Going Deep

The Cowboys want to move back to Fair Park--so, there goes the neighborhood?

City officials, who insist they will not tolerate a rise in car-rental and hotel taxes to pay for the stadium and practice fields and museum and Cowboys corporate headquarters, nonetheless pray the deal can be consummated. They see the Cowboys as the area's Great Silver-and-Blue-and-White Hope--a way to bring DART to Fair Park quicker than expected, a way to put into effect a new master plan for Fair Park that calls for the greening of a concrete-gray wasteland, a way to prop up a neighborhood that crumbles a little more each day.

"This is the greatest thing that could ever happen to South Dallas," says Mayor Laura Miller, who, as Dallas Observer columnist, was the most visible and vocal opponent of publicly funding the American Airlines Center a half-dozen years ago. "It's not even a close call. If it doesn't happen, then [Fair Park] gets put as the third priority behind downtown and the Trinity, and we'll get to it when we get to it long after I'm gone. It's not just that the Cowboys will be another great tenant in Fair Park; it's the kind of tenant that's not going to put up with a substandard environment. When we talked about it two months ago, they said, 'We don't want to be an island so that we've got all this going on, and then you step two blocks out and it's a demoralizing area.' So I said, 'If you were to put it there, and you put out a good deal financially on the stadium, the city will make it our priority, with some of our money, to connect downtown to Fair Park.'"

The residents of the neighborhood have heard this before, so they have every reason to be skeptical, dating to the late 1960s, when the park expanded into the neighborhood and the creation of parking lots meant the eradication of huge swaths of homes near Fitzhugh and Second avenues. But all involved, from the Cowboys to city Councilman Leo Chaney, who represents the neighborhood, swear there will be no eminent domain; God help them if they're wrong and the long-suffering are displaced for the long green of the Dallas Cowboys and other interested investors.

County Judge Margaret Keliher told the Cowboys that Fair Park would be an easier sell to taxpayers. But what about the county commissioners?
Mark Graham
County Judge Margaret Keliher told the Cowboys that Fair Park would be an easier sell to taxpayers. But what about the county commissioners?
Burglar bars are the order of the day for businesses in the neighborhoods near Fair Park.
Mark Graham
Burglar bars are the order of the day for businesses in the neighborhoods near Fair Park.

"But as far as South Dallas and Fair Park is concerned, the future is now, whether the Dallas Cowboys come here or not," says Leo Hicks, who refuses to hold his breath while those higher on the food chain gnaw at each other. "The future isn't tomorrow; it isn't yesterday. It's right now."

Depending on whom you talk to, the Cowboys either had no intention of moving to Fair Park till this February or have been considering the site for years. At least for the moment, until the deal craters and the Cowboys move to Industrial Boulevard or Las Colinas or Arlington or stay at Texas Stadium, everyone wants to take a piece of the credit for bringing Jerry Jones to South Dallas.

Craig Holcomb, head of Friends of Fair Park, recalls that two years ago, he ran into former Texas secretary of state and current Cowboys political adviser George Bayoud at dinner, and Bayoud asked Holcomb whether he thought the site would be viable for a new Cowboys stadium. Even before that, in the fall of 2001, former Arlington Mayor Richard Greene informed Jones that the Dallas 2012 committee was proposing to renovate the Cotton Bowl as part of its bid to get the Olympics here. Greene, along with Tom Luce and others on the 2012 committee, promised Jones that their plans at Fair Park weren't going to interfere with his future plans for a stadium.

"But he did get to see what was happening at Fair Park, and that might have had something to do with them identifying that as their first choice," Greene says. Indeed, the Cowboys' plans are very similar to those Dallas-based architectural firm HKS Inc. came up with for the Olympics, and the Cowboys are using HKS to design the new stadium.

"I thought it interesting to see and listen to and read some of the comments people are saying, like 'Well, Fair Park isn't big enough, and the old Cotton Bowl site isn't sufficient,'" Greene says. "People aren't thinking big enough. Jerry's plans would be similar to the Olympics, and it would give a giant rebirth and revitalization to all of Fair Park."

Certainly, some of the credit must go to city Councilman Gary Griffith, who began writing letters to The Dallas Morning News in January begging the Cowboys to consider Fair Park. "We must have additional private investment in Fair Park and the surrounding community to realize the potential of this extraordinary asset," he wrote. "The Cowboys hold the key."

Yes, but they don't own the car.

In February, and apparently independently of each other, both Mayor Miller and county Judge Margaret Keliher approached the Cowboys about considering Fair Park. Miller, with the blessings of Chaney and Mayor Pro-Tem John Loza, had a meeting with Cowboys chief operating officer (and Jerry's son) Stephen Jones, political consultant Rob Allyn and Bayoud to discuss their plans. She told the team she wouldn't support a publicly funded stadium unless it jibed with the city's plan to revitalize Fair Park.

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