Irving Entertainment Complex Showdown

By Ken Kalthoff
|  Friday, Jul 29, 2011  |  Updated 6:55 PM CDT
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Voters have approved the building of the Irving Entertainment Center, but original plans to finance the city's share face legal challenges.

Ken Kalthoff, NBCDFW.com

Voters have approved the building of the Irving Entertainment Center, but original plans to finance the city's share face legal challenges.

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Irving's mayor called the developers of a proposed Las Colinas entertainment complex to a special City Council meeting Friday to answer questions that helped get her elected.

Mayor Beth Van Duyne has been a harsh critic of the city-financed project, which was strongly supported by her predecessor, Herb Gears.

Billy Bob Barnett and other partners of the Las Colinas Entertainment Group gambled and lost by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Gears’ failed re-election campaign.

Gears' ads, funded by their large contributions, put Mickey Mouse ears on Van Duyne and accused her of cheating taxpayers on expense reports, resume fraud and other misdeeds that she strongly denied.

The developers say their project can still survive on its merits even though she is now the mayor instead of Gears.

It calls for the construction of several live music venues and a collection of unique restaurants near the new Irving Convention Center.

"The intent here is to build a facility where we attract people through out the week and throughout the hours of the day," said Bill Beuck, chairman of Las Colinas Group.

Friday's meeting was the developers' first public appearance to answer questions. Van Duyne has promised to put the Entertainment Group under the microscope.

"That, to me, at the end of the day is trying to figure out how much we're risking, how much we can pay, and is this the partner we want to move forward with," Van Duyne said.

Among other things, she requested a detailed explanation of $4.2 million in expenses paid to the group by the city.

The group provided a several-page document that company officials said answer that issue and offered answers to other questions at the meeting.

"They've got more skin in the game -- way more skin in the game -- than was ever required in this development agreement," group representative Charles Cotton said.

Doubts also involve legal challenges to the city's original financing plans for the $250 million project.

Several council members want the developer to invest more because it appears the city is unable to pay as much as it intended.

"To me, we're at a crossroads of, 'Where do we go with this project?' And I want to see where we go, assuming worst-case scenario," Councilman Roy Santoscoy said.

Dave Hanlon, Las Colinas Group president, said the project is much more difficult now than when first proposed five years ago but that his group intends to see it through and locate sufficient financing.

"I can't give you an absolute as to how we're going to put that together, but if we didn't feel we could do that, we wouldn't be up here now,” Hanlon said.

Irving voters endorsed the concept of a city-financed entertainment complex years ago.

Several council members said they intend to keep their end of the bargain and give the developers until year's end to arrange a sufficient financing plan.

Talks between the city and the developers will continue, and Van Duyne said she would continue to ask questions.

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