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Stockyards plan causes rift between Fort Worth factions

By Scott Nishimura

Questions over a proposed $175 million redevelopment project in the Fort Worth Stockyards, involving the historic district’s largest property owner and a major national partner it’s bringing on board, have exposed a rift among the area’s key stakeholders heading into a City Council vote Tuesday on financial incentives.

Former Councilman Steve Murrin, whose family owns the River Ranch venue in Stockyards, said he wants the City Council to postpone the vote on incentives to get more assurances on what kinds of development and users might go in under the development plan.

The council is going on a month-long hiatus until July 15 after Tuesday’s meeting.

“If they just hold up the vote, that’ll give us a month to work on it,” said Murrin, who spent part of the weekend trying to organize other business people to speak Tuesday’s meeting.

Murrin’s stance puts him at odds with Fort Worth’s Hickman family, long the Stockyards’ largest property owner. The Hickmans and Majestic Realty of California on June 3 announced a plan for a $175 million project and 1 million square feet of redevelopment and new development on existing Hickman-owned property. The Hickmans and Majestic would co-own the property in a 50-50 split.

Hickman vice president Brad Hickman said in an interview June 3 that the family needed a development partner to push its Stockyards holdings forward.

Murrin and some other major Stockyards stakeholders have raised questions about Majestic’s specialty in business parks and lack of experience in historic projects. They say they’ve pressed Majestic unsuccessfully for assurances that it will be aggressive in retaining historical, architectural, and cultural flavor.

Murrin said at one meeting, one of the Stockyards stakeholders asked for certain use restrictions and that a Majestic executive responded the firm would not agree to use restrictions.

“Their only commitment is that they will keep the general architectural motif,” Murrin said Monday.

The squabbling has put some of the partners of Stockyards 2000, whose holdings include Billy Bob’s Texas, the major honkytonk, in opposite corners. The partners include Hickman, Murrin and Minick families.

And the division has led one unidentified group – not Majestic or the HIckmans – to put a contract down on a 16-acre site at 400 East Exchange owned by Chesapeake Energy and flanked by Hickman properties.

Pam and Billy Minick, longtime Billy Bob’s operators who retired last year, recently sent two letters to Mayor Betsy Price and City Council members supporting the partnership.

“Fort Worth has been very blessed to have people with great passion and resources to invest unselfishly to make our city grow and thrive,” Pam Minick said in one of the letters. “We are in a wonderful situation to add (Majestic chair) Ed Roski and his Majestic team to that mix of passion and resources.”

The Minicks could not be reached to comment Monday.

The Majestic-Hickman group, responding to questions from The Business Press regarding Murrin’s concerns on Friday, noted the Hickmans’ investments have included more than $1 million to preserve the Livestock Exchange Building; more than $1 million to buy a historic wagon collection and Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame collection and move them to the Stockyards; and participation in the creation of the Fort Worth Herd in 1999 and more than $150,000 in in-kind support to the Herd annually.

Craig Cavileer, one of two Majestic executives in Fort Worth handling the Stockyards project, said Monday the group wouldn’t comment again until after the Tuesday vote.

“We’re going to be standing tall after the vote and be prepared to answer questions,” he said. “We’re hoping it’s going to be a 9-0 vote.”

Among other questions posed Monday by The Business Press, the group declined to say whether: use restrictions proposed by some opponents were a deal breaker for the project; the partnership had already been established and the Hickman properties transferred into it; and the incentives were necessary for the partnership to proceed.

Price, who has called several private meetings among the stakeholders to try and help settle the disagreement, said Monday, “I think we’re ready to move forward.

“We simply have to protect” the Stockyards, she said. “I’m comfortable we have the assurances we need.”

Price and other council members called last week – and Cavileer and Hickman agreed – for the establishment of design standards that would protect the Stockyards.

Price said Monday those will involve form-based codes, a type of land-use regulation that focuses on buildings’ relationship to the area around them, including form, mass, and scale. Fort Worth, for example, has implemented such regulations on the Near Southside.

The council will ask for regular updates – “maybe every six to eight weeks if we need it” – on the Stockyards project, Price said.

“I’m never going to let anything on my watch happen to the Stockyards,” she said. “I know the draw it brings to Fort Worth.”

Price said the 65-year-old Majestic, headed today by the son of the founder Ed Roski Sr., is a “great fit” for the Stockyards partnership.

“They’ve got the resources, they’ve got the capital, they’ve got the commitment,” she said.

Historic Fort Worth, the preservation nonprofit, is going to join Murrin in asking for a postponement of the incentive vote, Chairman John Roberts and Executive Director Jerre Tracy said Monday.

Roberts and Tracy said they’ll ask the council to put off the vote until the establishment of a historical overlay that would require new development and exterior changes on historic buildings to be approved by the city’s Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission.

Such overlays – and their guidelines and rules – typically are implemented only with support of property owners in the affected district.

“Everybody benefits, because your tourism becomes such a magnet,” Tracy said.

Roberts and Tracy said the Stockyards is vulnerable to the same kind of redevelopment that occurred to the historic Montgomery Ward building on West Seventh Street, which they said damaged the integrity by cutting a street through it. Standard retail development to the rear of the property, including a Target superstore, was not appropriate, they said.

Roberts and Tracy worry that much of the Stockyards’ properties included in the partnership have significantly less than the highest level of protections for historic buildings.

The eastern half of the Hickmans’ historic Mule Barns, for example, has only a “demolition delay” designation, which allows demolition after a 180-day petition process by the owner.

Cavileer and Hickman have said they plan corporate offices – they say there’s significant demand among users for office space in the Stockyards – or restaurants and retail in the horse and mule barns and that they plan no significant exterior changes.

Much of the Hickmans’ unimproved property slated for the partnership, including the Swift-Armour “ruins” off of Niles City Boulevard, has no historic designation, Roberts and Tracy pointed out.

That would allow the partnership to build anything permissible under the current “K” heavy industrial zoning without having to adhere to historical standards.

“They can go in and pretty much build what they want,” Roberts said.

Roberts and Tracy said Majestic and Hickman should be loading up on federal, state and city historical incentives for their project.

Cavileer declined to answer a question Monday on whether the partners planned to seek such incentives.

The development would take in three areas:

• Stockyards North, bounded by East Exchange Avenue on the south, Packers Street on the east, and Stockyards Boulevard on the north;

• Marine Creek District, bounded by Exchange on the north, Packers on the east, and Marine Creek and Northeast 23rd Street to the south and west; and

• Swift-Armour, bounded by Packers and Niles City Boulevard on the west, Northeast 23rd to the south, the intersection at East Exchange to the north, and railroad right of way to the east.

The partnership includes Stockyards Station, the old Mule Barns on East Exchange Avenue, the cattle pens north of Exchange, and various other pieces, such as the Swift-Armour “ruins” off of Niles City and Northeast 23rd.

It does not include the Hickmans’ ownership in the Livestock Exchange Building, or its interest in Stockyards 2000, whose holdings include Billy Bob’s Texas.

Destination retail and restaurants, hotels, corporate relocations in the 250-400 employee range, live cattle auctions, and craft breweries are among potential uses in their planned development, Cavileer and Hickman say.

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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