insists he's now behind the mayor.) Now, Mayes wants to know what's going to happen to Fair Park, which sits smack in the middle of her district.

Yes, she knows all about how much money the Games could bring into Dallas. Yes, she knows all about the Dallas 2012 committee's promise to build 10,000 housing units along Exposition Boulevard that would serve as athletes' homes during the Games, then be left behind as low-income housing. All well and good. But that's such a big if somewhere in the distant future. Jordan's Cotton Dome was a tangible dream scheduled to be built in the now without costing the city anything.

"I can't see for the life of me why this project could not move forward, especially since the Olympics isn't till 2012," she says. "I'm the lone one crying out in the wilderness."

Originally, Jordan and his cadre of planners figured it would cost about $150 million to refurbish the Cotton Dome with a roof, new seats (81,000 of them), 100 luxury suites, 4,000 club-level seats, new bathrooms, a new press box, and a Premier Club for big-money wining-and-dining. That money would come from corporate sponsors and private investors buying luxury boxes for a few hundred thousand dollars and then using them to entertain clients during Final Four games--maybe even a Super Bowl. Private money to renovate a public building, with all of the proceeds going back into maintaining it. It was such a good deal, not even City Hall could screw it up.

Now, Jordan estimates it will cost $100 million more than he originally estimated to turn the Cotton Bowl into an Olympic-worthy facility. Now, he talks about putting a retractable dome onto the stadium and having to enlarge the field by a good 60 feet to accommodate a track. He mentions something about having to raise the level of the field itself by a good 15 feet.

"We estimated the cost would now be $250 million, and once we had that number, we shared that with the Olympic group," Jordan says. "Now, we're waiting for them to decide...Believe me, I'm prodding as much as I can."

In materials prepared for a February 3, 1999, city council briefing, Dallas 2012 organizers admitted that Dallas lacks an Olympic Stadium for opening and closing ceremonies, not to mention track and field events. But Dallas 2012 chairman Tom Luce will not be deterred: "If there's a way for a refurbished Cotton Bowl to serve as the Olympic Stadium," reads the handout given to council members, "that would be great." (How noncommittal.) In its glossy promotional materials touting Dallas as a "world class site" for the games, the Dallas 2012 committee mentions that "negotiations [are] under way to dome the historic Cotton Bowl."

Tom Luce has put John Scovell--president and CEO of Ray Hunt's Woodbine Development Corp.--in charge of finding out whether a domed Cotton Bowl would in fact make the most sense as the Olympic Stadium. But in reality, Scovell has already made up his mind.

Supposedly, Scovell is working in the best interests of the city, scouting such locations as the Texas Motor Speedway and Texas Stadium and even looking at the possibility of building a new stadium from the ground up (which Atlanta did in 1996 for a cost of $209 million). But when he makes his recommendations to the Dallas 2012 folks in two months, he has no intentions of proffering anything other than the Cotton Bowl as the site of choice. Mayes says Scovell told her as much during a meeting they had only last week.

And it makes sense: Scovell's father, Field, was known as "Mr. Cotton Bowl," a title bestowed upon him during his tenure as the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association's team-selection chairman. John Scovell is not about to let Eddie Gossage at the Texas Motor Speedway or anyone else get the opening and closing ceremonies. He saw too much of his father's legacy destroyed when the Southwest Conference disbanded and the Cotton Bowl lost its Tier I status with the NCAA, making it a consolation prize come bowl season.

Scovell is being rather secretive about the whole process. On February 3, he called Eddie Hueston, the executive general manager of Fair Park, and wanted a detailed list of Fair Park's facilities. But according to a February 4 memo that Hueston sent to Paul Dyer, director of the city's Park and Recreation Department, Scovell "made it clear he was calling as an individual and that he was not representing the Dallas bid committee." Even so, Hueston reported, Scovell wanted to talk about Fair Park's "possible future involvement in the 2012 Olympic Games."

Scovell wouldn't return several calls from the Dallas Observer. But Kevin Sullivan, the spokesman for Dallas 2012, says the committee views Fair Park "as the focal point of the 2012 Olympics, beginning with the Cotton Dome, the international broadcast center, the Olympic Village," and so on. Sullivan refers to Scovell as a "liaison" between Jordan and Luce.

But it still doesn't deal with what's to become of Jordan's plan to dome the Cotton Bowl. What was once a rather earnest plan has become muddied by Ron Kirk's desire to spend his free time doing business with Ross Perot Jr. and Tom Hicks over at their new arena or Tom Luce with his Olympic bid.

No one--not Sullivan, not Jordan, not Mayes--can answer the rather simple question of who is going to pay for the $250 million Cotton Dome needed for the Olympics. Jordan insists it can still be done with private money, though he had raised only $36 million in corporate commitments before Kirk stopped the process in September. Mayes, on the other hand, would like to see the city pay for some, if not all, of the renovations. "I can't see where the city goes wrong by lending a helping hand, because we reap the benefits," she says.

But one thing is certain: The Cotton Bowl will not get its promised face-lift any time soon. Dallas 2012's proposal is not due to the United States Olympic Committee--which will select the U.S. candidate city--until March 31, 2000. The USOC will pick the U.S. host nominee in 2002, and the International Olympic Committee will then choose the host city in 2005--by which time, Mayes has long insisted, Dallas could have domed several Cotton Bowls.

If--OK, when--the Cotton Dome becomes the city's "official" choice as the Olympic Stadium within the next couple of months, Jordan and the Dallas 2012 committee once more will begin soliciting corporate sponsors. Only this time, they will have the so-called future "tenant" that the originally proposed Cotton Dome lacked--the Olympics. That's why Jordan's willing to go along with Kirk's plan: Even if Dallas doesn't get the USOC bid in 2002 or the IOC nod in 2005, he can still use the Olympics as a fundraising tool for his dome in the meantime. Ultimately, Jordan gets what he wants, and Mayes gets what her district desperately needs.

"If we have a larger Cotton Dome but don't get the Olympics, it's like getting a consolation prize," Jordan says. "People are going to have to take a chance on us hoping the Olympics will come. But there's no point in shooting too low. I am not going to wait around. We're going to aim high. Like the guy said, aim at everything that flies and take credit for everything that falls."

As long as it ain't the roof of the Cotton Dome.

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