On June 25 CityAge and New Orleans CityBusiness are running special webinar on the future of America's major entertainment districts, offering strategies to reopen America’s destination districts. This is a lightly edited conversation with Mayor Jeff Williams of Arlington, Texas, on how his city is taking on the COVID19 pandemic. For more insights from national leaders register at: www.cityage.com/frenchquarter
CityAge: Why is Arlington one of America’s top entertainment destinations?
Mayor Jeff Williams: Arlington is right in the center of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and is home to three unique venues — a Six Flags amusement park, AT&T Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys, and our brand new Globe Life Field, the newest Major League Baseball stadium that is home to the Texas Rangers. We’re the only city in the world with two major league stadiums and a major theme park. Seventeen to eighteen million people come to the city every year as tourists. It’s a huge part of our economy
CA: What’s happened during the pandemic?
MJW: Everything has been shut down. And other events, like motocross, wrestling and lots of other events aside from football or baseball generally have not happened. We're projecting a $20-million revenue hit to the city between March 15th and the end of September. And that pales in comparison to what the Texas Rangers, the Dallas Cowboys and Six Flags are seeing in revenue hits.
CA: Is there a comeback strategy?
MJW: There is a strategy. The Six Flags water park will be opening up within the next few weeks after a very stringent planning process. Customers will have to make a reservation, so they can handle the people and not be overcrowded. There will be social distancing markings throughout the park and masks for employees and for customers. They're hopeful to open up by the end of June, with a capacity of somewhere from a third to half of full capacity.
CA: Is this worse than the Great Recession?
MJW: Our city blew right through the Great Recession from 2008 to 2010, because tourism really helped us. A pandemic is the worst possible thing that can happen to tourism. All of our efforts were built on large crowds of 40,000, or the baseball or the football stadium for AT&T .... And so none of that has been happening.
CA: How will the big crowd experience change during and after the pandemic?
MJW: You will probably end up having your temperature taken and they will recommend that you wear a mask to go in. And the employees will have masks on. It’s going to take more time to get into the stadium, and there will be social distancing.
CA: Will this be America’s new way of handling big crowds?
MJW: I think the new normal of getting into a sports venue, how you enter the arena, will definitely change but we don't know how much. There's nothing like the electricity of the crowd watching the football game or the seventh game of the World Series there. It’s an amazing feeling. So how do we have that presence in the midst of a virus? Without a doubt, we're all going to be focused on being cleaner and healthier. Each of our cities needs to be equipped with rapid response teams so wherever a virus pops up, we can jump on it and isolate it and control it, so that it doesn't spread and get out of control like it did these past months. You've seen America convert most of our resources in being able to figure this out. The next few years will all be focused on how to contain viruses so we can protect lives but also preserve our way of life.
CA: Will Americans embrace this new normal for events?
MJW: The big question is how soon can we develop the procedures, the vaccines, and the treatments so that we can get back to big events. I think our American culture is that we want to be together and be a part of these events. So I think that the American know-how will come forward and we will figure it out.
CA: In the meantime, will sports fans put up with the new normal?
MJW: We had a new normal hit us, without a doubt, after 9/11. We used to be able to get through the airport security pretty quickly. There are going to be multiple processes that are now put into place to guard against infectious diseases taking over our country.
CA: How long is recovery going to take?
MJW: Scary question right there, but it might be faster than we thought. We have money available to put into it, you know, unlike the Great Recession. Now we have a lot more money and resources available. I do think there will be both baseball and football seasons this year.