ARLINGTON Despite warnings from city officials that the Texas Rangers could leave town unless the team’s owners get help to build a new ballpark, Arlington voters are evenly split on spending taxpayer dollars to subsidize construction of a $1 billion, retractable-roof stadium, according to an exclusive WFAA/Star-Telegram poll.
With only about three weeks until Election Day, 42 percent support and 42 percent oppose a proposition that would allow the city to share up to 50 percent of the proposed $1 billion cost of a new facility next door to the existing Globe Life Park. Of those polled, 16 percent said they were uncertain.
Slightly more than half of the poll respondents said they don’t believe the Rangers would leave Arlington if the city does not help build a new enclosed stadium and 57 percent said they simply don’t see the need to replace the 22-year-old stadium located in the heart of the city’s entertainment district.
Early voting for the election begins in one week. The WFAA/Star-Telegram poll, which was conducted from Oct. 11 to Oct. 13, has a 4.5 percentage points margin of error.
“We’re three weeks from the election. We will continue to work hard to earn the support of Arlington voters over the next three weeks,” said Rob Matwick, executive vice president of business operations for the Texas Rangers.
Warren Norred, spokesman for Citizens for a Better Arlington, the main opponent of publicly funding the stadium, laughed as he heard that the survey yielded an even split.
“That’s cool. That’s completely what I expected,” said Norred, an Arlington attorney. “What that means is we have no idea what’s going to happen.”
Supporters of building a new stadium said they were surprised and discounted the results. The Vote Yes! Keep the Rangers campaign released its own poll Sunday showing that the 56 percent of voters plan to vote “yes” for a new stadium while 37 percent said they plan to vote “no” on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, chairman of the Vote Yes! Keep the Rangers PAC, said the WFAA/Star-Telegran poll doesn’t reflect enthusiasm for the project that he and campaign workers are finding in the field.
“We’ve had tremendous support and we’re continuing to gain momentum,” Williams said, “And we had one of the best polling firms in the nation — who also correctly predicted the results of the Cowboys (stadium) election in 2004.”
Keeping the Rangers important
Under the proposed deal, the city would share up to 50 percent of the facility’s projected $1 billion cost under a 30-year lease extension. To pay for it, the city would extend and redirect part of its half-cent sales tax, 2 percent hotel tax and 5 percent car-rental tax. The sales tax now is being used to pay off AT&T Stadium debt.
While the Rangers argue that a climate-controlled facility will attract more fans, 56 percent of those surveyed said they would attend the same number of games even with air conditioning. Thirty-three percent said they would attend more games and 6 percent said they would go less often.
Also, 51 percent of those questioned don’t believe the baseball team — which has played in Arlington for more than 40 years — would pack up and move away if the new stadium isn’t built, while 33 percent believe they would and 16 percent were not sure.
Still, the poll shows that 70 percent think it is very or at least somewhat important to keep the team in Arlington. About a third believe it is not very important or at all important, with 2 percent saying they are not sure.
SurveyUSA interviewed 700 adults in the city of Arlington. Of those respondents, 606 were registered to vote and 504 said they were likely voters. Seventy-four percent were interviewed on their home phones by a recorded message. The remaining 26 percent responded to a questionnaire on their smartphone or tablet.
Fears of losing the team
Concerns about losing the Rangers clearly scare Arlington officials.
In 2014, as the ballpark celebrated its 20th anniversary and fans sweated in the sun, rumors heated up about building a climate-controlled, retractable-roof stadium to provide some relief from the heat. That same year, the team paid for a study that looked at installing a shade structure on Globe Life Park. But the idea was rejected not only because of the cost, but because of the complicated logistics of the structure.
At the same time, the team held on-and-off meetings with Dallas representatives for a couple of years to explore the idea of the team moving east. Rangers officials said those talks were part of a broad effort to study alternatives for building a new stadium.
The Rangers are sensitive about being portrayed as pitting cities against each other. This weekend ,a new mailer from the Vote Yes! campaign hit Arlington mailboxes saying that “Dallas wants to steal our hometown Rangers.”
But Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told the Star-Telegram that those talks, while serious, were conceptual and “exploratory at best.” He said it would have been a tough sell to Dallas voters so many years before the current Rangers lease at Globe Life Park expires in 2023.
Williams and others said they pushed to make a deal with the Rangers to avoid a bidding war that could have pushed the price higher. As the debate about the franchise’s future intensified, the city and the team also entered into negotiations about other projects next door to the existing stadium including Texas Live!.
The Rangers and The Cordish Companies, the project’s developer, recently said revised plans would double the size of dining and entertainment space and include a 300-room convention hotel and a 35,000-square-foot meeting and convention facility in the first phase of development. The project would cost $250 million, with the city kicking in $50 million.
The restaurants and bar areas at Texas Live! are expected to open in the spring of 2018, in time for the start of that year’s baseball season. The hotel and convention facilities would open in the fall of 2018.
The WFAA/Star-Telegram poll shows that 74 percent support keeping the existing ballpark for some kind of development.
‘Blow to the stomach’
University of Texas at Arlington political science professor Allan Saxe, who earlier predicted a “clear margin of victory” for the stadium measure, said the poll shows that citizens simply don’t believe the team will leave if the deal falls through.
One factor fueling the “no vote” effort may be the idea of any city or state getting involved in a financial deal that appears to be making “already wealthy people wealthy,” Saxe said.
“I think that cuts through a lot of this,” Saxe said.
But losing the Rangers would be a “serious financial and psychological blow to the stomach,” Saxe said. “I still think it deserves a yes vote and I’m very surprised it is this close.”