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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

O.K. Carter: Goal of doubling Arlington’s annual tourist traffic is ambitious. Don’t bet against it.


In the 58 years since Six Flags opened, Arlington’s Entertainment District has grown to draw around 15 million visitors annually ¬and new attractions just keep coming online.

Every morning when Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau President Ron Price shows up for work at his office – it’s across the street from Globe Life Park and a block from Six Flags – he looks around and repeats to himself a wildly optimistic mantra:

“Fifteen million down, 15 million to go.”

The first 15 million is a mildly conservative estimate of Arlington’s annual tourism visitation. It’s a healthy number, but it’s taken a while to get there since the city’s first attraction, Angus Wynne’s visionary Six Flags Over Texas, opened its gate for patrons happy to find one-price-for-all access to roller coasters, a monorail and tilt-a-whirls inside.

That was 1961, 58 years ago.

The second 15 million is what Price wants to add to that tally – in the next 10 years.

Wildly, maybe crazily, ambitious? “Yes,” Price concedes. “But I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t think it could be done.”

About Price: He’s 45, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound former University of Houston lineman who – missing out on an NFL career – went into the hospitality and tourism business. First he was a marketeer and strategist with assorted Marriott International enterprises at a dozen different addresses and then was the No. 2 exec for the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau, from which he was recruited six years ago by Arlington after a national search.

So far, so good. Since arriving in Arlington, Price has been a key player in advancing the city’s tourism industry into a formidable economic generator, some components of which are already in play but with another $4 billion in future developments to come.

Based on the view from his second-floor office, he’s got a good start on his next decade’s work.

Nearby there’s what might be described as the oldie-but-goodie stuff: Six Flags, Hurricane Harbor, the Cowboys and AT&T Stadium, the International Bowling Museum and the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park.

And then there’s the almost-new stuff: The recently opened Texas Live! with its assortment of dining and entertainment venues, plus the Esports Stadium Arlington & Expo Center – only the world’s largest electronic gaming and tournament center.

And then there’s the really new stuff on the way in the city’s Entertainment District:

• Live! By Loews: Described by Lowes as its “flagship” hotel, it opens in August (formal date not yet announced). The first of its kind, the $150-million glass tower of more than 300 guest rooms and suites is 14 stories tall with a long list of superior amenities. Adjacent to Texas Live!, the hotel sits between the Texas Rangers’ new Globe Life Field and the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium.

Price: “It’s (the Loews) a game-changer for us. It’s one of the finest hotels in DFW and it’s going to bring in many of the more affluent travelers. It’s also a natural fit with Texas Live!”

• Globe Life Field: The Texas Rangers’ new $1.2 billion air-conditioned glass, brick and steel indoor ballpark is under construction, closing on 70 percent field complete with workers now building the support structure for the open-it-or-close-it roof. With a capacity of 41,000 it will offer both fans and players a respite from sweltering Texas summers. Though it would seem that this would only shift attendance from the north side of Randol Mill road to the south side, there’s far more involved than that:

Price: “What this means is that we now have two giant facilities (AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Field) with different seasons that collectively will bring new events to Arlington that have never been here – giant concerts, huge conventions, a plethora of special events. The impact will be massive. There will be possibilities that haven’t even occurred to us yet.”

• AISD Fine Arts and Athletics Complex: A block south of Globe Life Field between Sanford and Division Streets, the Arlington Independent School District is building a 28-acre campus that will contain (a) an athletic complex with a thousand-seat Olympic capacity natatorium plus capacity for assorted indoor sports – swimming, diving, wrestling, gymnastics, basketball and volleyball, and (b) a 1,250-seat fine arts auditorium, and (c) a smaller “black box” auditorium with a capacity of 425, plus (d) an assortment of other classroom amenities.

Price: “Though the primary purpose is for the school district, the facilities will attract thousands of visitors from throughout the region just to those competitions. The design is also such that there will be public uses – everything from collegiate swimming meets to concerts or plays that need a slightly smaller venue.”

• The XFL: What happens to the old Globe Life Park? There’s much in discussion, but the XFL, a football league that’s being resurrected by WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) owner and CEO Vince McMahon, has found a home for one of its eight teams when it kicks off in 2020. The “Dallas” team – one of eight in the new league – will play at the current open-air Globe Life Park in a revamped facility, with a season that will not conflict with NFL games. There likely will also be numerous other uses for the old ballfield, still relatively new at only 25 years old.

Price: “When you look at what this XFL group has put together, it’s clear they’re not playing to fail. We’ll start the conversion as soon as the Rangers season ends, and there are other high-caliber development opportunities in the facility itself.”

OK then, even if all the previous are highly successful, will they by themselves give Price his additional 15 million visitors over the next decade?

“No,” he concedes.

But he thinks Cowboys owner Jerry Jones might have an idea or two or three for future projects.

The economy would have to remain healthy.

The waterway and small lake that run through the Entertainment District could easily evolve into a San Antonio-style attraction.

And the city continues to shop for a deal that would combine a super hotel with a new amenity-laden convention center. There’s also the probability of a redevelopment renaissance on nearby Division Street – old U.S. 80 – two blocks away. Or that Arlington could land other blockbuster attractions, for example, the Medal of Honor Museum, for which it is one of two finalists.

“This area is also ideal for dense, vertical condominium and apartment development, and before long we’ll not only have a lot of visitors but also thousands of people who live here,” Price said. “It’s got a lot to offer.”

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.


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