Not as dome as you think
Darrell Jordan can't get comfortable. He shifts in his seat, squirms from left to right till his long legs bend and twist into position. His arms and shoulders and back seem to be pointing in three different directions as he attempts to cram his imposing frame into one of the Cotton Bowl's tiny seats--a seat big enough for a small child, not a 6-foot-plus lawyer dressed in a natty black suit.
"There's just no room here," says the man who lost to Ron Kirk in the 1995 mayoral race. His voice booms throughout the empty football cathedral, bouncing off 68,000-plus more tiny chairs just like this one. "No room at all." He smiles a bit, or maybe it's a wince.
OK. He's made his point.
The Cotton Bowl seats are too small. Anyone who's ever sat in one since August 1968, when the old wooden benches were yanked out and the turquoise and white aluminum seats were installed, can tell you that. They're painfully small, 14 inches deep and 18 inches wide with about five inches of knee space in front. In these days of extravagant luxury boxes and posh club-level seats, the Cotton Bowl's seats are more like torture devices.
Of course, the tiny seats are the least of the Bowl's problems. That's why Darrell Jordan has forced himself into one on this February afternoon--to lay out, in detail, his plans for doming the 68-year-old facility.
You read right: Jordan wants to turn the city's ancient, open-air stadium into a state-of-the-art domed facility, just like the ones they have in Atlanta, New Orleans, and Detroit. He wants to turn the Cotton Bowl into the 81,000-seat Cotton Dome, the largest stadium of its kind in the United States, the third largest in the world.
It would be the first time ever that an open-air stadium got a dome.
Armed with a Coopers & Lybrand viability study in one hand and beautiful renderings in the other, Jordan talks of installing at least 100 luxury boxes on the west end opposite the existing press box, of installing 4,000 club seats, of building the opulent Premier Club from which big-money investors can view the field as they drink and dine in comfort.
Jordan points toward a day when the Cotton Bowl will host an annual schedule of at least five football games featuring college teams from around the country, not to mention the Super Bowl, the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament, livestock shows and rodeos, extravagant concerts. He talks of restoring the Cotton Bowl to Tier I status in the eyes of the NCAA, meaning the stadium can once again host college football title games. He's even convinced that the Cotton Dome would be a great site for the Olympics, and he's even had very preliminary talks with Jerry Jones' people about bringing the Dallas Cowboys home, if only for an exhibition game. (Jones would never move the Cowboys back to Fair Park permanently--there's no free land on which he can build his long-proposed Jerryworld.)
And Jordan wants to do all this using private money--private money, he says, corporate money, investor money. No bonds. No tourist taxes. Not one penny out of the taxpayers' pockets. (Take that, Ron Kirk.)
All he needs is 150 million bucks.
So far, the Cotton Dome Foundation Working Group--a nonprofit organization chaired by Jordan--has raised $28 million, and it needs another $47 million in cash before the city will even consider allowing them to begin construction, which Jordan had planned to do the very day after this year's Cotton Bowl Classic featuring Texas A&M and UCLA.
Still, there's nothing you can say that will convince Jordan this is all a daydream.
"We said early on, if we came up against something that we just couldn't get around or over, we'd quit, and the phrase we use is, we'll keep going till we hear glass break," says Jordan, his white hair waving in the cool breeze that blows through the empty stadium. "Nobody wanted to look foolish or waste a bunch of time they didn't have. This absolutely can happen and will happen. This makes so much sense for the city and the region that it's going to happen."
Once among the major college-football destinations in America, the Cotton Bowl has become something of a pariah--a discarded landmark in the middle of the ghost town that is Fair Park 11 months out of the year. It's a shell of a shell, its paint peeling and its luster fading after 68 years of occasional care. The Cotton Bowl sits empty most days and nights, slowly and silently crumbling as its crowds get smaller and smaller.
As things stand now, it will never again host a college football national title game. The New Year's Day Mobil Cotton Bowl Classic will also never again host the Southwest Conference champion--because, since 1996, there hasn't been a Southwest Conference. And in two years, Southern Methodist University--for years the Cotton Bowl's home team, the provider of some of the grand old building's biggest and best memories--will move to its new permanent stadium on the school's University Park campus.
The Cotton Bowl will lose another tenant, another link to its glorious past as it stumbles toward a tenuous future. Long gone are the days when Heisman hero Doak Walker roamed the wide-open field, when Tom Landry led Eddie LeBaron and Don Meredith and Bob Lilly and his young Dallas Cowboys into battle, when Texas and Notre Dame battled it out for national championships. The old place is full of myth and lore: During the 1954 Cotton Bowl Classic, Rice's Dicky Moegle was running toward the end zone when he was tackled by Alabama's Tommy Lewis--who had leapt off the bench to make the touchdown-saving play.
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.
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.
"Typically, they fuss about changing the color of a building, and to make such a dramatic difference to the structure would routinely be dismissed without reservation," Taylor says. "We were very conscious about attempting to come up with a design concept compatible with the Cotton Bowl. Having grown up with the Cotton Bowl and considering my relationship with Mr. Chappell, I certainly wouldn't want to damage something he had done so well and something that was on the national registry."
Taylor's concept for the new roof was surprisingly elegant: The dome's bow-string arc design was lifted from windows found in the Centennial Building, and the new roof would be flat over the seats and high only over the playing field. Taylor insists you will only be able to see the new dome if you're standing several blocks away from the Cotton Bowl.
"We wanted to make the Cotton Bowl the focus and not the roof," Taylor explains. "Not to say something 150 feet in the air isn't going to catch your eye."
The Historical Society approved the changes, as did the state and national historical registries in Austin. Jordan then had Coopers & Lybrand conduct a study to find out whether doming the Cotton Bowl was even a financially smart move. The accounting firm concluded it wasn't without its risks--any one of a number of elements could derail the project, not the least of which was Jerry Jones' desires for a new and improved Texas Stadium--but that they were far outweighed by the potential benefits.
A number of athletic directors at various universities expressed interest in the notion of bringing their football teams to Dallas to play neutral-site "home" games, for which they would be rewarded handsomely--about a million dollars a trip. Currently, the newly formed CB Marketing Group, a Dallas-based firm created by local businessman Al Wahl and former Dallas Cowboys assistant coach Gene Stallings, is negotiating to bring Texas A&M and Texas Tech to the Cotton Bowl for one game a year, during which they would play a round-robin schedule of non-conference games against such opponents as Notre Dame and Oklahoma State.
Even though CB Marketing is asking teams to forfeit a home game in their own stadium--a game that generates substantial revenue for the schools--Wahl insists it will be easy to pay visiting schools a million or more to play in the Cotton Dome. He says the money will come from ticket and concession revenue and rental fees, not to mention money generated by corporate sponsors such as Dr Pepper, which currently underwrites the annual Texas-OU game.
"I'll betcha money that the Texas-OU game brings more income into the city than most of the games played by the Mavericks and the Stars," Wahl says. "That's all local money. We're going to bring in people from all over the country, from the university towns. They come in and rent up the town, buy souvenirs, go out to dinner and bars. The economic multiplier of that is extremely significant."
The Coopers & Lybrand study also indicated that the Cotton Dome could indeed compete for such events as the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament, not to mention livestock shows and conventions and other events that need covered venues.
Coopers & Lybrand estimated that a covered stadium could generate more than $200 million for the city annually. Which isn't so outlandish: According to The Wall Street Journal, the 10-day-long Houston Livestock Show, held annually in the Astrodome, generates more than $42 million.
On April 10, 1996, Jordan got the first drop in the bucket: Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of North Texas donated $500,000 to the Cotton Dome Foundation to help market the luxury suites and club seats to corporations. Electronic Data Systems threw in an additional $50,000.
Four months later, officials from the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association, the body that oversees the New Year's Day game, agreed with Jordan's assessment that the stadium needed to be covered if the Classic were ever to host a national championship game. (Such hasn't been the case since 1978, when Notre Dame defeated top-ranked Texas.)
The CBAA had been informed in August 1994 that the stadium was no longer among the Tier I bowls and that national-title battles would be fought only at the Fiesta Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, and now the Rose Bowl. That news, coupled with the fact that the Southwest Conference was disintegrating in 1996--sending the major schools (including Texas and Texas A&M) to the Big 12 and the smaller universities (such as SMU and TCU) to the Western Athletic Conference--was crippling.
When the Cotton Bowl Classic hosted Colorado and Oregon on January 1, 1996, only 58,214 people turned out to watch a football game played in freezing rain that would later turn to snow. It was a far cry from the crowds of 73,000-plus just a few years earlier. The CBAA had no choice but to support the Cotton Dome movement.
"There would be no group that would benefit more from a domed stadium than the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association," says CBAA president Rick Baker. "Our game is at a time of the year when weather has been known to be an issue. But we're convinced the main issue has more to do with the Southwest Conference than anything else. We had the Southwest Conference champion here for 55 years, and when that stopped in 1996, the drop in attendance had more to do with the change in the way the Cotton Bowl was viewed."
The Alliance, which consists of the commissioners of each NCAA conference, allows each bowl to bid on becoming a Tier I site: They have to offer exposure, money, and, of course, good weather. And they have to be able to pay the teams well--$8 million is the going price these days, a far cry from the $2 million UCLA and Texas A&M pocketed after playing in this year's Classic.
You simply can't play for high stakes when you're so low-rent.
"They have to beg for cheers at Texas Stadium. No one ever had to beg for cheers at the Cotton Bowl."
--Former Dallas Cowboy Walt Garrison
From the moment it was completed in 1921, the old Fair Park football stadium--as it was first called, and it was a generous name even at that--was never good enough. The first structure was barely even a frame, just a wooden shell that held a mere 15,000 people. Most Dallasites thought it a waste of money--they took to calling it the city's "white elephant." The stadium wouldn't host its first sell-out until 1923, when SMU hosted Baylor.
On May 28, 1930, the old wooden frame was torn down when Mayor J. Waddy Pate broke ground on the new State Fair stadium (or Fair Park Bowl--newspapers could never quite decide on its name), which was tantamount to beginning construction on a ditch. After all, the stadium was really nothing more than a hole dug 24 feet below ground level with the discarded earth piled up around it, till it reached 15 feet above ground level. Concrete beams were laid on the excavated earth for the wooden decks and bench seating; such construction was called "cut and fill," which was appropriate enough, because the bowl became a puddle when it poured, a dry gulch during droughts. The bowl cost $328,000 to build and held 45,507 people--though only 25,000 showed up to sit on splintered wooden bleachers when the stadium hosted its first game (SMU 27, Indiana 0) on October 25, 1930.
In 1937, the bowl was finally christened the Cotton Bowl, and for the next decade it sat there, slowly washing away with each heavy rain. Before each season, engineers would have to go in and shore up the embankment between the field and the seats, using crossties and telephone poles. By 1941, the place looked like an experimental art project, and State Fair president Harry Seay was considering having the WPA come in and rebuild the entire bowl with concrete. The idea died when war broke out, and so the Cotton Bowl was left to melt away.
In 1943, local architect Frank Chappell took it upon himself to convince the city's leaders that they needed to turn their attention to rebuilding Fair Park, especially the Cotton Bowl. He began correspondence with Mayor Woodall Rodgers, First National Bank president Nathan Adams, Daily Times Herald president Tom Gooch, Dallas Morning News chairman of the board George Dealey, and others.
In a private letter dated August 19, 1943, Chappell wrote that the Cotton Bowl was "rapidly washing away" and that the expense of maintaining the crumbling facility far surpassed its worth. "Major reconstruction will be necessary in a very few years," he wrote. Chappell, sounding so much like his successors in the Cotton Dome venture, promised bigger and better things for Dallas if the city would only enlarge the Cotton Bowl--more college football games, national prominence that would rival Pasadena and New Orleans, anything under the sun. "The stadium," he insisted, "should be reconstructed on a larger and permanent basis."
By late 1945 and early '46, Chappell had come up with plans to replace the seats, rebuild the foundation (replacing the washed-away earth with concrete), and build a new press box. He wanted to expand the capacity to 100,000. When Chappell received the OK to begin construction in January 1947, the cost of the entire project was $750,000, to be paid for with bond money--and the Cotton Bowl would hold only 62,400.
The project was completed by the beginning of the 1948 season--at which point officials found the Cotton Bowl still too small to hold the sell-out crowds that came to witness the football heroics of SMU's Doak Walker, who ran his way into the Heisman history books. In 1949, Walker's senior year, the second upper deck was added on the stadium's west side, opposite the press box, and capacity grew to 75,510. The Cotton Bowl, known for 49 years as "The House that Doak Built," has remained virtually unchanged since then--save the aluminum seats that were installed in 1968 as a last-ditch effort to save the Bowl's most prominent host.
In 1960, the Bowl was home to both of Dallas' pro football teams--Lamar Hunt's American Football League Dallas Texans and Clint Murchison's NFL Dallas Cowboys. Both teams couldn't outdraw high school football, much less SMU: They competed for fans by giving away tickets and bringing in Roy Rogers to ride around the field. The town wasn't big enough for the two of them, so, at the end of the 1962 season, Hunt took his Texans to Kansas City, where they became the Chiefs, and left the Cotton Bowl to Murchison's struggling Cowboys.
"We had two host teams there, and neither could draw a fly," recalls Hunt, a current CBAA board member who is said to have attended every single New Year's Day game played in the Cotton Bowl since 1937. "We were drawing 10,000 people. The Texans needed to find a place to play."
Dallas Cowboys owner Clint Murchison wanted out of the Cotton Bowl four years later, when the Cowboys and Packers drew a sell-out crowd to the 1966 NFL title game in the Cotton Bowl. Murchison and team president Tex Schramm felt the club had outgrown the cramped, antiquated facility, and in 1966, Murchison insisted the city build him a new $55 million stadium in downtown, a place where he could develop the land (sound familiar?). The city balked and told Murchison that Dallas would only pay to refurbish the Cotton Bowl--hence, the turquoise and white seats present today. (The new seats reduced capacity to around 68,000.) Murchison tried to bluff the city fathers by purchasing 90 acres in Irving for a million bucks, but it didn't work. Mayor J. Erik Jonsson stood firm...and watched the Cowboys leave for Irving in 1971, which some locals still haven't forgotten or forgiven.
"I can't say there was anything wrong about what the Cowboys did," Hunt says. "Clint took the initiative and built a facility that's proven to be an outstanding facility. Of course, I was sorry they didn't stay there."
The move upset players and fans alike: Texas Stadium (which currently holds 65,675) was the antithesis of the blue-collar Cotton Bowl. It was an arrogant monument to greed, from the luxury boxes to the hole in the roof that, uh, allowed God to watch His Team, and it all but forced the die-hard Cowboys fans to watch their team on TV. They couldn't afford the steep ticket prices; the beer folks had been traded up for the champagne crowd. Black players were particularly incensed because they believed the move to the new digs in Irving priced out the South Dallas regulars who could afford tickets to the regular-joe Cotton Bowl.
"Texas Stadium was a king's lair, with fans who belonged in a king's court," wrote John Eisenberg in last year's Cotton Bowl Days, a history of the glory years spent growing up with the young Cowboys. "Home games were no longer emotional outpourings; they were social occasions marked by reserved, 'tasteful' cheering from a crowd that felt it was above traditional football rabble-rousing...It was so quiet in there. It was bizarre."
There was more talk of doming the Cotton Bowl in 1983--it was dismissed as "financially unfeasible" at the time, says former State Fair marketing director Bob Halford--but it would remain untouched till 1993, when the city decided to spent $14 million to upgrade the stadium to host six 1994 World Cup games. Even then, the alterations were minor: A grass field replaced the artificial turf, wiring was updated, restrooms were cleaned and fixed, concession stands were revamped, and some work was done to the exterior. But it was like using a Band-Aid to fix the hole in the Titanic. Look at the stadium now, and it's still a throwback--about as modern as the Edsel.
"Like everything, it does wear out and has to be refurbished," Hunt says. "It has great sightlines and great history and recollections, but it also has other things that aren't so good. Still, if you look back at the history of the stadium, think of all the things it has meant to Dallas.
"There would be no Texas-OU game here without it. There would be no New Year's Day game here. And what about all those great SMU-Notre Dame games? Without that stadium, this city wouldn't have been a part of professional football. The World Cup clearly would not have been played in Dallas without the Cotton Bowl. I am certainly interested in the Cotton Bowl's history--and its future."
"1999: The 81,000-seat Cotton Dome gives Dallas a world-class domed stadium, at the dawn of the 21st Century."
--Cotton Dome promotional materials
Don't hold your breath.
Still needing $122 million, Darrell Jordan knows there won't be a Cotton Dome next year. Or, most likely, the year after that. Or--be realistic--the year after that. But the man is stubborn, insisting to this very moment that he can and will have the necessary money by the middle of this year.
He and Berger hint at substantial corporate donations they expect to come their way as soon as the Cotton Dome Foundation and the city sign a master agreement, which the two parties have been hammering out for several months.
According to Paul Dyer, the agreement maintains that construction will take place over the course of two State Fair periods, with construction pausing during the fair. The Cotton Dome people must also leave the stadium in playing condition during the State Fair, for the Texas-OU game and the Lipscomb Classic, and for the New Year's Day game.
The city is also working out details about who will manage the facility: The Cotton Dome Foundation wants control of the stadium for 40 years, during which time it can pay off what's likely to be substantial debt service. The foundation also will bring in an outside party to manage the facility--say, someone like SMG, which has worked with the NFL and NCAA to bring Super Bowls and Final Fours to its other facilities. But it's not a done deal: Jordan insists that there will be outside bidding, and that the city will have some (but not final) say in the selection process.
"It's still a contract in the negotiation phase," Dyer says of the master agreement. "There are some issues and a lot of parties involved. Managing Fair Park is probably the most multifaceted management problem in the city because of all the establishments in Fair Park. They [the Cotton Dome Foundation] will have to work with the institutions and their special events. There's a lot of ground to cover."
Jordan and Berger insist that once the agreement is completed, several major corporations will make substantial donations--who and how, they're not saying. Berger also says the debt service should be cut significantly by the sale of naming rights alone, which are going for between $1 to $2 million a year these days on 20-year contracts. Plus, Berger adds, it will be easier to sell the luxury suites and club seat licenses once construction begins.
If the Cotton Dome receives any money from the city, it's likely to come from leftover 1995 bond money that was supposed to go toward minor repairs to restrooms and concession stands, though Jordan hasn't asked for any city help--and the city hasn't offered. Kirk is too busy pushing his Trinity River plan to bother with the Cotton Bowl, and before that, he was too busy trying to get voters to pay for Ross Perot Jr. and Tom Hicks' new cash machine near downtown. (Kirk didn't return calls from the Dallas Observer.)
So Jordan is on his own, left to depend upon the kindness of strangers to build his shrine to civic responsibility. He is undaunted by the task before him, confident that construction will begin on the new Cotton Dome by the end of the year...or the beginning of next year...or...we'll see.
As he ambles up the steps of the Cotton Bowl, back toward an empty Fair Park filled only with the sounds of the occasional inline skater rolling across concrete, he is asked if he had been elected mayor whether he would have called on voters to pay for the Cotton Dome rather than a new arena for the basketball and hockey teams. He pauses and smiles.
"I don't think they're exclusive," he begins. "You've got professional teams that need to make more money. The city owns this already. It's not in the condition it needs to be to be a competitive stadium."
Sure, but it just seems more viable to rebuild a city landmark that will bring new money into the city than it does to build a new arena that will profit Hicks and Perot.
"I can't get into that," he says, still smiling, almost grinning. "It wouldn't make any sense for us to get into a dispute with the city over its choice of priorities. I say this is a priority that we'll stay hitched to, and let others talk about the arena and the way it's going to be financed and all that. We're not being critical. We're just saying we want to stay focused on our deal, and we hope the city will give it the attention it deserves, and I have every confidence it will.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.