MOON BOXES: BRIGHT IDEA?

When Bum Bright took the helm as majority owner of the Dallas Cowboys last year, one of his first major decisions involved matters far from the playing field-closer to the rafters of Texas Stadium, to be more precise. Since wealthy people and corporate fat cats seemed willing to shell out as much as a million bucks to own one of the 178 existing Circle Suites, it only seemed natural (and profitable) that Texas Stadium’s coffers would be enriched if more rich folks could watch What Used To Be America’s Team in the posh manner to which they are accustomed.

“All the circle suites were sold and we had requests for more suites,” says Joseph R. Cava-gnaro, vice president and general manager of Texas Stadium Corporation. “Every year it costs us more money to operate and maintain the stadium. The money’s got to come from somewhere.”

So last February Bright commissioned a $15 million construction project to remove some 2,500 upper deck seats and replace them with a ring of 118 Crown Suites, replete with such amenities as power windows, individually controlled heat and air-conditioning, and a fiber optic computer to provide instant replays and updates of other games. (Such extras are not afforded current Circle Suite owners.) The Crown Suites range in price from $300,000 for an eight-seater (which leases for $30,000 a year) to $1.5 million for a 20-seater (which leases for $125,000 a year).

By early September, stadium officials claim, they had sold or leased approximately 73 of the new suites. Bright’s lieutenants won’t say so publicly, but the glitterati haven’t exactly clamored for the Crown Suites. Of that total only 12 percent actually have been sold, meaning that more than 60 of the new suites are leased. Since lessors can change their minds each season, the Bummer still hasn’t solved the stadium’s cash problems.

Why? Part of the problem can be attributed to President Reagan’s tax proposal, which if passed by Congress next year would disallow depreciation and virtually eliminate tax advantages available to suite owners. The other part of the problem is the view from the Crown Suites. While stadium officials boast the new suites offer a unique view to watch plays “open up,” some say it’s like watching a game from the Goodyear blimp. Hence the new Crown Suites are now being called “moon boxes.”

Not to worry, though. Most informed observers feel Jim Francis Jr., manager of exploration for Bright and Co. and the man assigned to oversee the project, will prevail in the end due to his slick marketing strategy and some arm-twisting by his politically powerful boss. Sources say Bright has been leaning on corporate honchos around town to buy Crown Suites: Some are cronies who owe him favors, while others are merely intimidated by Bright’s power. One victim of the Bright squeeze was RepublicBank Dallas, which sold its double Circle Suite and shelled out $1.5 million to buy one of the 20-seat Crown Suites.

It also seems more than a coincidence that two corporations, Coca-Cola Bottling and GTE, which have their names on the Diamondvision screens recently installed in Texas Stadium, each occupy a Crown Suite. Mitsubishi, which installed the new screens, occupies Crown Suite 546.

Others who have either bought or leased a Crown Suite this year include: The Staubach Company; Baylor Health Care System; Dallas attorney William M. Ravkind; Don Furrh, owner of The Million Dollar Saloon; The Dallas Morning News; Texas Stadium architects Warren Morey & Associates; Payne & Vendig, one of Bright’s law firms; and Dallas realtor Craig Hall.

“When it all shakes out, I think that what has been developed upstairs is a subculture,” says one insider. “The Circle Suites will become like original Highland Park real estate and the upstairs suites will be sort of like Far North Carrollton. It’ll sort of be like the old gentry and the nouveau riche.”

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