- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

DALLAS — Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones wants taxpayers to build a $1 billion stadium complex to showcase what was once called “America’s Team.”

But the NFL franchise has posted lackluster performances in recent seasons — the Cowboys haven’t been to the Super Bowl since 1996 — and some say the wealthy owner should “pay for his own toys” rather than seek a subsidy from taxpayers.

If Mr. Jones has his way, he will use recently passed legislation that allows Dallas County to levy additional taxes on hotel rooms and car rentals to pay for most of the plan.

Voters would have to pass a referendum allowing the increases. That could come, Cowboys officials have projected, as soon as November on the same ballot as the presidential election.

Much of the funding would come from visitors to Dallas, not from the local community. While that pleases some, others predict such a move would affect convention business.

“This would be devastating to the city,” said Phillip Jones, president and chief executive officer of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau.

He said his organization was not opposed to an impressive new stadium complex, but was “concerned about the funding mechanism to be used.”

Mayor Laura Miller is among those who have questioned the funding plan.

Dallas County Commissioners Court, the five-member board that controls the county’s fiscal affairs, would be the Cowboys’ partners if the proposal succeeds.

The Cowboys’ owner quietly worked behind the scenes using campaign donations of some $140,000 funneled through an Austin political action committee to get the state Legislature to pass the enabling law last year that allows the county to assess a new 3 percent tax on hotel rooms and a 6 percent tax on car rentals.

This would be added to the 15 percent occupancy tax and 5 percent auto rental tax already assessed and does not include state and city sales taxes.

Despite the Cowboys’ renewed popularity — the team just concluded its first winning season in recent years — opposition to the plan is growing.

Radio talk show callers last week suggested Mr. Jones, not taxpayers, should foot the bill.

“He’s pocketed hundreds of millions from sponsorships and sports paraphernalia sales. Why can’t he give a little bit back?” said the caller, who said he was a longtime Cowboys fan.

Another caller mentioned that Forbes magazine has estimated Mr. Jones’ personal wealth at $850 million — “enough to pay for his own toys,” the caller said.

Last week, a major convention customer, Dallas-based cosmetics giant Mary Kay Inc., vowed it would “steadfastly oppose” the plan and would move its conferences to another city if the taxes are imposed.

Mary Kay brings more than 52,000 operatives to five sales conferences annually in Dallas.

In a recent letter to the local convention bureau, Mary Kay President David B. Holl said “a successful referendum to increase the hotel-motel tax will have a far-reaching and negative financial impact on our city’s convention and meeting business.”

The mayor suggested those who directly benefit from the planned complex should pay more of the cost in increased ticket taxes or parking fees.

Mr. Jones has spoken for many months of building a 100,000-seat stadium, plus a sports theme park with a hotel, museums and galleries.

The Cowboys have played at Texas Stadium in suburban Irving since 1971.

Today, Dallas County commissioners will begin to examine the economic feasibility of the Jones project.

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