Arlington Isn't The Hyphen In Dallas-Fort Worth - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

Arlington Isn't The Hyphen In Dallas-Fort Worth

'Water-stop town' grows into entertainment mecca



    Arlington Isn't The Hyphen In Dallas-Fort Worth
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    The dairy farm that became Six Flags now shares close quarters with a water park, a pro baseball stadium and Arlington's new crown jewel of entertainment: $1.15 billion Cowboys Stadium.

    The dairy farm that became Six Flags now shares close quarters with a water park, a pro baseball stadium and Arlington's new crown jewel of entertainment: $1.15 billion Cowboys Stadium.

    The second suburban home of America's Team can safely argue it isn't the hyphen in Dallas-Fort Worth. That's all former Mayor Tom Vandergriff wanted to prove 50 years ago when the town halfway between its better-known neighbors was fighting for an identity.

    "It's always been a story of seizing the moment," said Richard Greene, the mayor in charge when the city built a new stadium that kept baseball's Texas Rangers from leaving. "Even this little small water-stop town between Dallas and Fort Worth could send a message that Arlington was the place to be."

    Vandergriff was trying to send the message even before he was elected as a 25-year-old in 1951. The son of a prominent General Motors dealer ran for mayor when GM was looking for a place to build a major production plant. The automaker picked Arlington a few months after Vandergriff's election.

    Next came an amusement park that was the brainchild of Angus Wynne, a Dallas developer who was persuaded by Vandergriff to build an industrial complex not far from the GM plant.

    Six Flags started as a way to fund Wynne's construction project, but turned into a tourist attraction when the first 37-day season in 1961 drew 563,000 people, more than twice what was projected.

    A decade later, Vandergriff fed his passion for baseball and broadcasting by luring the financially troubled Washington Senators to Texas, even calling a few Rangers games in the early years.

    When it became clear the city would have to build a replacement for the old minor league park the Rangers called home for more than 20 years, Greene fought off strong overtures from Dallas to keep the Rangers from leaving.

    The stately Rangers Ballpark in Arlington debuted in 1994, about a decade before City Councilman Bob Cluck decided to run for mayor only after Cowboys owner Jerry Jones assured him the city would be considered as the site for a new stadium.

    In 2004, voters approved a sales tax increase to help fund a pro sports stadium for the second time in barely more than 10 years, the crowning achievement for city leaders in five decades dotted with benchmark moments.

    "Angus Wynne had this vision of wholesome family entertainment. And Tom Vandergriff had this vision of destination entertainment," said Michael Jenkins, who helped implement the Six Flags plan as part of Wynne's inner circle. "Both of those dreams became reality."

    Cluck said the city's history of public-private partnerships played a big role in Arlington becoming arguably the sports and entertainment capital of Texas.

    In Vandergriff's day, those deals had indirect ties to taxpayers through incentives designed to encourage development. Greene and Cluck, though, had to appeal directly to citizens and their pocketbooks through bond elections for money that would share stadium construction costs with team owners.

    There was the usual opposition to the $135 million bond for Rangers Ballpark, but the measure passed with relative ease. An initial poll decidedly against the $325 million Cowboys proposal scared Cluck, but months of Joneses, players and cheerleaders stumping in Arlington turned that tide. The measure received nearly 60 percent of the vote.

    A key factor, officials say, was the city paying off the Rangers bond early and rescinding the tax. Essentially, the city asked voters to reimplement the half-cent tax for the Cowboys, who moved in 1971 to the suburb of Irving when Dallas wouldn't build a new stadium.

    "When this opportunity came up, I think the people trusted us enough that we put it on and took it off and that we would do the same with this," Cluck said.

    Critics question whether city services suffered during that accelerated payment on Rangers Ballpark (Greene says they didn't because the funds were separate), and they point out that Six Flags is in bankruptcy while the Rangers are caught up in the shaky finances of owner Tom Hicks.

    For the most part, though, dissent has been muted by the "wow" factor of a stadium with a high-definition television that hangs from the roof and is almost 60 yards long, plus a high-powered lineup of special events that already includes the Super Bowl, college basketball's Final Four and the NBA All-Star game.

    Both stadiums are projected to have a combined $200 million economic impact in Arlington, said Trey Yelverton, the deputy city manager. Cowboys Stadium is expected to account for about 75 percent of that total.

    "One lady said the seats are too small and the aisles are too narrow," Cluck said, referring to a recent open house for Arlington residents only. "I had several people that came up and said, 'I voted against the stadium. I wish I could vote again."'

    While officials say each significant addition could have happened without the others, they don't believe it was coincidence. They say the credit starts with Vandergriff -- "the most committed public official I believe I've ever seen to a cause," said attorney Ray Hutchison, who worked on the deal that brought the Rangers from Washington and is married to U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

    After Vandergriff, Greene didn't like to think what might happen to Arlington if the Rangers left. Then Cluck had visions of all the big things he thought might follow if the Cowboys came.

    Like Greene, University of Texas at Arlington political science professor Allan Saxe said "moments" were always important. But he said the underlying cause was a desire to grow.

    "The leadership in the town -- not everybody, but the predominant leadership in this town -- from early on, even before Mayor Vandergriff, wanted the town to grow," Saxe said. "Everything was in that direction."

    Who knew it would lead to such a suburban stadium boom that now appears complete.