Owner has been absent but stands to gain
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Where's Jerry?
In a $5 million-plus blitz to persuade Arlington voters to approve a new Dallas Cowboys stadium in a referendum Tuesday, supporters have touted the benefits of luring the NFL's most storied franchise.
They have turned to beloved figures such as former Cowboys quarterbacks Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach -- and even former running back Emmitt Smith, now playing with the Arizona Cardinals -- to lend their voices to pro-stadium advertising in this Dallas suburb.
Notably absent from the campaign lineup, however, has been the man who arguably stands to gain the most from a new $650 million stadium: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
"This campaign is 100 percent about how America's Team can help make Arlington America's city," said Rob Allyn, head of the public relations firm handling the campaign for the Cowboys. "To make it about personalities really trivializes a very important decision the citizens will make about whether they want to bring the Cowboys to Arlington."
Stadium opponents, who dubbed their organization the No Jones Tax Coalition, see a more sinister motive for keeping the normally high-profile Jones on the sidelines.
"Everybody in the world would love to see a town hall meeting in Arlington with Jerry Jones," said Warren Norred, a 41-year-old engineer active with the anti-tax coalition. "The fact that he's not doing that indicates ... that the money we are going to give him is going to go in his pocket. So he's taken the part of the welfare queen in this deal."
Jones' response? He's not discussing anything related to the stadium proposal, said Brett Daniels, a team spokesman for the Cowboys.
"What they're doing is very smart," said Greg Bustin, a Dallas business consultant. "They're focusing on the positive and they're playing to their strengths. I think that's just good business."
Undoubtedly, the billionaire team owner would be a polarizing presence if he were to inject himself into the campaign, political observers say. After all, some longtime fans still blame Jones for firing Tom Landry -- the Cowboys' first and only coach for 29 years -- when he bought the team in 1988.
But Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, said there's a more compelling reason for Jones to take a low-key approach.
"I can assure you that Jerry Jones is providing any kind of assistance, financial or otherwise, that he can to the stadium initiative because he obviously wants it to happen," Riddlesperger said. "For him to take a public role would be counterproductive. It would be very easy for people to say, 'Of course he's for it, he's going to make $325 million,' which of course he is."
Arlington voters will decide whether to increase sales, hotel and motel, and car-rental taxes to pay half the costs for a retractable-roof, 75,000-seat stadium that would be among the NFL's largest.
Mayor Robert Cluck said he sees the project as a way to bring hundreds of jobs to Arlington and revitalize a high-crime area.
Cluck stresses that Jones would match the city's $325 million investment in the stadium. In addition, the Cowboys would pay $60 million in rent over 30 years and donate $16.5 million for youth sports in Arlington if the referendum passes.
"I think it's an investment by the owner here," Cluck said. "I don't look at it at all as if it's corporate welfare."
Arlington, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, is the state's seventh-largest city with about 350,000 residents, but sales tax revenues have been declining.
A city-commissioned study found Arlington could add $238 million a year to its economy by helping build a Cowboys stadium. But opponents paid for their own study, which suggested the city could lose $10 million to $11 million a year with the stadium.
The stadium would be built next to the Texas Rangers' Ameriquest Field and near the Six Flags Over Texas amusement park, creating what city leaders envision as a sports and entertainment mecca. Arlington is about 15 miles west of Dallas, where negotiations on a stadium deal failed, but the team would still be called the Dallas Cowboys.
Jones wants to replace the aging Texas Stadium in Irving, where the team has played since 1971.
As of last week, the Cowboys had contributed nearly $5.1 million to Vote Yes! A Win for Arlington Committee, the group supporting construction of the stadium. The No Jones Tax Coalition had raised $43,328, far from enough to compete with pro-stadium television and radio ads.
Still, all sides predict an extremely close election, as the area's fiscal conservatism clashes with its football fanaticism, as Riddlesperger put it.
In 1991, Arlington voters passed a half-cent sales tax to fund 71 percent of the Rangers' $191 million ballpark. But in recent years, Arlington has defeated referendums for public transit, a satellite branch of the Smithsonian Institution and a development project resembling San Antonio's Riverwalk.
Some of the same anti-tax forces that fought those projects have mobilized against the Cowboys stadium.
"They may not have the money of Jerry Jones, but they are professionals in a lot of ways," said Allan Saxe, a University of Texas at Arlington political science professor.
"This time, they may be up against too big of a giant."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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