In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, business editor Bob Francis spoke with Lydia Guajardo Rickard, the new executive director of Camp Bowie District Inc, which is the organization dedicated to the preservation and vitality of the century-old commercial corridor and runs the public improvement district’s (PID19) for the area. Rickard has served as the district’s interim leader since mid-October 2021 and is known for her work at LComm Marketing and Public Relations. Rickard announced the closure of her marketing firm in January. Rickard spoke about her new role and about the district known for its distinctive bricks and rich history.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Bob Francis: I’m here with Lydia Rickard. First, tell me what you are, about your current company, and then what you are doing now.
Lydia Guajardo Rickard: Fifteen years ago, I was laid off from corporate America and had always dreamed of having my own agency. I think it was about day two of unemployment, and I said, “This is it. I’m going to do it today.” And so I did and never really looked back. And I’ve had — really — the good fortune to work with a lot of projects, not just in a traditional advertising way, but in a public affairs, public relations, community liaison. I’ve been really involved in the Fort Worth community as a whole, whether it be affordable housing developments, nonprofit launches, launching a small business, as a small business owner myself.
I did that for 15 years, and it was just time to turn the page and try something different. And Camp Bowie District — I had been working with them for four years already as a vendor to them — and so when the position was vacated, I had the opportunity to step in as an interim and just really took some time to explore it and see if that’s what I wanted to do. The board was very gracious to give me that space to figure that out, and so we came to terms, and on Jan. 19, they voted me in as the next executive director of Camp Bowie District Inc., so here we are today.
Francis: Tell us about the Camp Bowie District.
Rickard: We are a member-based organization. We’re similar to that of a chamber of commerce, but we also operate a 501(c)(3). So we have a philanthropic side, a fundraising side and then we have our member base.
We have two sets of members. We have property owners that pay into the public improvement district, and then we have the business owner operators who don’t own their property, but want to pay into the organization itself. So we’re able to facilitate other programs that way. We manage a PID; we’re PID No. 19, and then we have the member base.
We are beginning to look long term at some strategic planning and fundraising that will allow us to do some kind of give-back programs to our small businesses. Maybe it’s a dollar match grant program or something like that that helps with facade improvements or sign improvements. But that’s a little bit farther down the road right now, but that’s something we’ll be working toward.
Our whole goal is that we are here to be the advocates for Camp Bowie District. The corridor itself stretches six miles from University, westward to almost Alta Mere. We also capture that segment of Summit Street west of University, as well beyond Museum Place into the Monticello neighborhood, so we have about 500 or so properties, and then we represent 400 plus businesses along the Boulevard.
Francis: Can you describe the district?
Rickard: The museums and UNTHSC are kind of written out of our PID. We still promote them as destinations, but they’re not part of our tax base for obvious reasons, but we do promote them. So you have something large scale all the way down to a dry cleaners or a CPA office. Our job is to advocate for every one of them along the Boulevard.
The Boulevard is approximately a 100 years old, little bit older than that, and it’s always been the corridor connector from the Central Business District to any part of Fort Worth as it moved west.
You can literally tell just this stamp of time across all of our buildings. You start in the 20s and 30s and go all the way to today, quite honestly, but you really see it as you move westward. And so we represent … we have attorneys that are members. We have restaurants and retailers, and a lot of them are locally owned. We have very few chains. The unique part of this is that it truly is a locally engined economic source for the city.
Francis: What excited you when you got this opportunity?
Rickard: I grew up off the bricks myself. I grew up in Arlington Heights, and I still live there today.
Francis: Let’s go back to that term. What does “off the bricks” mean?
Rickard: When we talk about the bricks, we have two corridors of the Boulevard. We have what is known as the bricks, where the Thurber bricks line the street, and they have since the early 20s, and then we have the Ridglea segment, which is after you go under I-30 moving westward. It becomes Ridglea. And so we are set up into two different zones, and we lovingly call it the bricks, and a lot of people love or hate the bricks. There’s no in between here, but it has become such a landmark of the city that when you say Camp Bowie, most people usually immediately think of the red bricks that line the road.
I grew up off the bricks. I grew up going to Blue Bonnet Bakery when it was still in … one of our strip centers. I went to movies at the Bowie Theater that is now the Frost Bank. So I’ve seen the evolution through the last. I’ll date myself, 40 years of the Boulevard. I went to church off the Boulevard. I got married off the Boulevard. And so for me, it was not even just a return to home, but it was an opportunity to really add a whole level of legacy onto this. And what does Camp Bowie look like for the next few generations as we move into the future?
Francis: Those bricks, I’ll say it sort of for you since this is what your company is. It’s a great branding tool.
Rickard: It is. And I think back to a former chairman, Rob Sell, who was exiting as I was coming in as a vendor and he was exiting as the chairman, and he tells this story. He’s not from here, but he tells this story about how, when he was here visiting a friend or a roommate of his, from his days at University of Texas, and he would rumble down the bricks, and we all rumble down the bricks. Right? And so that’s just something that we do, and we’ve grown accustomed to, and it’s just part of the culture that is the west side of Fort Worth.
Francis: You mentioned Thurber bricks. That’s Thurber, Texas, which is not far from here. Tell me a little bit about the history of the bricks. How did they get here?
Rickard: In the 20s, that’s when the bricks were first laid after Camp Bowie, the area, was an army camp for World War I. During that transition time, the road was kind of, I guess, rolled out because it became just a dirt road with a single median down the middle. But then as Chamberlain Arlington Heights was beginning to develop and those neighborhoods were being annexed into the city at the time, that’s when the road was paved, then, with these red bricks that came out of Thurber, Texas. They no longer produce those, so the city is the keeper of those bricks, in all honesty. And so there is a stash of them, and they get replaced, and hopefully there hasn’t been too many that have been picked up along the way as keepsakes or mementos, because we do need those bricks to continue to fill those gaps when they pop up, or Texas weather is what it is, and so that definitely keeps that team employed because you will forever see different segments of lanes closed because they’re doing brick repair. Primarily, you see a lot in the summer. The heat causes them to pop up.
But they are that, and it’s a very sensitive topic. You bring it up with neighborhood associations, you bring it up with businesses, you bring it up with longtime Fort Worth families, and they all are concerned about what’s going to happen to the bricks if they were to be taken up or anything. Truth being known, the bricks actually extend farther west originally, but they’re covered in concrete right now, so those are well preserved and they’re under there, but there is, up to a certain point, I’m not sure what point that is exactly, but there are some bricks there. And then as you move toward University, you do run into some concrete asphalt there, and there are bricks under there all the way to University, so they’re not going anywhere. I had somebody tell me one time we should just take them up, and I was like, “Oh, don’t say that out loud.”
Francis: What do you see as main concerns of the constituents and of the organization?
Rickhard: There’s two different things here. First of all, we have the opportunity to really set the tone for the future for the district, and what that means is what are we doing to preserve the integrity of the historical value, preserving our architecture, and all of that. And I think that we’ve had some recent property owners who have really held true to that. We have a couple of buildings and/or strip centers or strip areas that they’ve come in, they’ve exposed brick. They’ve really done a good job of preserving and restoring so that they can bring in business that want to be there and are going to do well.
A good example is the block where … and the address escapes me, but where Reads Jewelers is and Chieffalo Americana is there, the French Knot is there. When you think about that grouping, it’s a good grouping of retail, very niche in some places, but the property owner restored the building, brought back its original brick beauty, and then gave a really nice backdrop facade for these stores to have beautiful stores that will be attractive to their clientele.
Reads Jewelers is a great story. They used to be on the other side of University, and they were doing OK, but then they moved to on the bricks, and all of a sudden their marketplace just exploded. They were easier to get to. They were easier to find. And there was something else that drove their shoppers either to them first or to their neighbors first and then over to them. So they found a lot of success there.
Chieffalo Americana is a longtime Fort Worth professional in the commercial real estate business, and he wanted to open this vintage hat store, and any day of the week, you can see a number of people going in and out of those stores, and they make for great complementary neighbors.
When you look at that, what we’re responsible for, really is bringing that in. If you look across the street at BTH Bank. They restored what I affectionately call the Petals building. If you remember, it was a florist in the 80s and 90s, and always had been, as long as I could remember. They went in, and they overhauled it and turned it into a beautiful bank building. People are banking on the Boulevard, so our job is to really encourage that responsible development, that smart development, but also providing the complimentary amenity that the neighborhood craves and needs. When we look at it from that landscape, we may not always get along with our residential neighbors, but our job is really to preserve the integrity and the historical value of that boulevard.
Francis: You mentioned the Frost Bank when it was Camp Bowie Theater for years. The area’s done a lot of that, and I guess it’s kept that character of the area, and that’s one of the things you all try to do, right?
Rickard: When you look at it, and I talked about, as you move westward, you see that timeline stamped there, there’s a lot of things also like when you look at Ridglea Village in particular, which is the Mediterranean Spanish tile development that was developed in the 40s and 50s, that actually was the model for Highland Park Village later down the road, so it served as an inspiration from that standpoint, but it’s always busy. It’s full most of the time, we don’t have a lot of vacancies there, and it’s well-trafficked, and so people who live in those areas, they live there because of those things that are there. The Fitzgerald just opened. It was a Ben Merritt, Chris Lynch partnership restaurant. It’s a beautiful restaurant on the inside. I was there Friday night; it was packed, but I saw people that lived in our neighborhood and who lived in the area, and that’s what they want. They crave these places so that they don’t have to drive to Dallas for a nice dinner or any other parts, even downtown Fort Worth, just staying in their neighborhood.
I think we have some beautiful pockets around Fort Worth with the Stockyard development, and we’ve had some success with Sundance Square in the past, but that’s not what residents necessarily crave. They want to be able to have that five-minute drive, have their nice dinner, be among friends, and then return home, so that’s what really, as we look to the future: Are we providing those things for our residential constituencies?
Francis:Anything else about future plans?
Rickard: One of my biggest goals is how we’re going to work with TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) in the future. TxDOT manages and really owns the Ridglea Corridor of the street, and so right now we’re suffering from some lack of improvements, and it’s because of budget, it’s because of COVID, it’s because of employee shortages, all those things combined, so we hear the concerns about the deterioration of our medians, but I’m attuned to it. I’m working with City Council members right now to hopefully get a plan together that we can expedite that through TxDOT. But I also feel that it’s not just TxDOT’s responsibility. It’s a partnership. It’s creating a partnership, be it between TxDOT, and the city, and the county, and anything that has to do with transportation.
So as we move forward, one of my primary goals is how we’re looking at this overall stretch of Ridglea, but really focusing on I-30 and then moving west to Bryant Irvin. And what are we doing to really put in place, not just a functional infrastructure, but an aesthetically pleasing infrastructure that creates a connector between Ridglea and the bricks because right now that’s kind of like no man’s land.
Francis: And they’re very different.
Rickard: They’re very different. And so how do we imagine what that should look like, and where are all the partners that need to be at the table? Not just putting the onus on TxDOT. So it’s really getting more strategic about our partnerships. Not that it hasn’t been done in the past, but I think we’re in a different time frame right now. We’re trying to come out of this pandemic and all the things that it brought on us, and infrastructure is a big thing that has been kind of overlooked or not paid attention to, and so we’ve really got to focus on that. And how are we stimulating business to be encouraged there and smart business?
The other thing that we look at is how we are partnering. In the past, we haven’t had this relationship. I don’t know if you know, but at Horne Street, the stakeholders in Como, as a revitalization effort, from a commercial standpoint, and taking Horne from Camp Bowie well into Como and really redeveloping it for small business development. So how are we blending ourselves so that it is a seamless blend as you come out of Horne or off of Horne and turn right or left onto Camp Bowie, and it’s an inviting environment for anybody who wants to do business.
Francis: You’ve got an interesting … little bit off Camp Bowie — revitalization of the Roy Pope Grocery, as well, which has sort of given new life to an old business that’s there.
Rickard: We capture a lot of our side streets. If you look at Byers, if you look at Merrick, if you look at Seventh Street, a lot of those side streets fall in our public improvement district and our responsibility to advocate for those businesses, and so it’s making sure that anywhere from the lash studio to Roy Pope Grocery that we’re giving them voice and presence. We’ve built, over the last few years, a very sound marketing effort and voice. You can find us on all the major social platforms. And last year alone, we had somewhere around the mark of 2.2 million impressions through social media, and that is, as we like to say, organic. We didn’t pay for that. We earned that media, so we’ve really established ourselves as a voice for the area and really reaching those audiences.
Roy Pope is a great example, but just as cool as Roy Pope is reinvented, right across the street is Goldwaves Salon that has been there for 20-plus years, and it’s woman owned, so it’s a great complement to each other from that standpoint. Tokyo Cafe was once a Pizza Hut, and now it is this amazing restaurant that’s very community-oriented, family-owned, family-operated, and right next door is Indigo Yoga. So you just have this string of businesses that have found a lot of success, and they’re locally owned. Most of them are single location. And you know the owners when you walk in the door. You know the operators, you know the managers, and that’s what people are looking for is that familiarity here. And that’s what makes for successful businesses.
Francis: It’s like customers that are coming there, they’re going to come away with a unique experience of something, which is what all the marketers say is what everyone is looking for, right?
Rickard: Exactly. And we have seen an increase because we’ve talked a lot about our immediate audience, which is the people who live around the Boulevard. We also want to make ourselves attractive to the rest of Fort Worth, right? Magnolia has done a great job of pushing their restaurant industry and really forming that. And so is South Main. And so people travel there as a destination. That’s what we want to happen at Camp Bowie as well, but the flip side to that is we have a whole nother audience that is just a little bit farther to the east in Dickey’s Arena, the cultural district, and Will Rogers. All three of those locations have an abundance of visitors that aren’t native to Fort Worth, and so how are we capitalizing on that? So we’re really working on some marketing efforts around that as well.
I always tell our board, when you come out of those areas, you have a choice. Are you going to turn right and go back downtown? Or are you going to turn left and explore Fort Worth? And so that is what we’re really pushing for.
It’s kind of funny. We’re getting ready to launch a campaign about all roads lead west because we want people to understand just go a little bit farther west and you’re going to find the unique Fort Worth that is nestled in Camp Bowie.
Francis: That’s interesting. That’s very good. Go west, young man and woman. Anything else?
Rickard: I think that about sums it up. I’m really excited. I’m honored to just have been thought of for this. It is very personal to me as a near lifetime resident, for sure, of 76107, but off the bricks. It is important that we really imagine what that future looks like and what are we leaving for the future generations? Because this is the core of Fort Worth. This is the fabric of Fort Worth. And this is just another one of those pockets that make up the culture that is here, and it makes us different from some of our counterparts.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
This article was originally published by Fort Worth Report.