January 10, 2014
Barely a Plan, But Enough to Excite Leaders About Texas Stadium Site’s Future
By Avi Selk Ever since the Dallas Cowboys’ old home imploded into a city-owned dirt lot, dreamers have been coming to City Hall with designs for its future. From a fake mountain to a 100-acre furniture mart, these plans for the Texas Stadium site have shared little but failure. The latest pitch is barely a plan. The Irving City Council voted Thursday to enter six months of exclusive talks with OliverMcMillan while the company figures out what it might build where the stadium stood. But the San Diego firm has deep pockets, a glossy résumé, and a serious interest in the site. And that has many Irving officials more hopeful than they’ve been since the stadium fell. “What really struck me was seeing nearly a 90-acre site in the middle of your city, in the middle of this major metropolis, just waiting to have a future,” OliverMcMillan’s CEO, Dene Oliver, told the council Wednesday. He was describing a trip to Irving last year, after Mayor Beth Van Duyne and staff members from the Chamber of Commerce met company executives at a retail convention and told them about the stadium site. Until Wednesday’s presentation, most Irving council members hadn’t known that OliverMcMillan was scouting the site. But they remembered those who’d come before. Even before the Cowboys demolished the stadium and moved to Arlington, Irving officials were plotting the resurrection of what then-Mayor Herbert Gears declared “will forever be the face of Irving.” Two developers vied in 2006 for rights to fill the land between Loop 12 and State Highways 183 and 114 with high-rises, apartments and shops. The winner signed a contract with the city and drew plans for $2 billion of mixed-use development, including a park over State Highway 114 like the one now in downtown Dallas. But the deal broke down in the late 2000s as the economy headed toward recession. It was dead before the spring of 2010, when an 11-year-old contest winner pushed a button in the stadium parking lot and triggered a short ton of dynamite inside. By then, the city already had agreed to rent out the face of Irving to the state as a highway construction depot. Dust settled and dreams faded in Irving. But the pitches didn’t stop. One developer wanted to turn the old stadium grounds into a 25-story skiing and snowboarding theme park — to rival Mount Rushmore, as the pitch went. Another company proposed filling the site with an enormous Nebraska FurnitureMart. The store ended up in The Colony instead. The city entertained (or at least listened to) every plan and even tried to talk the Cowboys into moving the team headquarters to the site. But none went far. Before long, city officials started pointing out that the state was paying them more to store road material than the Cowboys ever did. At the same time, elsewhere around the country, OliverMcMillan was having more success with its own dreams. On Wednesday, Dene Oliver lingered over several slides of a 46-story condo tower his company developed in Honolulu. OliverMcMillan took over the abandoned project in 2009 as a half-finished scar on the skyline, the CEO told council members. The tower opened two years later with every floor sold out. The company mostly builds mixed-use projects: trendy lofts over sprawling blocks of shops and office space, much like the first failed plan for the stadium site. Convinced of the company’s credentials, Irving officials are perhaps most impressed with a project underway in Houston: $575 million of retail, office space and residential set to open in 2015. Jonathon Bazan, Irving’s development services director, expected OliverMcMillan to also negotiate with landowners across the highways from the stadium site. The project, if it happens, could be enormous. And with the economy finally shrugging off the recession, Bazan said, OliverMcMillan can succeed where so many failed. “The folks we know in the development community say this is a very solid group,” he said. “I think being who they are is a big difference maker here.” The contract that the council approved Thursday commits no public money to OliverMcMillan. Nor does it require the company to build anything. But it gives the firm until the end of June to hire architects and engineers, design a site plan and pitch it to investors without fear that another ski slope or couch store will snag the property first. If the city and firm want to keep working together past June, the council would need to vote again. And before it could sell OliverMcMillan the land, the city would need to get out of its contract with the state, which is renting the plot until 2020, though the lease has an escape hatch. Only council member Allan Meagher opposed the proposal. He and even a few yes votes complained that Van Duyne and negotiators kept the deal under wraps for months, until Wednesday. The mayor countered: “I don’t think anybody who’s in this area can really claim they didn’t know at some point we were going to be trying to redevelop Texas Stadium.”
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