Editorial: Fort Worth arena is needed, plan deserves support


Rendering of proposed arena                                                                                                                                     

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The time is right. The plan is right. Even the price is right – not cheap by any means but reasonable, all things considered. At long last, the dream of a top-flight, multipurpose arena in the Fort Worth cultural district is within reach – and the city’s voters have the power to turn the dream into reality by voting yes on three propositions on the Nov. 4 election ballot.

The Business Press endorses the arena plan and urges voters to approve the three ballot questions authorizing user fees to help finance construction of the arena through a public-private partnership that will commit the private sector to picking up half the tab – and more, if the cost turns out to be higher than projected.

The projected cost: $450 million for a versatile 14,000 seat showplace that will enable Fort Worth to compete for concerts and other events that have traditionally bypassed the city. The public’s share will be capped at $225 million; the remaining $225 million, and any cost overruns, will be raised by Event Facilities Fort Worth, a nonprofit group that is spearheaded by Fort Worth businessman Ed Bass and has been instrumental in helping the city develop and maintain the Will Rogers Memorial Center.

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The proposed site of the arena is at the western edge of the Will Rogers complex, at the intersection of Harley Avenue and Gendy Street, just off Montgomery. Existing Will Rogers facilities, including the historic Coliseum and Auditorium, will remain in place and continue to be used for a variety of events.

Arena proponents are emphasizing that continuity in their appeals for voter support.

“The Multipurpose Arena at Will Rogers Center will complement Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum,” says an ad promoting the arena plan. “The Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum, now in its ninth decade of service to our community, will continue to serve as a major equestrian show arena and as a tribute to our City’s leaders who had the foresight and wherewithal to build it.”

Foresight has been a staple of Fort Worth leadership in recent decades but wherewithal has sometimes been in short supply. So it is no small feat that the public and private sectors have devised a way to build this long-discussed and much-needed entertainment venue despite an economic climate that remains challenging in the wake of the 2008 recession.

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“There are no other cities that could pull this off,” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price told the Business Press during a meeting with the newspaper’s editorial board. Bass also participated in the meeting and said the private portion of the arena’s cost would come from “a limited number of foundations, organizations and individuals that have been focused on this arena project for two decades.”

Price’s comment was appropriate and telling, for few if any cities can boast the cooperative spirit and sense of common purpose that has consistently brought the public and private sectors together to advance Fort Worth’s prosperity and growth.

And Bass wasn’t exaggerating when he referenced the 20-year effort to add a modern, multipurpose arena to the city’s inventory of entertainment venues. Bass and others identified the need long before the city’s only comparable facility, the 46-year-old arena at the Fort Worth Convention Center, fell into its current state of obsolescence.

Even in its heyday hosting rock concerts and sporting events the convention center arena was a pale harbinger of the Will Rogers venue that is now on the drawing boards and, if the voters see fit, on the threshold of realization. For starters, the convention center arena had a maximum seating capacity of 11,200; depending on the event, the proposed arena will seat as many as 14,000 – a number that will place the facility in the forefront of regional venues able to attract a variety of concerts and other events that in recent years have rarely found their way to Fort Worth.

But the arena’s state-of-the-art design will make it flexible enough that seating can be reconfigured to accommodate smaller events and still guarantee that every seat will provide optimal viewing for every member of the audience. Supporters say the arena can be expected to host 135 events a year – in addition to the annual Stock Show Rodeo, which will occupy the facility for its entire run each winter.

For taxpayers, the best news in all this is that no property tax revenues will be used to build or maintain the arena. With the arena owned by the city and no profit-making entity involved in its operation – it will be managed on a nonprofit basis, most likely by Event Facilities Fort Worth – all revenue will flow back to the arena to pay for operation and maintenance. The public portion of the cost of building the arena will come from fees paid by users of the arena and other facilities in the Will Rogers complex along with a portion of hotel and mixed-beverage taxes generated within a three-mile radius of the arena.

The ballot questions facing voters involve the user fees, which the ballot language describes as taxes: a maximum 10 percent tax on tickets for events at the new arena; a daily tax not to exceed $20 per event on livestock pens and stalls used for events at the arena; and a parking tax of up to $5 per vehicle for events throughout the Will Rogers complex.

The parking tax, by the way, would be derived from established parking fees charged for various events, not added on to the cost of parking. We often hear that some proposal or other is a once in a lifetime opportunity, that it’s too good to pass up, that it’s a gift that simply cannot be refused. But hyperbole or not, in the case of this arena proposal such claims are legitimate.

The time is right. The plan is right. The price is right. Voters should say yes to the arena. To quote Mayor Price’s ubiquitous TV commercials touting the plan, it is “definitely Fort Worth it!”