Ten Years Later, AT&T Stadium Remains ‘Golden’ Gift That Keeps on Giving

For anyone even remotely familiar with AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, the idea seems laughable now. When the HKS-designed stadium was in its planning stages more than a decade ago, owner Jerry Jones was concerned that the 3 million square foot, 300-feet tall edifice might not be visible from nearby Interstate 30, the high-volume freeway that connects Dallas and Fort Worth.

Jones worried that the stadium’s planned location at the intersection of Randol Mill Road and Collins Street in Arlington, Texas, might cost him both money and prestige. He wanted the architects and engineers to do something about it.

“They asked HKS and myself to do a site line study and we prepared that,” said current Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, who at the time was the civil engineer for the project. “We also prepared the impact (study) . . . it would have hurt our traffic patterns if we had moved the stadium up to the freeway. They left it where it is and of course, it’s iconic. You can see it from Fort Worth to Hurst-Euless-Bedford to Dallas.”

Not only is it visible to freeway motorists, but also to many passengers who fly in and out of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. In fact, one could argue that the legendary stadium has been seen by many from around the world through high-profile televised events or by those who actually visit Arlington, and it’s hard to imagine it having any greater impact if it had been located elsewhere. For certain the stadium, which opened in 2009, fueled a huge economic turnaround in Arlington that Williams contends has spread throughout North Texas.

“It has been a catalyst to grow both tourism and jobs in our community,” Williams said. “Everyone benefits from AT&T Stadium being in Arlington, including Dallas, Fort Worth and all of our surrounding cities. Because of the events that are there, we’re sending people all over the Metroplex that spend money in the restaurants (and) stay in the hotels. When you have a 100,000-person event, there aren’t enough hotel rooms in any one city to take care of it.”

Indeed, of the Top 10 events for the city of Dallas in 2018, based on hotel room night occupancy, four of them — the NFL Draft, Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Big 12 Conference Football Championship and the Mexican National Team U. S. Tour — took place inside AT&T Stadium.

Plus, Williams said, the location of the stadium provides a hidden benefit to all parties that is rarely, if ever, discussed.

“If that place had been put in downtown Dallas, or if it had been put in downtown Fort Worth; Fort Worth wouldn’t have gone to Dallas, Dallas wouldn’t have gone to Fort Worth,” said Williams, who noted that the Cowboys had scant few ticket holders from Fort Worth when the team played in Irving. “They’ll all come to Arlington. We’re Switzerland.”

And Arlington hasn’t minded opening its arms. In large part because of both AT&T Stadium and HKS-designed Globe Life Park, the home of MLB’s Texas Rangers, Arlington has seen its hotel-motel tax revenue increase by nearly 72 percent, going from about $5.39 million in – the year before AT&T Stadium opened – to more than $9.25 million in fiscal year 2018.

During that same period, sales tax revenues in the city grew by more than 36 percent, increasing from $46 million in 2008 to nearly $63 million in 2018.

Even before AT&T Stadium opened in 2009 as Cowboys Stadium in 2009, massive tax revenue jumps had helped Arlington city officials pay off the $135 million debt on Globe Life Park a decade early, in 2001. The same happy fate was on the way for AT&T Stadium, which is actually owned by the city. Jerry Jones pays Arlington $2 million a year in rent, plus $500,000 a year from his AT&T naming rights deal. That money now goes directly into the city’s general fund. City officials had expected to have the stadium paid off 13 years early, by 2021. But in 2017, the city refinanced AT&T Stadium to help issue new debt for Globe Life Field, which opens in 2020 and is another HKS project. The refinancing will save Arlington taxpayers about $7.4 million. AT&T Stadium is now slated to be paid off in 2034 as originally planned.

People Drive Revenue

Although a recent impact study for the mammoth stadium has not been commissioned, city officials and economists say it provides an immense intangible benefit to Arlington and North Texas that might be immeasurable.

“AT&T Stadium is a premier event zone, drawing international events like the Super Bowl, the first ever National College Football Playoff Final, the (NCAA) Final Four and the largest concert in North America. With each event, Arlington is called out as the home of this world-class stadium,” said Jay Warren, director of Communication and Legislative Affairs for the City of Arlington. “It’s impossible to place a dollar value on that type of national and international exposure. Like no other project in our history, AT&T Stadium has raised the awareness of Arlington across the globe.”

Dr. Bernard L. Weinstein, an economist in the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, agrees. Weinstein, who is widely respected on sports stadium economic issues, did an economic impact study of the Cowboys former home, Texas Stadium, in 1998. He hasn’t done anything similar for AT&T Stadium, but he said he doesn’t need to do a detailed analysis to know that AT&T has, and will continue to be, a strong economic engine. And he said it’s not only the stadium that’s giving the city and region a boost, but the development that’s springing up around it, something critics of Arlington’s bids for both the Cowboys and the Rangers had said would never happen.

“It’s not just AT&T Stadium,” Weinstein said. “You’re going to have Globe Life Field. You have Texas Live! That place is incredible. That’s kind of making that place a destination even if a game isn’t being played. The economic impact is just tremendous. You have hundreds of thousands of people who go to AT&T Stadium for so many events. It’s not just the (10 Cowboys) football games, there’s another 355 days of the year. The stadium itself has become a destination.”

Weinstein said scheduling multiple events, beyond Cowboys games, is important because “people drive revenue.”

“The more people you get into AT&T, the more people in the stadium, the more money that is spent in Arlington,” he said. “That means more sales tax. More hotel rooms are held. Out of town visitors are going to spend more on food and general retail than people who live there.”

Williams said that in 2019, AT&T Stadium would welcome more than 300 events, in addition to the Cowboys games. Whether it’s the Monster Jam truck competition, an international soccer match, a concert or a high school graduation, AT&T Stadium is a willing host. And that doesn’t count major, high-profile events such as the Super Bowl, the NFL Draft, an NBA All-Star Game, WrestleMania 32 and the annual Cotton Bowl Classic.

It’s Been Golden

The mayor said that all those activities help boost the multipurpose usefulness of AT&T Stadium, which along with the Rangers’ Globe Life Field, will anchor the city’s burgeoning entertainment district.

“The vision around Cowboys stadium, is that all of those parking lots are designed to where the water, sanitary, sewer, power, utilities are all there to build development around the stadium,” he said. “And so, I think you will see our entertainment district grow around AT&T Stadium, just as you’ve seen Texas Live! and Live by Loews. Stay tuned, there’ll be other attractions coming in there around AT&T Stadium.”

And there are signs that the economic explosion is spreading beyond the entertainment area immediately around Texas Live! and AT&T Stadium. An Arlington ZIP code — 76018 — is ranked by Realtor.com as the eighth-hottest housing market in the U.S., and Forbes Magazine ranked the overall Fort Worth-Arlington area as the ninth-best place in the country to buy a home. Apparently seizing on a trend, in 2017 giant homebuilder D. R. Horton relocated its corporate headquarters from Fort Worth to Arlington, ironically to a spot along I-30 near where Jerry Jones once coveted.

R. Horton is Arlington’s first Fortune 500 company, but Williams and others say they’re ready for more. And they credit AT&T Stadium with opening that door and elevating the image of Arlington and North Texas “to an international status.”

“It has been golden. It has exceeded our expectations,” Williams said of the stadium. “We were thinking we would have 25 events (per year). So, when you’re thinking 25 and you get 300 – whoa. It’s a wow! Right now, AT&T Stadium is a real catalyst for us to become the destination between Orlando and Vegas. That’s our goal.”