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IRVING, TX-In a once-in-a-lifetime development opportunity, the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau’s executive team will hit the streets with an RFP for a consultant to weigh the pros and cons of a mothballed convention center project. The RFP goes out in early June, just weeks before the city council gets its first briefing on redevelopment recommendations for Texas Stadium.

Mothballed nearly two years ago, the convention center project and its funding capacity for up to $100 million could help to speed redevelopment for the city-owned Texas Stadium, set to be vacated in 2008 by the Dallas Cowboys. The mothballed convention center site and the stadium sit about two miles apart.

The convention and visitors bureau report will be a companion study to findings that will be aired June 22 to council by the Baltimore-based RTKL Associates Inc. The firm’s Dallas team was hired a few months ago by the city, University of Dallas and Southwest Premier Properties, a trio of property owners kicking in $25,000 apiece toward the cost and inking a “standstill agreement” not to accept any offers for their land until the redevelopment review was complete.

David Leininger, Irving’s CFO, tells GlobeSt.com that city officials should be ready to make development decisions by May or June 2006. “The work that’s been done to date confirms there are several very good alternatives that are even better than what we had anticipated,” he says. The RTKL recommendations will be vetted over the fall and into first quarter 2006 while the convention center feasibility study should be done in Q1–setting the stage for a midyear decision.

Maura Allen Gast, executive director for the Irving Convention and Visitors Bureau, says its study will focus on the merit of resurrecting the convention center project on a 40-acre site that cost $13 million. The review also will look at shifting the center’s location as well as finding another tourist draw and possibly reassigning development funds gleaned from a two-cent hotel tax that’s been stacking up since the project was dry docked. “We’re trying to be open-minded and test everything out,” she says. A council vote is all that’s needed to reassign the funds, she adds.

Leininger says the tax-fueled convention center fund is up to $10 million. It could be as much as $15 million before it’s time to decide its use, he says.

Gast and Leininger firmly believe the five-year wait since the convention center plan first surfaced has worked in the city’s favor. Roughly $700 million of freeway and light-rail projects have since been approved for the Texas Stadium crossroads. Convention center competitors are done with their projects so it’s easier to determine if a feasible niche exists, Gast says. “It’s a great opportunity right now and we have time on our side to ask those questions,” she says.

Leininger says the stadium options include razing the 400,000-sf, column-free structure; updating the 32-year-old sports complex for college or high school teams; or even gutting the interior and building it out for other uses. The stadium sits on 84 acres. About 250 of the university’s 400 acres are developable. Southwest Premier Properties owns 134 acres, now used as a tractor-trailer freight depot.

“We recognize this collection of parcels is too valuable to allow it to go unplanned,” Leininger says, adding it’s larger than the Dallas CBD. He also recognizes it’s in the limelight because of its tenant. “I think we’ll do fine and probably somewhat better, but there’s no question that having a marquee NFL franchise added to the city,” he says. “If you took away the Dallas Cowboys, it wouldn’t be commanding the kind of attention that it has.”

The Dallas Cowboys pay a minimum of $1 million in rent annually and a bonus on gross gate receipts that adds roughly another $500,000 per year to the city’s coffer. “We’ve got a tenant paying rent for the next four years. We just need to be timely on this,” Leininger says. “There are a lot of things lined up that make it easy to think about this without a lot of stress. The challenge is to take advantage of the opportunity that’s been presented without messing it up.” The city will be a facilitator, perhaps kick in some financial underwriting, but he stresses it’s not going to be the developer.

John M. Bonnot, the economic development director for the Irving Chamber of Commerce, says the foremost concern is ending up with a meaningful development. “The chamber and the community are very interested in identifying as soon as possible what that area can be.”

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