Council votes to partner with ARK

In a lengthy and sometimes divisive discussion on the future of an entertainment center in Irving, the City Council voted to approve a partnership with ARK Group and revive a plan to build the $165 million center.
The City Council voted 5-4 in a series of votes at the July 25 meeting after spending hours discussing the partnership and listening to public input. The marathon meeting wrapped up at about 12:30 a.m., more than five hours after it had started.
Councilmembers John C. Danish, Allan Meagher, Dennis Webb, Rose Cannaday and Joe Putnam voted to approve the partnership. Mayor Beth Van Duyne and council members Brad LaMorgese, Gerald Farris and Thomas Spink voted against.
“I think there is a good bit of evidence that this is something that’s needed,” Spink said, citing hoteliers who had decried the City’s lack of entertainment. “There is clearly a significant market here for this project.”

But first, to revive the project that stalled last year with Las Colinas Group, ARK Group would have to pay $3 million to LCG to drop a lawsuit against the city and also pay $1 million to Billy Bob Barnett, creator of Fort Worth’s Billy Bob’s and LCG partner.
In that separate vote, Spink voted for the settlement along with Meagher, Webb, Cannaday, Putnam and Danish.
“Time is of the essence and litigation does tie up these things,” Danish said. “I want to get these lawsuits settled.”
Under the deal outlined in the contract, the City would first contribute $40 million to ARK Group to build the $165 million center. Later, the City would have to pay another $44 million to ARK. That money would come from Las Colinas property owners.
ARK will pay the rest of the$165 million total construction cost. The center is expected to be completed by summer 2016.
The center would be owned by the City, but for 30 years, ARK will receive more than $35 million in tax breaks and pay $1 in rent for the first 30 years. ARK can then choose to pay rent and continue as the operator for up to a century.
“I was cautiously optimistic about the (memorandum of understanding with ARK) when we first voted on it,” Farris said. “On a personal note, I have no reason to go to this venue. It’s not going to put anything in our City coffers. When people come from out of town or to take my family, I will have no incentive to take them there.”
Van Duyne agreed.
“If we create a city-owned project that’s not getting any taxes, we’re basically going to be cannibalizing the businesses that private development is paying to put in the urban center,” Van Duyne said.
“We’re talking about $44 million that could go to things like enhancements to DART station, road repair, landscaping, open spaces, the Water Street (development),” she added. “We are doing our citizens and our city, for 99 years, an incredible disservice.”
The center, dubbed the “Irving Music Factory” would house a 6,500 person amphitheater, concert hall and plaza. The area will also boast restaurants, possibly including one or more from LCG partner Barnett as part of ARK’s lawsuit settlement with LCG.
The City had originally partnered with the Las Colinas Group to build the entertainment center. However, the entertainment center project stalled in the fall when the City Council voted down a resolution to extend negotiations with the project’s developer.
Shortly after the vote, LCG filed a lawsuit. LCG’s last proposal for the entertainment center was for the City to pay for about $17 million of the development. It is estimated the City has spent about $35 million on the project already.

About the Author

Amanda Casanova
Amanda Casanova primarily covers Irving and Coppell city halls for “The Rambler.” Previously, she has worked for “The Galveston County Daily News,” “The Houston Chronicle,” “The Abilene Reporter-News” and “The Lufkin Daily News.” She also served as the editor-in-chief of Texas A&M University’s newspaper, “The Battalion.”