Paved Over

Among the miles of sentences The Dallas Morning News has constructed about the proposed Dallas Cowboys stadium at Fair Park, here's one that caught Buzz's attention: "The footprint for the project, which would be north of the midway, would affect some areas of the park, including the sheep and cattle barns, the coliseum and Smirnoff Music Centre. " Which means...what? The story didn't say what would become of the Amphitheater Formerly Known as Starplex, which got Buzz to thinking: If the Cowboys persuade county commissioners, the Dallas City Council and county taxpayers to cough up $425 million for Jerry Jones' $650 million project, is it last call for the Smirnoff?

According to several city officials, the Cowboys' proposal likely will reduce the Smirnoff to a parking lot, which is no great loss as far as Buzz is concerned. Hell is cooler in the summer. According to Paul Dyer, director of the city's Park and Recreation Department, the city's lease with House of Blues, which operates the Smirnoff, runs out in 2009, around the same time Jones hopes to open his new stadium. Demolishing the Smirnoff "is something to consider," Dyer says.

Smirnoff officials directed calls to House of Blues execs, who didn't return phone calls. But should the Cowboys wind up at Fair Park, some of the concerts that go to the Smirnoff might move to the American Airlines Center; some might even go into the new Cowboys stadium, where the money would be kept by the team, according to the Cowboys' proposal to the county. But no Smirnoff means no money going to the South Dallas trust fund, which collects 15 cents for every ticket sold--some $40,000 annually. Councilman Leo Chaney, who represents the area, says the Smirnoff also provides some $110,000 in additional money to the area in grants and contributions. "So I need to replace $150,000 a year, and it is going to be replaced," insists Chaney, a proponent of the Cowboys' relocation to Fair Park. "The Cowboys are going to develop real strong community relations with those neighborhoods south of downtown. The question is not loss but how it's going to be replaced, assuming the Smirnoff lease is not renewed."

So short, so long: Did the folks at the News play dirty in their battle with A.M. Journal Express, the short-lived, free "commuter" paper that hit the streets in November only to halt publication last week, thanks in part to Quick, the similar free news-in-brief pub the Morning News rushed into publication to meet the competition? Jeremy Halbreich, head of American Consolidated Media, the Dallas-based media company that launched AMJE, thinks so. He says the Morning News was "very overtly hostile" to the AMJE. "They were obviously not pleased we were out there," Halbreich says. He complains that the AMJE's racks were vandalized, its distributors harassed and its advertisers strong-armed by, he suspects, Morning News employees.

That sounded like a good ol' newspaper war to Buzz, which is something Halbreich might know about. He was once president of the Morning News and was with the company when it shuttered the Dallas Times Herald. Surely there were a few rabbit punches thrown in that fight, we suggested. No, Halbreich says. That battle was fought over who had the best paper, none of the dirty stuff, none of the screwing with the advertisers.

Buzz suspects some old Times Herald staffers might beg to differ. And, of course, the Morning News insists that its hands are equally clean in regard to AMJE's death. "I don't think that Jeremy's comments even justify a response," News Publisher Jim Moroney says.


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