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Arlington Voters Are Split On A New Ballpark For The Texas Rangers

Christopher Connelly/KERA News
Signs in favor of and opposing a vote to use local tax dollars to help fund a new stadium for the Texas Rangers are all over early voting precincts in Arlington.

If you build it, they will…stay? That’s the pitch from supporters of plan to build a new, $1 billion ballpark for the Texas Rangers in Arlington. Voters there will decide whether or not to pay for half of it with city funds. Opponents say it’s a bad deal for the city.

It’s one of those issues that pretty much everyone has a strong opinion about.

“We don’t want another city to swoop in and grab the Rangers,” said early voter Brian White. “The Rangers are Arlington, Texas.”

White runs an education nonprofit and said his is just one community organization that relies on contributions from the Texas Rangers Baseball Foundation.

I met with other early voters in downtown Arlington. Rusty Skipwith also voted yes. He’s glad the new ballpark would have a retractable roof and air conditioning.

“They do need an enclosed stadium because it gets too hot in the summer. And they should have thought of that when they built this one, but I’m a staunch Ranger fan, so let’s keep them.”

“I came in the heat,” said Carla Owens, who voted against the plan. “And I think that if our Rangers are too delicate, maybe they need to move.”

At this polling place, opinions were evenly split, which tracks with a recent pollby WFAA-TV and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. It found 42 percent of city voters for the deal, and 42 percent opposed.

Pitching the plan

For months, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams doing double duty as the main pitch man for the plan. At a Kiwanis Club meeting, while members ate beef and mashed potatoes in a church multipurpose room, Williams said other North Texas cities are sniffing around the Rangers, and Arlington can’t afford to lose the team.  

“Our future here is secured if we vote yes. And a vote no has so many ramifications: We don’t keep the Rangers, we lose the ballpark, we lose $77 million in economic impact,” he said. “We lose two and a half million visitors and we lose 2,000 jobs.”

The Rangers want a new, smaller stadium across the street from Globe Life Park. The roof is just one of the updated amenities in the plan. And it’ll double as an event venue in the off season.

City funds would pay half of the billion-dollar price tag. Those funds come from existing taxes used to help pay for the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T stadium. Out-of-towners pay a little over half of city sales taxes, so Williams said residents won’t pay the entire cost. Williams said it’s a smart investment to keep the team in town.

“And then you need to ask me, how much will my taxes go up if I vote yes and this is approved? Zero. You won’t be paying any more in taxes after this passes than you do right now.”

The yes campaign has spent well over $1 million to drum up support for the new stadium, the bulk of it coming from the Rangers organization and companies that do business with them.

The no campaign, by contrast, has raised about $8,000 to make their case.

“How in the world is this a good deal?” asked Arlington lawyer Warren Norred, who is a spokesman for the opposition Save Our Stadium campaign. He disputes pretty much every claim that new-stadium advocates are making.

“In this deal, we’re tearing down a large building, replacing it with one that’s smaller, with a larger carbon footprint, and we’re paying for it by taking money out of the middle class and sending it to a rich guy who lives out of town,” Norred said.

Norred thinks the Rangers are too invested to leave town, and said he thinks rumors that Dallas wants to take the team are unrealistic scare tactics.

Norred points to economic impact surveys that show professional sports stadiums make for mediocre investments, that they offer mostly seasonal and low-wage jobs, and that they don’t help local businesses because fans spend their money inside of the stadiums and leave town. In Arlington, he said, economic development promises made in support of Globe Life Park and AT&T Stadium haven’t panned out.

“These don’t work,” Norred said. “They’re great for the self-esteem and the panache of self-serving politicians, but that’s about it.”

Keeping up with the Joneses

Back in downtown Arlington, voter Juanita Ortiz said a new ballpark shouldn’t top the city’s priority list.

“They can wait another few years and get something done in Arlington,” Ortiz said. “Public transportation, streets, housing, whatever they need to do, wherever the money needs to go besides to the stadium with the receding roof. Unnecessary.”

But Rosa Azuara, who works for a hotel in the entertainment district, said she sees the Rangers bolster tourism, and that’s why she voted yes.

“You can imagine the people that come and have to use the restaurants and all the other services and the stores, so it’s amazing the amount of money they have to come and spend,” Azuara said.

Caroline Sterns doesn’t want to pay for a new stadium. After all, the sales taxes she pays now are still paying off Jerry Jones’ Cowboys Stadium.

“Economically, I don’t believe that the taxpayers need to pay that. They can’t keep up with the Joneses,” Sterns said. “Pardon the pun, but they can’t.”

Sterns said the city just built the Rangers a stadium in the '90s, so maybe it’s not yet time to build them another. Still, for every Sterns, there seems to be someone who doesn’t mind throwing down to build another stadium if it means keeping the team in Arlington.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.