The Only Incentive Dallas Can Offer Filmmakers: Blow Us Up, Please?
Reunion Arena isn't about to go the way of Nakatomi Plaza; Texas Stadium is a long way from getting the Gotham City Hospital treatment. Right now, Dallas Film Commission director Janis Burklund's idea of making those local landmarks go boom is nothing but that -- as high-concept as anything in the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster filmography.
And, she tells Unfair Park, it's one born out of necessity, as Texas still doesn't have in place the tax breaks and other financial incentives necessary to lure big studios from Louisiana, New Mexico and other neighboring states that offer plenty of goodies as bait. It was, after all, Burklund who came up with the slogan "Shoot J.R. in Dallas" two years ago, as she begged 20th Century Fox to shoot its now-presumed-dead big-screen Dallas here instead of Louisiana.
"I guess it's from all the years I was on Walker, Texas Ranger, where we blew up lots of things -- and shot 'em too," she says, laughing, when asked about her surprisingly violent ideas. "But when we were on Walker, there were a bunch of houses we blew up, and it was a good deal for both parties: The property got gone, and we saved money on demo. It was a win-win, and I'd like to see if we can reproduce it with Reunion Arena and Texas Stadium."
Only one problem: Neither Dallas nor Irving has given Burklund the go-head to approach studios or production companies with her idea. And one Dallas official is more than a little skeptical about the whole idea in the first place.
Burklund says the idea of capturing a Texas Stadium demolition on film began during some discussions she'd had a while back with Maura Gast, executive director of the Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau. Gast, who used to work in the Irving Film Commission office, actually initiated the idea, Burklund says.
"Maura understands some of the film stuff, and she put a bug in my ear that there might be an opportunity for filming once it's time for Texas Stadium to go away," Burklund says. "We've actually been having that conversation by e-mail recently about how we proceed. But there are a lot of questions: What's the time line, and what's even possible before I can sell it to the studios? They haven't figured it out yet."
Gast, who's currently in Los Angeles meeting with potential architects for Irving's new $200-million concert hall entertainment center scheduled to open by February 2011, tells Unfair Park, yes, she'd love to have a studio pay help pay for Texas Stadium's big adios -- "if the timing works and we can work with a production company." But, truthfully, she's just kind of itching for the thing to go away after the Cowboys abandon it at the end of the season, and she would more or less view its potential big-screen farewell as an infomercial for "the reinvention of Irving."
"That's the third-busiest intersection in DFW," Gast says. "We've been working on redevelopment plans and taking those to the market, and it's critical locally for us to make a big a deal of the stadium coming down and the opportunity that landscape presents, especially with DART light rail about to go through those 400 acres of developable real estate."
Indeed, Irving's already begun discussions with Forest City, which is behind the Mercantile's makeover downtown, about turning the area around Texas Stadium into a mixed-use development. They've even created a Web site touting "the world-famous Texas Stadium site [as] a centerpiece of prime real estate, rich with re-development opportunity."
"The tenant's leaving, and that's a prime piece of real estate," Gast says. "I don't mean to be quite that crass about it, but it's in the middle of six million people and will have significant impact once it's gone. It's critical." In other words, movie studio or not, that thing's coming down -- the sooner, the better.
As for Reunion, only this week did council members receive a time line for the demolition of the former home of the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars. There's still much work to do on the joint, including a public auction of the old seats (to commence perhaps as soon as next week) and months' worth of asbestos remediation. And Frank Poe, the city's Convention & Event Services Director, tells Unfair Park he's actually a little skeptical of Burklund's idea. He's willing to listen, and no doubt he'd let you blow it up for the right price. Still ...
"If she finds somebody, we'd be open to talking to them about this," Poe says. "But I'd hasten to add that within the context of the demolition process, there are a number of environmental issues that go along with it: the asbestos, restoration of the site, our overarching agreement with Woodbine. There are a number of different things that would need to be vetted before we can even proceed." And as of yesterday afternoon, he had yet to talk to Burklund about her concept. "I want to understand what she wants to accomplish," he says.
In other words, put down your plunger and back away slowly from Reunion Arena.
"I'm waiting just for the cities to see what can and can't be done and when," Burklund says. "I can't go to the studios till I have more information. If I talk them into it and then the cities say no, that doesn't fly well. We have to have a very good understanding before I got and pitch this. Right now, it's just an idea. And I think it's an idea that has some merit, but it has to be investigated further, and we have to find out if anyone's interested.
"But one reason to market this is, it's an incentive," she continues. "It's about looking for some way to offer something they can't get elsewhere. Since our incentive issue isn't competitive -- and we hope to go back to the legislature in January to fix that -- I am looking to stay in the game with some of the bigger projects, and I thought this was on opportunity we could leverage." --Robert Wilonsky