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The Rangers’ Stadium Was Arlington’s Crown Jewel — Now the Team Wants a New One?

Getty Images
Getty Images

The Texas Rangers are in the process of trying to convince taxpayers to help finance a new stadium in Arlington. With a price tag of nearly $1 billion, it would replace the team’s current home of just 22 years, and offer, among other things, shelter from the hot Texas sun with a retractable roof.

Gosh, things must be really bad at Globe Life Park. It must be some dump cobbled together at the last minute, the way so many neoclassical parks constructed in the early ’90s are. Maybe they just didn’t build it right!

Ah … hm. Maybe not.

Globe Life — which opened in 1994 as The Ballpark (yes, The Ballpark) in Arlington — was a marvel. It had all the bells and whistles a baseball fan could dream of: fine dining, a Little League field, an amphitheater, an art gallery (!), man-made lakes (!!), and a museum to honor baseball’s greats. It had a distinctly Texan twist: the facade was covered in Texas lone stars, 7-foot-tall longhorns, and murals depicting scenes from the state’s history.

“We’re building a monument to baseball,” said then–managing general partner George W. Bush, who was still being described as “the former president’s son” at that point. “Our fans are going to have more than a great place to watch baseball; they’re going to get artistic architecture, 100 percent Texan.”

The Ballpark was built to last. Tom Schieffer, who was appointed by Bush to select a site for the new stadium, said in 1990 that the park would endure for a generation. “This will commit the Texas Rangers to Arlington for the next 40 years,” he said. “This will be a baseball park that will be the envy of the whole country.”

Three years later, as the park neared completion, Schieffer went even further.

“We’re building this for 100 years. There’s going to be nothing like it in all of sports.”

The Ballpark was a hit as soon as it opened. In its first season, the park shattered team attendance records, selling out a quarter of its games. With acclaim pouring in, the city of Arlington basked in its pricy new crown jewel and awarded it a suburb’s highest honor: putting it in the city’s brochure. “Arlington’s economic development brochure is titled ‘We play ball with business,’” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted in 1994, “and features photographs of the new ballpark.”

Stadium architect David Schwarz, who was the first and hopefully last person to describe anything on Earth as “Texana neo-Romanesque,” said, “They’ve been coming up gushing to me. Everyone’s response is somewhat equivalent of the word ‘wow.’” Fans stopped him to ask for his autograph.

In the end, The Ballpark cost $191 million, financed largely by taxpayers in the form of a half-cent sales tax increase. Today’s proposal for a new new stadium comes with — surprise! — the same half-cent tax bump. Should it be approved, taxpayers will fund the project just as soon as they finish paying for the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, the most recent sporting venue that Arlington taxpayers have agreed to cover.

City officials have stressed that the Rangers’ new park would provide “a premiere baseball experience.” Arlington’s enthusiasm for a prospective deal — which in its present form would cost taxpayers about $500 million — seems to have been nudged along by the looming threat of losing the team to Dallas, a city only 20 miles east. The last time Dallas came calling? Right before Arlington agreed to pay for The Ballpark.

On Opening Day of 1994, the ceremonial first pitch was tossed by Arlington Mayor Richard Greene, who had spearheaded the city’s efforts to keep the Rangers in Arlington and brokered the tax arrangement. When the park opened, he said, in all seriousness, “This is our Eiffel Tower.”

The Eiffel Tower, apparently, is not good enough for the Rangers. Maybe an Eiffel Tower with a sunroof will have more staying power.

This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on May 20, 2016.