Glad for Jerry, Sad for Dallas

As news of the Cowboy’s winning bid for the 2011 Super Bowlt filtered out this week, I can’t help but feel happy for Jerry Jones, and sad for my city. And I find myself having totally flip-flopped in my view of both Jerry Jones and the new stadium.

You gotta give Jerry Jones some credit these days. The man works hard and clearly loves his team. Concerning the stadium deal, Jerry Jones just did what any person in business would do: he made the best deal he could for his team.

I used to hate this guy. I can remember when he bought the team how little respect I –and just about everyone else in this town– gave him.

But, he’s shown –through the way he spends on players, and the funds he’s shelling out of this new new facility– that he really does want to win. You gotta give the guy some props.

What I would give for the Rangers to have that kind of owner!! In fact, the only good reason to have the stadium in Arlington is that it will shine the bright light of contrast on the Cowboys and Rangers.

The Cowboys have an owner who is always looking forward, who really cares about his team, and who reinvests in his franchise constantly. The fans believe he wants to win, and they’ve changed their minds about him.

And the Rangers? Do they even have an owner? Do they have anybody over there who gives a flip?

Get ready Tom Hicks. Here comes Jerry. He’s going to make you look bad. Real bad.

So, my thoughts about Jerry Jones have changed and I am surprised by this. I’m glad for him. He deserves every kudo he gets.

I am even more surprised, however, to find that my thoughts about the new stadium have changed too. In the beginning, I wouldn’t say that I was against it. I was sort of agnostic about it.

I heard the arguments from those who said it would be the best thing to happen to Dallas since central heating and air. And I heard those who said it would be the worst thing to happen here since the Kennedy assassination.

OK, nobody said either of those things. But that was their level of passion. People either seemed to believe that it would be the greatest economic engine, or the worst tax-and-resource-drain, we’ve ever seen.

As I said, I was mostly agnostic. I probably leaned toward the “against it” side. After all, with so many looming city problems, how can you justify putting that kind of resources into a stadium?

Well, as I said, I have jumped off the fence, and into the camp of those who now believe that losing the stadium to Arlington is the single worst business move in Dallas’ history.

And I base that change of heart on what I see happening down at the AAC.

Wow, is that area booming. Wow, is it completely awe-inspiring to see the new development, the new nightlife, and the new people who now populate that part of town! If you haven’t been down that way for a year or so, do yourself a favor and just drive around some evening soon.

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Between “Victory,” the new “W,” and the spankin’ new “House of Blues,” that part of town is hopping. Dozens of area restaurants sponsor nightly shuttle buses to take folks back and forth to the games. (both from downtown and Uptown…)

For a look at how that area has been transformed, click here to see some pictures of the construction over the past few years.

And having gone to a fair number of Maverick’s games these past few years, you can’t help but get swept up in it. Then, it dawns on you that this excitement is not just for Maverick games, but also for Dallas Stars’ games, and for all the other concerts/events that the AAC hosts.

That arena has saved downtown. No question about it.

And it begs a really horrible question: just how desolate would downtown be right now WITHOUT that new arena? Would any of the development I just mentioned have happened?

Doubtful.

Now, I realize a football stadium is different. There are not nearly the total number of games each year. But, there are other events. Events like…oh I don’t know…the SUPER BOWL!!! Throw in the Cotton Bowl, Texas-OU, the BCS Championship, and ten or twelve concerts a year (I’m probably low-balling here…) and you’ve got another huge economic engine. It’s probably fewer total events. But you could argue it might end up being about the same total number of people.

Imagine all those people, streaming into downtown Dallas…

What a loss.

But! I have a theory, and it’s a theory I’d like to see some research on. There are lots of studies claiming that stadiums are drain on local economies. But have they studied downtown stadiums as a subset?

You see, my theory is that –like any realtor will tell you– only three things matter: location, location, location.

My theory is that stadiums are only great economic engines when they are located downtown or in a dense urban area. (Not even near downtown…right in the heart of downtown…)

My theory is that when they are too far out in the middle of nowhere (like the Ballpark and the new Cowboys stadium) there is not nearly the economic boom there would be otherwise.

I mean, there are some restaurants in Arlington, but there are no new hotels, and certainly no Victory-like development. Look at the area around the Texas Motor Speedway. A few hotels, here and there. But mostly, it’s still cow pasture there. Did Irving see a dramatic number of new places popping up around Texas Stadium? Nope. Just UD.

It seems to me that for a stadium to be an economic engine, it has to be around other stuff people want to be near…like downtown, where there is pre-existing infrastructure and such.

So, that’s my stadium construction theory. And I’d love to see some actual expert probe the difference not between “stadium-or-no-stadium,” but between downtown stadiums and suburban ones. Because my hunch is that downtown ones are true powerhouses.

Which is why I am so sad for Dallas right now. Because when you see the energy around the AAC, when you see the great plans the Jones family has for the new Cowboys stadium, you can’t help but feel a HUGE wave of regret that Dallas has missed a very big boat. Perhaps even an Ark.

Our Dallas City/County officials struck such a “take it or leave it” attitude about the whole thing, apparently assuming that it made no real difference one way or the other. In fact, they barely disguised their distaste for the whole process.

What a loss. It’s a loss of a forty-to-fifty year opportunity. It will never come again in my lifetime. You don’t get to go back and call “do over” on this one.

It still remains to be seen whether the new stadium will transform Arlington. I personally doubt it, for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. But I think it could have helped save downtown Dallas. All you have to do is see what the AAC is doing to its neighborhood, to feel the wave of regret for what will now never be in another part of downtown.

So, in this week when the Super Bowl selection is announced, when we begin to see just the first of many events that will move to Arlington, I can’t help but be glad for Jerry Jones, and terribly, terribly sad for my city.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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