Pokes in the Eye

Cowboys back out of Fair Park deal

Well, so much for that new Dallas Cowboys stadium at Fair Park. Might as well get used to the sound of it: the Arlington Cowboys. Or maybe the Grapevine Cowboys. Mmmm, mmmm.

On Tuesday, the Cowboys announced that the team has suspended negotiations with Dallas County regarding its proposed move to Fair Park and will instead "explore other options for a new stadium in North Texas."

Fact is, says Cowboys spokesman Brett Daniels, the team saw this coming for at least the past 10 days. "It wasn't going anywhere between our people and the county," he says.

The Cowboys and the county have been miles apart ever since April 30, when the team first told the county it wanted $425 million of the taxpayers' money for a $650 million stadium and demanded a decision by June 30 to put the issue before the voters by November. (Closing on a house can take more time.) The county commissioners are opposed to giving Jerry Jones half a billion bucks and the keys to Fair Park without knowing what the county gets out of the deal. That sort of crazy, nitpicky fiscal responsibility makes Buzz wonder if they're really from Dallas, which is usually happy to act as an ATM for sports team owners. On the other hand, the mostly GOP commissioners also are loath to hold an election in November that might bring out more black Democratic voters, which sounds about right for this city.

But according to Commissioner Ken Mayfield, the Cowboys yanked the proposal off the table only after receiving information from "a source that alarmed them and indicated they would never be able to make a deal with us." He won't say who that source is, but he insists that is not the sentiment of "the entire court" and says he spoke with Cowboys chief operating officer (and Jerry's son) Stephen Jones on Tuesday about reviving discussions.

"I was shocked when I saw their news release, because I think they were serious about moving to Fair Park," Mayfield says. "They just got some information that's not reflective of what the entire court would have done or insisted on."

A source close to the negotiations says county Judge Margaret Keliher, who initially approached the team in February about considering Fair Park, told the team it was demanding too much and that the parties were too far apart.

"It looked good when you didn't have to deal with the political and financial realities of it," says this source. "Then she just wanted it to go away."

Now, before you "No Jones Tax" folks start printing your "Keliher for President" signs, know this: Keliher says she had no such conversations with the team. She says she spoke only with Cowboys political consultant Rob Allyn about what kind of deal he believed the county could sell to taxpayers and that she "never" tried to quash negotiations. Keliher insists larger legal issues likely got in the way, including the city's non-compete clause in the American Airlines Center contract and the issue of using county money to fund city-owned parkland.

"When they announced Fair Park, I've always been cautious to say that was their number-one site, but they were keeping their options open," Keliher says. "Maybe that's why they never produced anything to us. Maybe they have something else working."

Keliher says the team gave the commissioners only a vague, three-page document laying out the cost of the venue. And the county never gave the Cowboys a written counterproposal, because the commissioners had almost no time to formulate one.

"We've only had this for a month," Mayfield says. "It took them, I dunno, how many months or years to settle on Fair Park? We're just engaging people to give us an idea how this was going to work and whether a $650 million stadium was really needed and how to cut back those costs and whether user fees could be used to pay for it...We weren't anywhere near complete."

In the end, the Cowboys had to know the county wasn't going to lie down for a deal that not only gave the team $425 million, but also allowed Jerry Jones to keep every cent made in the new stadium. Nevertheless, the team says it was serious about moving to Fair Park. "We did way too much work for this to be a front," Daniels says. Next stop: Tarrant County.

 
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