Fort Worth arena plan takes to the air; neighbors voice parking concerns

Scott Nishimura

They’re not just the domain of next-generation military warfare: a drone has been deployed in the campaign for a new multipurpose arena in Fort Worth’s Will Rogers Memorial Center.

In TV advertising spots that debuted Friday featuring Mayor Betsy Price, a camera sweeps across Will Rogers and tightly around its iconic tower, showing what the complex would look like with the arena set down on the west side of it at Montgomery and Harley streets.

The images of the complex are real, except for the arena rendering, created by an animator and enhanced by a Dallas colorist. And the real pictures weren’t shot from helicopter; they were taken from a small eight-bladed drone with a three-and-a-half-foot diameter, directed from the ground by a pilot for the Dallas-based Helicon aerial photography company.

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“We’ve done helicopter aerial shots before,” Bryan Eppstein, the longtime Fort Worth political consultant whose agency created the spot for the Forward Fort Worth Partnership political action committee, which is seeking voter approval Nov. 4 for three funding measures to help pay for the arena.

“But there’s no way we could have shot this with a helicopter, because we could not have gotten as close to buildings as we did.”

The message in the spots, which began showing on cable Friday and will begin airing on broadcast next week, is simple: the historic Will Rogers Coliseum will stay and won’t be torn down, private donations will pay half the cost of the new arena, and no property tax dollars will be used.

“it’s definitely Fort Worth It!” Price, who shot the spot from inside the Will Rogers auditorium, says enthusiastically.

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The doesn’t mention the specifics of what voters will decide Nov. 4: taxes on parking, livestock pens, and admission, which will make up a total 15 percent of the estimated $450 million project cost.

Event Facilities Fort Worth, a nonprofit chaired by Fort Worth investor and philanthropist Ed Bass that has raised millions for improvements at Will Rogers over nearly 15 years, has agreed to foot half the project cost and cap the city’s contribution at $225 million. The city’s share would come from incremental growth in hotel occupancy, hotel sales, and mixed-beverage taxes in a three-mile radius around Will Rogers.

Jonathan Rice, Eppstein’s creative director, said the TV spot was designed to shoot down the misperception that the coliseum will be torn down.

The shoot occurred over two days Sept. 4 and 8, with the first day a bust because of strong wind that buffeted the drone, Rice said.

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The battery-powered drone, with retractable landing gear and a mounted camera underneath, lifted off from the parking lot where the arena would be located.

The pilot manned the drone using a joystick and integrated screen, the unit strapped to him over the shoulder. A cameraman with his own similar setup worked alongside the pilot, shooting images.

Federal Aviation Administration regulations meant the aircraft could fly no higher than 400 feet, and it went as high as 300 feet, having to land every six minutes to replace the battery, Rice said.

At one point, the drone flew 1,600-1,700 feet from the pilot, Rice said. “I looked up, and I couldn’t hardly see it,” he said.

An animator working with an architectural firm on the project added trees and foliage, removed existing buildings, and laid in the arena image. The colorist worked to bring the building image as close to the color that architects are envisioning, Rice said. And the Dallas composer Mark Menza worked up original music.

The spot is part of a broader campaign that includes print advertising and the newly unveiled web site, which touts Price and the City Council as honorary campaign co-chairs, former Mayor Mike Moncrief and wife Rosie Moncrief as treasurers required for the formation of a PAC, and more than 80 campaign co-chairs.

The list of co-chairs cuts a broad swath across of Fort Worth, ranging from Bass to the retired Dunbar High School basketball Coach Robert Hughes, Father Stephen Jasso of the All Saints Catholic Church, and TCU football coach Gary Patterson.

“It is a community-wide effort,” Eppstein said.

Backers of the arena, which will be able to host up to 14,000 people, say it will draw basketball games, concerts, graduations, ice shows, rodeo, and other events and help Fort Worth draw business that it isn’t positioned for now.

The plan has skeptics. Residents of the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association fear show-goers won’t pay for parking at Will Rogers, and instead will drift into the neighborhood and park up the streets.

The association, City Councilman Dennis Shingleton and city staff held a special meeting Thursday night to discuss options.

The association is proposing that the cost of parking be built into the admission for events at the arena, said Jessica Redman, the Southwest territory director for Long John Silver’s and president of the Arlington Heights association.

Another proposal floated would have off-duty police officers directing motorists away from the neighborhoods and to the garages, she said.

A third, which she said Shingleton floated, would use electronically activated gates at potentially high-traffic streets – Harley, Watonga Street, and Tulsa Way – off of Montgomery to allow only residents in.

Shingleton had already floated the idea of residents-only permit parking on the neighborhood streets, a measure tried at some spots in the city such as TCU that relies on homeowners to report violators.

“We made it very clear last night that we are not interested in running a parking authority,” Redman said.

Shingleton said the gate idea, once tried on a street around the University of North Texas Health Science Center off of Camp Bowie, would likely run into resistance from police and fire.

He said the idea of building the parking cost into the ticket probably won’t fly.

“I don’t have any control over the cost of the ticket, and building the cost of parking into it doesn’t appear to be in my purview,” he said in an interview Friday.

Shingleton said the city and neighborhood need to work out a plan that starts with determining whether Will Rogers will have enough parking. He said use of the Fort Worth schools’ Farrington Field is another option that could be worked into the plan.

Asked whether she thought the concerns had a possibility of threatening the election, Redman said, “I know the city needs this arena. We want to support it 100 percent. But I am very concerned about protecting my neighborhood.”