- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

DALLAS — "No way, Jose," an embattled city council here said last week as a local milk company stepped in to circumvent an almost completed plan to name part of a Latino cultural center for a famous tequila product.

The distributors of Jose Cuervo, one of the world's most famous tequilas, had offered $1 million to the city to re-energize a project that languished for years for lack of money.

The payback: a 300-seat arts theater within the center would be called the Jose Cuervo theater for 50 years.

Most city council members said they didn't relish the backlash of public scorn over putting a liquor name on the cultural center's theater, but that getting the project completed was more important than what they named it.

Just days before they were about to finalize and accept the donation from Guinness United Distillers & Vintners North America Inc., Oak Farms Dairy, a local company, said it would be honored to donate the $1 million.

The donation was announced with a milk toast and a press conference on Thursday.

"Oak Farms has been very involved in the community, and this is just an extension of that," said an Oak Farms spokesman.

City council member Elba Garcia, once strongly in favor of accepting the distiller's offer, breathed a sign of relief.

"I don't think a name is going to make a difference," she said, "but I was worried that some people would be against it."

Other board members credited Mrs. Garcia with personally approaching Oak Farms to make the pitch.

"Hopefully it will roll off the tongue better than Jose Cuervo," said deputy mayor pro tem John Loza. "We're going from tequila to milk, and with Oak Farms, there's not a degree of controversy."

Mayor Ron Kirk, who was instrumental a year ago in selling name rights to the city's largest music venue to the Guinness corporation for $6 million, said he felt the distiller had taken "an unnecessary beating for this."

The planned Latino center, $3.5 million of its funding approved by bond issue vote six years ago, has never broken ground. Once figured to cost around $8 million, expectations are that it will cost more than $10 million by the time it is built.

With the $1 million pledge, plus additional private funding, officials claim it can be a reality by 2003.

Council member Laura Miller, chagrined last week that most of her fellow council members planned to take the Guinness offer, suggested the move would spur other citizens or business entities to become involved. Within hours of her statement, the Oak Farms offer came forth.

Opposition to the "tequila connection," as one radio talk show caller termed it, was growing exponentially partly because many citizens have voiced strong concerns about the management of tax dollars by the council and other leaders.

Others complained bitterly about the city's proposals to eliminate more than 125 municipal jobs, curtail trash pickup and raise property taxes, and its refusal to raise police and firefighters' salaries.

"If we didn't spend so much on building sports arenas and public relations to try to get the Olympics here, we could pay our cops properly and fix the chug holes all over town," said Dennis Thornton, 39, a securities salesman.

Although the public furor abated with the Oak Farms donation, some still questioned the practice of selling name rights to cultural venues.

"There's no question that I'd rather see Oak Farms than Jose Cuervo," said council member Mitchell Rasansky, adding, "but the question is: Are we going to keep selling our naming rights to everything we build? Does it mean if we build a new aquarium, it will be the Star-Kist Tuna Aquarium?"

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