December 15, 2018

Arlington: First act at Texas Live! hits home run

As Texas Live! manager Jim Watry goes about his duties in the massive 200,000-square-foot, $250 million dining and entertainment complex snuggled up against an under-construction Globe Life Park in Arlington, there’s a hint of gleeful strut to his walk – and why not? Things, definitely, absolutely, are breaking his way.

An on-going assortment of Cowboys and Rangers games packs the facility with fans before, after and – surprisingly – during games. As do events like LSU vs. Miami or A&M vs. Arkansas at AT&T Stadium a block away. A few people, too, will likely show up for the Dec. 29 Cotton Bowl pitting No. 2 Clemson against No. 3 Notre Dame – if 100,000-plus people can be interpreted as “a few.”

Routine lunch and dinner traffic remains solid if not overwhelming, but then there are big crowd events, followed by more events. There’s a Christmas festival, Christkindl, taking place in the four-acre plaza behind Texas Live!, a steady stream of its patrons dropping by for libations and lunch. Two blocks away the revamped Arlington eSports Arena – only the biggest of its type on the planet – cranks out a few thousand hungry and thirsty gamers during tournaments.

Not content to simply rely on nearby events to generate traffic, Watry and Texas Live! invent some of their own crowd makers. A Caddy Shack Pub Crawl featuring the recent match competition between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson drew 5,000 to watch Mickelson make $10 million large on the facility’s 150 TV screens, including a 100-foot LED. At Texas Live!, 5,000 is enough to fill the place without being really crowded. A Halloween party attracted 7,500, the patrons spilling out into outside patios. A two-day Taco Fest tallied not quite 10,000. Nobody gets thirsty because there are 550 beer taps spread across 11 restaurant and bar venues.

NFL Hall-of-Famer Troy Aikman has a restaurant there. As does MLB Hall-of-Famer Pudge Rodriguez. Ditto for Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives host Guy Fieri, who is merely famous for food and a strange haircut. There’s a coming wedding in which nobody was trimmed from the invitation list – 3,000 are expected. There are hatha yoga nights, movie nights and 5-K fun runs. It’s busy-busy but nevertheless Watry is working on yet another big event, a spectacular New Year’s Eve tickets-only party that’s selling out fast.

“We’re doing pretty well for Phase I,” says Watry, 54, an easy-going, almost laconic veteran of running similar sports-oriented venues in St. Louis and Kansas City. It’s a growth industry.

Texas Live! is private-public collaborative between the Cordish Co., Texas Rangers and the City of Arlington, which kicked in $50 million as an economic incentive. The idea is to make the city a visitation enterprise all the time, not just on game day or amusement park day. It also helps that the state’s top tourist draw, Six Flags Over Texas, is only two blocks away.

“The idea is to have people say, ‘Let’s go to Texas Live! There’s always something going on’,” Watry says.

So far it seems a solid business strategy.

But back to that Phase I business-and-beyond thing. I-A is the opening of the nine-story Live! by Loews Hotel immediately next door. That date is closing fast — Aug. 1 of 2019. Phase II is the biggie, the opening of the new indoor Globe Life Texas Rangers ballpark, also adjacent, set for opening day 2020. That’s getting it done in a hurry, but right now 850 workers are toiling 24-hour shifts to make it happen.

It gets better. The XFL – an alternative to the NFL – will have a team headquartering in the old, soon-to-be-revamped Globe Life Park starting in February 2020. It’s also no small thing that in fall 2020 the Arlington Independent School District will open its own new arena due south of Texas Live! for wrestling, gymnastics and Olympic-capable swimming and diving, along with a fine arts auditorium, all attracting thousands of visitors within a three-minute walk to Texas Live!

Watry tries to say low key, but he’s pleased with public response and ongoing development.

“A lot of times it takes a while for a venue like this to get up and going,” he said, “but we seemed to hit full stride right away.”

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