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The Southwest Sports Group Inc. is lining up some major players to exercise an option to purchase 220 acres encircling the Ballpark in Arlington for a mixed-use development that is expected to break ground by the end of next year.

COO Mike Cramer told GlobeSt.com that interviews are being set up with “three or four” leading developers to head the team. A decision is expected within a few months, at which time a master plan also will be further defined. Cramer has declined to identify the developers with whom the Sports Group has opened talks.

Cramer says the acreage is available at “a fairly minimal price,” in line with a pact mortared 10 years ago when the Texas Rangers threatened to leave the city and forced the floating of a multi-million dollar bond issue to build a new stadium. The bond issue will be paid off in September 2001, taking with it a sales tax imposed upon residents to cover costs. Part of the deal required the city to purchase land around the park to service the stadium, with the understanding the Rangers could buy it for a predetermined price in the future. The future is now, says Cramer.”We are ready to get going and start developing. It’s time for us to exercise our option and take down the land,” Cramer told GlobeSt.com. He expects the land purchase also will occur in the next few months. He says the city bought 270 acres, but roughly only 220 are suitable for development.

Cramer says the Sports Group envisions a development. blending a significant mix of residential and commercial, “that will be technologically advanced … that will serve as the downtown of Arlington.”

Signing up a developer is the first step, says Cramer. Then, the group plans to finalize its master plan, moving forward with the selection of an architect and leasing agent. A project cost or estimated square footage have not been calculated, but the development is expected to have an end value of hundreds of millions of dollars, says Cramer. “We like it, the developers like it and the city likes it,” he said of the preliminary proposal. “We want to get a master plan we like as opposed to what we’ve been tinkering with.”

The “tinkering” reflects a large-scale, relatively high-density development of various height buildings encircling the ballpark. “The buildings will not reach the level of a Dallas or Ft. Worth,” he said. The plan presently doesn’t call for the same height buildings as in the metropolises east and west of Arlington, but that too could change. Density also will not mimic downtown Dallas developments such as Victory, which is more urban than the Sports Group has in mind for its Arlington project.

The group has yet to ask the city for abatements or infrastructure funding, but those requests may be forthcoming. Interstate 30 is the primary artery and presents a daily logjam for motorists. Cramer acknowledges the need for infrastructure improvements in and around the ballpark to support a large-scale development. “It will happen,” he said, quickly adding that talks began just a year ago so there is a lot of planning yet to do.

The proposal’s magnitude is such that it most likely will be six to 10 years before the project is completed. There also are several hundred acres in the immediate vicinity that could be purchased for an expansion. Cramer believes the extra land could be had for a reasonable price, either by the Sports Group or another developer looking to “piggyback” onto the team’s final plan.

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