Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider

Arnold has quietly been building big things in the city of Houston and around the country

Minute Maid Park is one of Mark Arnold's favorite projects. MLB.com

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It was a wild seven-game ride.

There were highs, lows and some downright stressful moments for Houstonians during the Astros’ historic World Series Championship run and everyone had a unique way of coping. Some paced. Some tweeted. Some wore lucky shirts.

Mark Arnold baked.

The outgoing 51-year-old partner at Andrews Kurth Kenyon and lifelong Astros fan headed to the kitchen and whipped up batches of  cookies and banana bread.

“It calmed me down,’’ said Arnold, who also cans his own jellies, jams and pickles. “It centers me a little bit. It’s a task that starts and ends.

“The legal practice is never a task that starts and ends. It starts but it never ends.’’

No one knows that better than Arnold, who also serves as General Counsel for the Harris County - Houston Sports Authority, and was the man in the middle of the deals that built Minute Maid Park, NRG Stadium, Toyota Center and BBVA Compass Stadium.

After graduating from Columbia Law School, the 1984 Bellaire High graduate got his start practicing traditional real estate law at Mayor, Day, Caldwell & Keeton, but it was a ride across Houston when he was a sixth-year associate there that changed the course of his career.

Two decades later, Arnold  is one of the country’s go-to lawyers for public-private partnerships for economic development of world-class stadiums. In addition to Houston’s venues, he has headed up projects around Texas and is now representing the Las Vegas Stadium Authority on a $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed stadium project for the Las Vegas Raiders. Groundbreaking for the stadium is Nov. 13.

Arnold describes himself as a “straight-talk, hard-charging kind of you-get-what-you-see, see-what-you-get’’ lawyer and is at his best when he rolls up his sleeves and gets to work in a board room.

“It’s really gratifying as a lawyer to be able to negotiate something for the community and then see the impact that it has,’’ he said. “I am a big sports fan. And Minute Maid Park is still my favorite thing I’ve done because I’m such a baseball fan.’’

All of which brings us to that drive two decades ago that changed everything.

Public finance attorney Bob Collie, who helped write the legislation that gave Houston the ability to create the Sports Authority and served as its first General Counsel, asked Arnold to take a ride with him one day. They were going to meet then-Sports Authority Chairman Jack Rains.

“I said OK,’’ Arnold said. “We drove out to Jack Rains’ house and Bob said, ‘Here’s our real estate and construction lawyer and lets go from there.’  That’s how it started.’’

Collie knew how to issue bonds, while Arnold was the man who could  negotiate leases. It was the perfect blend of talent and soon they were off and running on plans for the Astros’ new home.

“What’s interesting about stadium deals is they’re essentially like any other big, complicated real estate transactions,’’ he said. “It’s taxpayers’ money, so a good, fair deal for the taxpayers, but one the team can live with – just like any negotiation that you do. It’s an art and a science to a certain degree, and I like to think I’ve gotten better at it over time. It was fun deal.’’

Andrews Kurth and Mayor, Day, Caldwell & Keeton merged in 2001 and Arnold’s role continued to expand.  He and the firm represent the government entities and Arnold is involved in everything from financing to development, architecture, construction and leasing.

For the Las Vegas stadium project, Arnold reached out to Nevada firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a firm he worked with on the acquisition of the Golden Nugget Casino for Rockets’ owner Tilman Fertitta’s Landry’s Restaurants, Inc. He worked on several other acquisitions for Fertitta and is representing him in the development of The Post Oak at Uptown Houston, a mixed-use project that combines a hotel, restaurants, office and residential spaces.

There were 31 firms that originally expressed interest in the Raiders’ stadium project and Arnold was all smiles when the firm was selected as general counsel in January.

“I was happy, elated and surprised,’’ he said. “It was a recognition of all the hard work our team has done here on representing governmental agencies and stadium transactions.’’

Each project Arnold has worked on has had its own unique set of issues and stress points.

“The Minute Maid Park deal was stressful in that we had a groundbreaking date that we had to meet and we had to have enough documents done at that date to meet that groundbreaking,’’ Arnold said. “We did and the stadium got done on time.’’

Next up was then-Reliant Stadium and the challenge, after Bud Adams took the Houston Oilers to Tennessee, was convincing the NFL to bring an expansion team to Houston.

“Our deadline was the NFL meetings in Los Angeles because, at the time, Houston was thought to be in second position behind LA for an expansion franchise,’’ he said. “In large part because of (owner) Bob McNair and his vision for the team, we got the team, but also we got the team because we put together a memorandum of understanding on a stadium transaction with our client (the Sports Authority), on one side and the Rodeo and the Texans on the other side.

“We had to convince the NFL that Houston had its act together, that Houston wanted a team. That Houston wasn’t going to let another team go.”

The city didn’t pass the first referendum for the Toyota Center, but after hammering out a few changes, voters did approve a second one.

Arnold also led developments in Texas for BBVA Compass Stadium, Constellation Field, Cedar Park Events Center (home to the American Hockey League’s Texas Stars) and a basketball arena in Edinburg.

Over the past few years, Houston’s venues have taken center stage nationally with the 2017 Super Bowl and World Series and 2016 Final Four. And, in a true small-world story, Arnold is now representing Sports Authority Chairman J. Kent Friedman, the man who hired him at Mayor, Day, Caldwell & Keeton.

“Kenny came up to Columbia Law School, took me out to my first interview dinner ever and hired me as part of the summer program,’’ Arnold said. “Now, I’m enjoying working with him as a client.”

And Arnold is impressed with way Sports Authority CEO Janis Burke is guiding  Houston into the next phase.

“She was the right person to take the Sports Authority from merely building stadiums, to then marketing sports in Houston and Houston as a sports town,’’ he said.

In Fertitta, he sees a new team owner who “will take it to the next level. He’s a visionary who really understands what people want from an entertainment and culinary aspect.’’

As for that stress baking? He’s got plenty to keep him busy including leases to renew with all the major Houston franchises. And there’s always that lingering question about whether - someday - Houston might add an NHL team.

Banana bread and cookies anyone?

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Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March. Photo via: NRG Park/Facebook

Football players, coaches and general managers have come and gone, but only one person has been running the business side of the Texans, well, even before they were the Texans. Jamey Rootes has been President of the Houston Texans since 1999, when an NFL team in Houston was still just a gleam in owner Bob McNair's eyes. That's before the team adopted the name "Texans" in 2000, before there was NRG Stadium, which opened as Reliant Stadium in 2000, and before they became serial champs of the AFC South, six titles between 2011-2019.

The precise date was Oct. 6, 1999 when NFL owners voted 29-0 to award the NFL's 32nd and newest franchise to Houston. Not only that, Houston was awarded the 2004 Super Bowl. Rootes, 34 years old with no NFL experience, had his work cut out for him. Before taking the job in Houston, Rootes was team president, general manager and CEO of selling peanuts and popcorn for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.

Major League Soccer, with all due respect, is not nearly a national obsession like the National Football League.

"I wasn't intimidated," Rootes said. "There's a quote that I love, 'Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.' I've always been a purpose-driven person. As for the step up to the NFL, I went from knowing nothing at the start of my time in Columbus to five years later thinking, OK, I've got this sports thing down. Actually, I had a very significant reduction in my responsibilities in Houston. When I was in Columbus, I ran the stadium, I ran the team's business, I was the general manager so I did the talent side of it, too. When I came to Houston, all I had to do was the business, so that was great."

Rootes has captured his remarkable journey from the soccer team at Clemson to grad school at Indiana University to the business world at IBM and Proctor & Gamble to the Clemson Crew, to ultimately being named President of the Houston Texans in his new book, The Winning Game Plan: A Proven Leadership Playbook for Continuous Business Success, available next week.

I've known Rootes from his day one with the Texans, but I still had to ask: everybody knows what the general manager does, and what the head coach does. What exactly does the President of an NFL team worth $3.3 billion do?

"I like to use the parallel of a pharmaceutical company to describe my job. There are two sides to that company. First you put scientists in one building and you leave them alone. They create products, which is what our football team is. The football side has a coach and general manager and all the people who prepare the team to play on Sunday. But getting that product to market is done by the business side, traditional business disciplines. Those are the things that fall to me. Basically, everything between the white lines is run by the football side. Everything outside of those lines, I do," Rootes said.

Between 1999 and 2002, when the Texans played their first game (let the record show the Texans defeated the Dallas Cowboy, 19-10), the team was essentially a massive start-up project. First orders of business for Rootes involved building a new stadium, developing relationships with suppliers, contractors and government officials, preparing for a Super Bowl and, most important, developing a relationship with fans.

Rootes began writing The Winning Game Plan last March, but it's really an accumulation of lessons learned and behind-the-scenes stories about building the Texans from scratch into one of the most admired and valuable franchises in all of sports.

"I've always been a meticulous note-taker. I've kept every presentation I've ever done. I took all of my notes and concepts and put those down on paper," Rootes said. "To be a good leader, you need a wild imagination. You can show me a blank piece of paper, but I don't see it as blank. To me, it's a finished product that hasn't been created yet," Rootes said.

Rootes lays out his leadership strategy in seven chapters: Are You a Manager or a Leader, Get the Right People on Your Team, Build a Winning Culture, Create Raving Fans, a Winning Playbook for Adversity and Success, Your Leadership Playbook and Play to Win.

He learned lesson No. 1 the hard way. A friend once counseled Rootes, "your staff doesn't like the way you're all up in their business, you need to back off." Rootes took that advice to heart.

"It was an epiphany. I wasn't a leader. That's when I truly began thinking about leadership. I say this all the time, I don't do anything. All I do is create an environment where exceptional people can be their very best self. I know what's going on. I'm fully informed. I leave every game day exhausted. I get there early. I do the things I need to do. I kiss babies. I shake hands. I present checks. I entertain clients. I'm dialed in. It absolutely wears me out because I love this organization so much. I am so proud of what we've been able to do for this great city of Houston."

I asked Rootes, as someone who lives for Game Day and a packed NRG Stadium, are you devastated by 2020, the year of COVID-19 and small crowds limited by Centers for Disease Control guidelines?

"I don't look at it that way. I think there's a song by 10,000 Maniacs that said, these are the days that you'll remember. I told my staff, I know you're all going through hell right now, but later on in life, you'll talk about this year. Things that are important are memorable, for the positive and those things that leave a scar. You learn from adversity and you're a better person for enduring it. Victor Frankl said 'We can discover meaning in life in three different ways, by creating a work or doing a deed, experiencing something or encountering someone, and by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.' Suffering is part of life. He should know, he survived a Nazi concentration camp," Rootes said.

H-E-B President Scott McClelland wrote the forward to The Winning Game Plan. Rootes dedicates the book to late Texans owner Bob McNair. Rootes' book is a fun read. All I kept thinking was, where was this book when I needed it? And before you buy too much into Rootes as a leader, consider that Rootes admits that he had to ask for wife Melissa's permission before he could accept the Texans job.

Personal note: I believe that a big part of leadership is the ability to keep a promise. Several years ago, I was riding my bicycle with my dog Lilly on a leash. It was the only way I could keep up with her. Well, one time Lilly saw a squirrel and pulled me off my bicycle. I tumbled a few times and rolled next to the curb. When I looked up, there was Jamey Rootes. I told him, "There's no need for you to tell anybody about this." He never said a word.

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