Commentary: O.K. Carter: Arlington leaders are considering how to repurpose Globe Life Park

Arlington leaders are considering how to repurpose Globe Life Park.

K.P. Wilska

Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams has grown accustomed to questions about the old ballpark’s future at town hall meetings and listed a number of possibilities at one such meeting.

Assuming Joe DiMaggio and Cy Young are not resurrected right away as Texas Rangers, it is safe to assume that when the final game of this season is played – against the Yankees Sept. 29, attend and grab a free T-shirt – there will be no playoffs, wild card or otherwise, for the hometown team.

It’s a rebuilding year.

Players will clean out their lockers. When they return next spring, it will be across the street at the spanking new retractable roof Globe Life Field. Indoors. Air conditioning. Artificial turf. A bargain at $1.2 billion smackolas. Ticket prices to be announced.

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Which leaves a small question and a larger one: What to do with Globe Life Park, starting with the smaller issue of what to call it, since having two Globe Lifes won’t do.

And a much, much, larger economic/political/sentimental issue: Somehow repurposing the old park, which is not really all that old. It’s 25 and in fabulous condition.

THE HISTORY: George W. Bush put together a group of investors in the early 1990s to buy the Rangers, promptly teaming up with then-Mayor Richard Greene and former Mayor Tom Vandergriff to persuade Arlington’s populace to invest in a new ballpark.

In what remains the single largest local issue turnout in city history, 65 percent of voters endorsed this idea. Two hundred million dollars later – equivalent to $330 million in 2019 dollars – the team began playing there in 1994, the city paying off its $135 million share in a remarkable nine years, more than a decade ahead of schedule.

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When Bush cashed out, it left him financially secure for life and, pundits allege, resurrected his reputation and political potential, the historical details with which we are all familiar.

WHAT NOW? Scraping the old field for a parking lot would be wasteful and likely result in momentous political repercussions. At the same time the city has a significant investment – several hundred million dollars – in the new Globe Life Field and adjoining Texas Live!. Whatever evolves, it needs to be complimentary to existing Entertainment District entities – not competitive.

That the Arlington Council was serious about salvaging its investment became apparent when it pitched the ballpark as the centerpiece of Amazon II, a kind of second national headquarters for the giant corporation. The city’s proposal – eventually rejected by Amazon – was a performance-based series of perks totaling almost a billion dollars, which would have created a corporate campus that would have spread across 100 to 200 acres.

That deal would have eventually brought 50,000 new jobs with it. That’s worth considerable investment. Nothing similar seems remotely possible, which brings the city around to what might be labeled Plan B. Or more accurately, an evolving Plan B.

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Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams has grown accustomed to questions about the old ballpark’s future at town hall meetings.

At one such recent session he briefly outlined a litany of possibilities. Those included the park field being converted to an artificial surface and being used to host football and soccer games. The new XFL Dallas Renegades professional football team will debut with the field as its home in February of 2020. Williams also expects the facility to be heavily used by high school teams.

Other uses? The complex already includes a popular office complex overlooking center field, offices he expects will be expanded, perhaps significantly.

“I’ve had developers tell me they can build an office building anywhere, but in location inside a former Major League Baseball field is a unique business address,” Williams said.

Williams also alluded to a possible high-rise condo or apartment addition in his townhall remarks, but was more specific in a recent interview with Ballpark Digest in which he envisioned two towers being constructed on opposite sides of the stadium.

“The real piece of this is when we have a master plan to come out and shows we have the ability in the concourses to come out with high-rise office space,” Williams said in that interview. “We don’t know how high because it would depend how many businesses we can get signed up. So, we would have an office tower on one side, and a high-rise condo coming out of the other corner.”

Though the high-rise possibility is attractive, it also poses a critical difficulty – mainly that residents and commercial tenants would expect close-in parking for themselves, friends and clients regardless of playoff games, rock concert festivals or any other event. Not easily done since the Entertainment District already hosts 15 million visitors annually, a number expected to increase.

The nitty gritty, though, is that things are still in flux. More than a dozen ideas are in percolation. Some may be real – others more like trial balloons to see what will fly, and what will not.

Re-purposing of a pro baseball field is not a new idea. Atlanta’s former Turner Field is now mostly used for college football. And much of Indianapolis’s Bush Stadium is now apartments. But the visualization of possibilities for Globe Life Park, if ambitions are to be achieved, would be without comparable precedent – a critical component of what is perhaps evolving to becoming an astonishing Entertainment District micro-city within a city.

O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.