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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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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