Why Is the New Stadium Deal a Good Thing? Why Isn’t it?
On Friday, The Texas Rangers and the City of Arlington announced that a deal has been reached for a new stadium well in advance of the expiration of the current lease in 2024. The public opinion is split along several lines – I’ve heard or read opinions such as these over the last few days: “Why build a new stadium when we have a perfectly good one now?” “We don’t need a retractable roof – baseball is supposed to be played outside! If it’s good enough for New York and Boston, it should be good enough for us.” “Downtown stadiums are cool! We should have a Downtown stadium like Chicago, New York, and Boston!”
Globe Life Park is an excellent baseball venue. It looks good, it’s comfortable for the most part, it’s not falling apart, and the organization does a good job of keeping it up to date. Even at the age of 22 and older than all but nine MLB parks, it’s still regarded as one of the better parks in the major leagues. It is generally modern while maintaining a classic vintage baseball look.
The current lease on the Ballpark runs through 2024. On the surface, this deal seems a bit premature, with eight years still on the lease. Why was this deal made now? Recently, there have been rumors that the City of Dallas has been making overtures to the Rangers, trying to wrest them away from Arlington. From Dallas, there have been vague location discussions (across the bridge,) “artist concepts” which amounted to little more than some quick CAD renderings of a baseball stadium-shaped structure sitting somewhere on the Trinity flood area just west of downtown. Arlington, being a proactive organization, decided the time was now to make the move to keep the Rangers in their home. So why is Arlington the best choice?
History: Without Arlington, there is no Texas Rangers. Period. When the Washington Senators were looking to relocate, it was the City of Arlington who spearheaded the efforts to bring the Rangers to DFW, with Mayor Tom Vandergriff taking point. Fort Worth and Dallas had no interest at all in hosting a major league baseball franchise. If not for Vandergriff’s efforts, the Senators would have moved to Tampa or Miami or somewhere else that wasn’t Texas. Arlington has loved the Rangers and vice versa for 44 years through good times and bad. Arlington went the extra mile making the Ballpark in Arlington a reality. This team belongs in Arlington and has since Day One.
Economics and Politics: The City of Arlington realizes and understands that entertainment is what butters its economic bread. The city council and citizens have always been supportive of the idea of building (funding) new stadiums with bond and tax revenues. The relationship between the Rangers organization and the city government already exists, it works well and has worked well since before the Rangers began play in 1972. They trust each other. Conversely, the Dallas city council has proven repeatedly that they are incapable of making a major deal, and not just with the Rangers.
Location: Arlington is central to the entire DFW metro area, which spans counties in all cardinal directions beyond Tarrant and Dallas. The infrastructure is already in place to support a new ballpark. The land for the structure and parking facilities has already been acquired. The easy access to and from all directions to Arlington’s entertainment district make attending and going home from Ranger games easy. There are arguments that more people would attend games if the park were to be built in downtown Dallas because it’s easier to get to games for those in Dallas and Collin counties.
In typical Dallas fashion, they fail to realize that just as many fans hail from Tarrant County as Dallas County. This would not increase attendance. It would simply swing the balance of attendees toward the eastern half of the metro area. I’ve attended events in Fair Park and at the AAC where it took me over 30 minutes to get from the freeway to the facility and over 90 minutes to get out of the facility to the freeway. I live 40 minutes east of downtown Dallas. Geographically, one might think it would be better for me if the Rangers played in Dallas county and in an ideal world, it might. In the real world, it takes less time for me to get home after a Rangers game in Arlington than it does to get home from a concert at Gexa in Fair park or a Mavericks game at the AAC. The miles may be greater to Arlington, but the time expenditure isn’t.
Rivalry: Dallas and to some extent, Fort Worth have long been envious of Arlington’s success when it comes to major sports. It was especially apparent during the Superbowl and college football National Championship when they insisted that the host committee and broadcasters refer to the efforts as hosted by “North Texas” rather than Arlington because they couldn’t stand for Arlington to get the accolades – as if hosting ESPN pre-game shows was somehow as important as the game itself. Dallas has long desired to ride the coat tails of Arlington’s achievements, to claim credit when none is deserved, or to assert that they for some reason deserve to be the home of the Rangers (or Cowboys.)
Dallasites have a (misplaced) superiority complex when it comes to Arlington and Tarrant County. They believe because they’re a bigger city with a greater population (and no other reason) that the Cowboys and Rangers should beg them for the privilege of locating their franchises there. Not only did Arlington wish to keep the Rangers for practical reasons, it’s likely that Arlington also didn’t want to lose the Rangers to Dallas. It’s a point of pride.
These are also the reasons why Arlington people were upset by last season’s AL West t-shirts that had Dallas’ skyline on the graphic even though Dallas had nothing to do with the shirts, it fits the narrative of Dallas trying to poach Arlington’s work and success for its own. When Dallas started making whispers about making a play for the Rangers, Arlington stepped up to the plate and brought a complete plan to the table, one that was economically and politically sound, and beat Dallas to the punch.
Why else wouldn’t a downtown ballpark in Dallas work?
“Cool Downtown”: The cries of “downtown baseball is just cool!” are ringing loud right now. Cool vibes at “downtown” parks in Chicago, Boston, St Louis, Baltimore, etc. are cool not because the ballpark is in a downtown area. It’s because the ballpark is in a downtown area that is cool regardless of a baseball park. Dallas doesn’t have such an area where a ballpark is feasible. Yes, a ballpark in Uptown or near Greenville might be cool. It would also be a nightmare getting in and out of those neighborhoods that are already a pain to navigate.
Fair Park? Be serious.
Trinity River flood control area? 1) not downtown and 2) the city has already demonstrated that it doesn’t know how to manage that area with nothing in it.
There are some interesting things going on at the Sylvan30 area. Again, not downtown. Dallas isn’t a “downtown” community. Very few people live in downtown. It’s not a quaint or charming area. It’s a stark business area where people don’t live and walk from home to work. They drive from Plano, Irving, Grand Prairie, Fort Worth, Arlington – and they work, then they go home to the suburbs.
DFW is suburban. It’s fitting that the two biggest sports teams and stadiums are in the suburbs. Would it be great to have a cool downtown sports scene? Yes. Unfortunately, Wrigley Field could not exist in Texas because neighborhoods like Wrigleyville don’t exist in Texas. Incidentally, I went to a game at Wrigley last year. It was no picnic getting out of there after the game. For people who live a block away, sure… it’s cake. For everyone else… not so much. There is no parking anywhere near the stadium. There are few taxis to be found in a several block area around the stadium, and those that are found are fought over like Cabbage Patch Kids at Christmas time in 1982. There is a train, but it’s a nightmare getting inside the station and to your destination.
We wound up walking for an hour in the general direction of our hotel in downtown proper before we finally got uncomfortable with the neighborhood we were in and didn’t see a single taxi for hire. We finally called for an Uber and paid the exorbitant “surge” price to get back to our hotel. The in-game experience was nice enough, but the post-game experience made me happy for my commuter ballpark with ample parking and easy freeway access. It takes less time to get home 40 minutes east of Downtown Dallas from Arlington than it did to go the less than 10 miles from Wrigley to our hotel.
Politics: The Dallas City Council members have historically been more interested in advancing their own personal agendas than making major deals. They have repeatedly shown that they cannot make a major deal without tripping over their individual attempts to get their individual pet projects included in major projects. They’ve had two chances to get the Rangers and failed (or just didn’t care). They lost the Cowboys once and failed to bring them back when they had the chance. They lost the Cotton Bowl (game) – the game that’s named after a structure that actually IS in Dallas – all to Arlington. Arlington gets things done while Dallas watches and gets mad and complains about it.
For the record, I’m not opposed to the Rangers leaving Arlington for the right reasons, to the right location, with the right deal in place. I believe a downtown (or otherwise) park in Fort Worth could really work, and it would likely exceed any cool factor that Dallas would be able to muster. It’s a bit more residential than downtown Dallas, but not much more. LaGrave Field is a baseball park with lots of parking and lots of additional adjacent land just north of downtown. Sundance Square is a vibrant “hangout” area in the heart of downtown, so is West 7th. Grand Prairie has a thriving entertainment district of their own with Lone Star Park, Verizon Theater, and Air Hogs ballpark. There’s ample land in the area. Any of those options could be successful, but Arlington had the inside track due to track record and current ways and means.
Why a retractable roof stadium?
It’s hot in Texas in August. That’s about it.
Seriously, I went to Houston this weekend to do some scouting for this article while I attended the Rangers/Astros game Sunday. Minute Maid Park is a downtown facility with a retractable roof and despite the legends of terrifying Houston traffic, we had little trouble getting in or out of the game, found reasonably priced parking (not run by the team) and had a very pleasant game experience even though the roof was closed. It wasn’t overly hot OR humid in Houston on Sunday, but it sure was nice to watch baseball in 73-degree weather and not feel drained after sitting in direct sunlight with no breeze for three hours. I’ll be the first to admit that I hate the heat and personally, I’ve been longing for a retractable roof for decades because like heat in August, day games on getaway days are inevitable. The retractable roof pleases me for my own personal comfort.
The reasons for a roof go beyond fan comfort, but it’s nice to think that could be the primary reason for it. Many will cry that baseball should be played outside, which is largely true. If it’s good enough for Boston, Chicago and New York, then it should be good enough for us. Well, those cities don’t have entire five-month stretches where the temperature never dips below 80 degrees at all and the high temperature exceeds 95 every day.
It’s miserable going to day games in July and August. If the fans are miserable sitting down, think how the players feel in heavy baseball uniforms with zero shade. It might very well be advantageous come free agent signing season to have a retractable roof. Players could be more likely to come here without the specter of 130-degree turf and blinding, oppressive sun for three hours on August Sundays looming over their shoulders.
Only two existing stadiums that are south of the Mason/Dixon line and not in California don’t have roofs: Globe Life Park, and Turner Field. The Rangers are building a retractable roof and the Braves are building a stadium with massive sun awnings and air conditioning on every level. Climate control everywhere south of St. Louis (and not in California) is just going to be a fact of life from now on. Best to just accept it and move on. Objections are duly noted (and valid) but it’s a good business decision. Hopefully, the Rangers will have the roof open more frequently than Jerry Dome is open.
Despite some compelling arguments for relocation, the Rangers belong in Arlington. It’s their home.