Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider
Arnold has quietly been building big things in the city of Houston and around the country
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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?