Events that changed the city over 3 decades
In geological time, 30 years is, well, not really even the partial blink of an eye. But in North Texas time, the last 30 years have witnessed almost cataclysmic changes. And the Fort Worth Business Press has been there to record them all.
What follows is by no means exhaustive, but in our anniversary year, we take a quick look at some of the events that have changed where we live.
Thirty years ago, downtown Fort Worth was largely a ghost town at night. Eerie sulphur vapor lights cast a pale yellow light over silent streets where you half expected a tumbleweed or – harkening back to the city’s nickname – a sleeping panther.
But no more. And the most recent crowning achievement was the completion of Sundance Plaza in 2013. The plaza calls to mind European plazas like Piazza Navona in Rome or Trafalgar Square in London.
The redevelopment was already under way when the Fort Worth Business Press started, driven by the Bass family of Fort Worth and triggered in part by businessman Ed Bass’s desire to be able to live downtown.
“Nothing in that time period has changed Fort Worth more than the Sundance development,” says Fort Worth historian Rick Selcer. “It revived a dying downtown, brought major national events to the city (such as the national broadcasts anchored in Sundance during Super Bowl XLV), and sparked the return to downtown living again after nearly a century.”
Someday, Selcer says, the city will be erecting statues of the Bass brothers.
“Take that, Will Rogers, Charles Tandy and Ripley Arnold,” he said.
Alliance Airport and AllianceTexas
You can trace this back to a 1983 decision by the Perot family of Dallas to invest in land in Tarrant County that was relatively cheap compared with land in the eastern half of the Metroplex. When the Federal Aviation Administration decided in the mid-1980s that it needed a reliever airport to service Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, one proposed site was on that land.
Ross Perot Jr. saw the possibilities to build what at the time was called a seaport of the air to receive component parts and ship finished goods.
That brought corporate relocations and the creation of a logistics hub when BNSF built its intermodal facility there, and it also lured Texas Motor Speedway to what had been primarily farm and ranch land, says former Business Press Editor Steve Roth.
“The Alliance Airport and corridor was an ambitious, even audacious, vision that has had a major impact on Fort Worth and the region,” says Alan Wallach, CEO of PAVLOV Advertising.
(See separate story, Page XX)
Meanwhile, Tarrant County’s second largest city, one referenced by its former Mayor Richard Greene as “nobody’s damn suburb,” was witnessing its own revival. Downtown Arlington Inc. was formed in 1995 and reorganized in 2006 as the Downtown Management Corp. with a vision of creating a Downtown University District. The Levitt Pavilion for the Performing Arts opened in 2009, and since then, the area has continued to grow with numerous new restaurants opening there.
Arlington’s Entertainment District is being transformed as a result of a development partnership among The Cordish Companies, Texas Rangers and the City of Arlington. The $1.35 billion project includes Globe Life Field, the Rangers’ new $1.1 billion ballpark; Texas Live!, a $100 million dining and entertainment district; and Live! by Lowes, a $150 million, 302-room luxury hotel with 35,000 square feet of conference space.
In 1995, NASCAR speedway owner Bruton Smith announced that a new multimillion-dollar superspeedway would be built north of Alliance Airport on land owned by Hillwood Development Co. at the intersection of Interstate 35 West and State Highway 114. Speedway officials are fond of saying that Texas Motor Speedway annually generates the equivalent of hosting a Super Bowl.
In the mid-1980s, other cities came after the Texas Rangers to relocate. Greene sweetened the effort to keep the team with the offer of a new stadium as part of a proposed public-private partnership. Arlington voters overwhelmingly approved the plan in the largest-ever voter turnout in a local election. The new ballpark opened in 2004 and has been a fan favorite. In a 2016 election, Arlington voters approved using sales and hotel taxes to fund Globe Life Field, the new ballpark currently being built in the area to replace the 2004 stadium and slated to open in 2020.
One of the largest business and sports coups of the last three decades was Arlington’s move to bring the Dallas Cowboys from Irving and build AT&T Stadium to be the team’s home stadium. It opened in 2009. Originally estimated to cost $650 million, the stadium eventually cost $1.15 billion, making it one of the most expensive sports venues ever built at that time. To aid the Cowboys’ owner and general manager, Jerry Jones, in paying for construction of the new stadium, Arlington voters approved an increase of the city’s sales tax by 0.5 percent, the hotel occupancy tax by 2 percent and car rental tax by 5 percent. Arlington provided more than $325 million (including interest) in bonds as funding, and Jones covered any cost overruns.
The 2012 college football season saw the opening of Texas Christian University’s remodeled Amon G. Carter Stadium after a $164 million renovation completely funded through donations. Construction began immediately after TCU’s final 2010 home game against San Diego State on Nov. 13, 2010. The stadium seats 45,000. It was the first major renovation since the upper deck was added in 1956.The stadium was built in 1930.
Bass Performance Hall
Bass Performance Hall, located on a full city block bounded by Commerce, Calhoun, Fourth and Fifth streets in downtown Fort Worth, opened in May 1998. It was built entirely with private funds. The 2,042-seat multipurpose hall is characteristic of the classic European opera house form. The two 48-foot tall angels that grace the grand façade are favorites of locals and tourists alike and are frequently photographed. Along with Sundance Plaza, which came along 15 years later, it is an important symbol of one of the most successful downtown revitalization efforts in the country.
On March 28, 2000, a tornado cut a 3.5-mile path from River Oaks to Sundance Square, hitting
downtown at 6:25 p.m. and roaring through the area in about a minute. The tornado winds were packed with debris picked up along the way and shattered the windows on the Bank One Tower – turning it into a plywood-covered skyscraper and ultimately leading to the conversion of the building into condominiums with restaurants on the first level.
The twister heavily damaged the Cash America and Mallick buildings on the east bank of the Trinity River. Calvary Cathedral was destroyed, and the Pier 1 headquarters was built on that property in 2004. The tornado also heavily damaged the modest Linwood neighborhood on the west side of the Trinity, opening that area up to redevelopment.
Some would argue that the rapid development along West Seventh Street in what had been mostly an industrial area is a result.
7th Street, Magnolia and East Side
“Both streets were dying, with old businesses and empty buildings on them before the city created tax increment financing districts – used in downtown Fort Worth to great effect – and got behind redevelopment,” said Selcer.
“Magnolia and the nearby Fairmount District have now been what we used to call ‘yuppified,’ and Seventh
Street has been returned to its glory days of the 1950s and ’60s – only without all the car dealerships,” he said.
The development and redevelopment along Magnolia Avenue has now turned to corner and is spreading along the newly renovated Main Street.
Fort Worth’s often-neglected East Side has received some attention in recent years. The Rosedale Renaissance looks to refurbish one of Fort Worth’s most beautiful areas, centered around a growing Texas Wesleyan University. Also of note has been a revival near Renaissance Square, a mixed-use development that features commercial development such as a large Walmart, as well as a housing component.
The Cultural District
Fort Worth’s already impressive Cultural District grew with additions and expansions in the last three decades.
What is now the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth traces its history 1892. It opened its current building in 2002 with greatly expanded exhibition space for its collection of paintings, sculptures, photography and other works. Architect Tadao Ando’s building, like other museum buildings nearby, is considered a work of art in itself.
The Amon Carter Museum opened in 1961, and the building underwent an extensive expansion in its 40th year. In 2010, the museum changed its name to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Part of that renovation was the plaza with a scenic view of downtown Fort Worth and the site of many events.
The Kimbell Art Museum opened in 1972 and its Piano Pavilion addition opened in November 2013. The original building by architect Louis I. Kahn is considered one of the purest and most perfect statements of architectural modernism and museum design. Renzo Piano, who worked briefly in Kahn’s office before establishing his own firm, melded his building well with Kahn’s museum building with its emphasis on natural light and use of concrete as a primary material.
In 1994, the Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame moved to Fort Worth from the West Texas town of Hereford, where it was founded in 1975. It opened its new building in the Cultural District in 2002. It is the world’s only museum dedicated to documenting the lives and accomplishments of women of the American West.
In May 2006, the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History unveiled plans for its new building, an innovative work of architecture that blends with neighboring institutions and features a sweeping plaza and campus-like environment at the south end of the Cultural District. Construction began on the new facility in the fall of 2007. It was designed by famed architects Legoretta + Legoretta of Mexico City and opened on Nov. 20, 2009. The 166,000 square foot museum holds DinoLabs and DinoDig, Innovation Studios, the Children’s Museum, Energy Blast, and the CattleRaiser’s Museum. The Havener Gallery provides a space for changing exhibits and currently hosts “Guitar: The Instrument That Rocked the World.” Although its name, location, size and scope have changed dramatically since 1941, the museum continues to serve the same purpose – providing an extraordinary learning environment to the community.
Although not in the Cultural District, the Texas Civil War Museum opened in January of 2006 on North Loop 820 West at the Silver Creek exit. The museum has more than 15,000 square feet of exhibits and is the largest Civil War museum west of the Mississippi River.
TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine
A new medical school – a joint venture between TCU and the University of North Texas Health Science Center – is expected to accept its first class of would-be doctors in 2019. It is an allopathic school, granting M.D. degrees that will complement the existing osteopathic school at UNTHSC, which grants D.O. degrees. Ultimate enrollment at the new school is expected to reach 240 students. TCU and UNTHSC signed a memorandum of understanding in July 2015 to create the school, the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine. Pharmaceutical executive, business investor and entrepreneur Paul Dorman’s H. Paul Dorman Charter Scholarship Program will provide full first-year tuition to the inaugural class of students.
Speaking of TCU
It wasn’t a national championship, but what the hey. The 2011 Rose Bowl win – the No. 3 Horned Frogs over No. 4 Wisconsin, 21-19 ¬– catapulted the school into the national headlines. The win, says PAVLOV’s Wallach, “propelled the program and the university to greater national recognition, a wealth of donations, a flood of new student applications and entry into the Big 12 Conference.” The collapse of the 82-year-old Southwest Conference in 1996 led to the establishment of the Committee of 100 as TCU was forced to reinvent itself in collegiate sports, launching a new era of football history for the school.
University of Texas at Arlington
UT Arlington for years was considered something of a commuter school – not meaning any disrespect, because it served as a source of higher education for much of the Metroplex. Now, it’s more like a small city within Arlington with expanded residential halls and students from every state and more than 100 countries. There are more than 40,000 attending in Arlington and the school is expected to pass UT-Austin’s enrollment in a decade.
In fall 2016, the school began construction on a 220,000-square-foot, $125 million science, engineering, innovation and research building aimed at health science research. It should be completed this year. The university also built a 1,500-space parking garage in 2017 and is constructing two new residence halls and a dining facility on the west side of campus. The $30.8 million facility is scheduled to open in the fall.
Arlington College Park District
The College Park District is a 20-acre, $160 million mixed-use development completed in 2012 that significantly expanded the UT-Arlington campus eastward. The district includes a dormitory, two student apartment complexes, 27,000 square feet of retail space, an 1,850-space parking garage, a welcome center, a credit union, a five-acre park called The Green at College Park and a $78 million, 7,000-seat College Park arena for sports and entertainment acts that is now home to the Women’s National Basketball Association’s Dallas Wings.
Trinity River Vision Authority
The Trinity River Authority adopted a master plan in 2003 that, while controversial in some quarters, stands to substantially increase the area of downtown Fort Worth.
“It has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars of development money from various sources that would
otherwise not have come in and is completely remaking the Near North Side and the river itself,” said Selcer. “It is already driving the redevelopment of Samuels Avenue, and if it turns into what it’s being promoted as, it will remake downtown Fort Worth.”
Now, it they’ll just finish those bridges …
Here’s something you can watch in progress. The Dickies Arena, under construction and scheduled to open in November 2019, is being built on the Will Rogers Memorial Center campus. The arena is expected to attract high-quality entertainment options including concerts, sporting events and family shows, as well as hosting the month-long Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. Among other things, it offers relief for the shortage of parking in the area with 5,228 designated parking spaces, including an attached 2,210-space parking garage
The City of Arlington has fought a couple of battles during the past three decades to keep the General Motors Assembly Plant open in its community. During the recession of the early 1990s, General Motors put the 40-year-old Arlington plant on the list for possible closure. Then-Mayor Richard Greene mobilized the local community, the Texas governor and the area’s congressional delegation to assist in a campaign to convince GM officials that the plant should remain open and be re-tooled.
GM began assembling full-size cars at the plant in 1954, when Arlington had only 7,000 residents. Now, it is the only facility in the world to produce and export GM’s award-winning, full size SUVs. In July 2017, GM announced a record-breaking $1.4 billion investment for a range of improvements to the plant, the largest single plant investment in the United States at that time.
Speaking of Automobiles
The former Six Flags Mall site will be home to 1.2 million square feet of industrial space built to accommodate suppliers to GM’s Arlington Assembly Plant. The Arlington Logistics Center development will consist of two warehouses to be built by NorthPoint and leased to GM. The development is expected to contribute 3,800 direct, indirect and induced jobs. The development is expected to be completed by December 2018.
Carswell AFB Closure
What we now know as Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base was called Tarrant Field in 1932 and became Fort Worth Army Air Field during World War II. It was renamed Carswell Air Force Base in 1948 in honor of Fort Worth native Maj. Horace S. Carswell Jr., who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for refusing to abandon his crippled bomber and leave another man behind during a bombing mission in World War II.
Then the Congressional Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommended that Carswell be closed in 1991 as unneeded. Officials both locally and in Washington, D.C., argued fiercely against the decision, but the base was closed in late 1993. It was almost immediately reopened Oct. 1, 1994, as the first Joint Reserve Base in the United States, serving a number of Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air Force Reserve and National Guard commands.
“The BRAC decision to close Carswell was a wakeup call to Fort Worth and led to a rethinking of the city’s strengths and to the growth we enjoy today,” former editor Roth said.
The Barnett Shale
You can thank Mitchell Energy.
There has always been gas trapped in the Barnett Shale that underlies this part of Texas. But the issue was how to extract it. The answer is … fracture the rock.
Mitchell drilled its first well in the Barnett Shale in 1981 and spent two decades working on the technology, which was brought to fruition in the early 2000s with the development of sophisticated horizontal drilling techniques and hydraulic fracturing.
The shale lies under 5,000 square miles across 20 counties in North Central Texas. There may be 40 trillion cubic feet of gas down there.
But there are ups and downs in the oil and gas business.
And drilling activity in the Barnett has fallen sharply from its height of 4,065 annual drilling permits issued in 2008 to only 26 in January and February of 2018, reports the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas (but not railroads for some reason). Production hit a high of 5.7 million cubic feet of gas per day in 2012 but declined to 3.4 MMcf in 2017.
“Development of the Barnett Shale and the introduction of urban drilling helped Fort Worth to prosper during a stagnant national economic period, but it also pitted neighbor against neighbor over a range of related issues,” Wallach said.
Still it was fun while it lasted. And many can close their eyes and see the TV ads featuring Tommy Lee Jones urging all: “Let’s Get Behind the Barnett.”
Fort Worth Convention Center
The City of Fort Worth acquired the Tarrant County Convention Center in 1997. Built in 1968, it had already gone through one expansion in 1983, and after the city took it over there were two more, in 2002 and 2003. It was considered an urban renewal project when it was built and sits on a good portion of what was Fort Worth’s famous, or infamous if you wish, Hell’s Half Acre. A third expansion and renovation has been under discussion for years and calls for it increased after the city received a lengthy report earlier this year saying that it was losing ground nationally. There’s no hard time frame for future work, but the opening of the Dickies Arena as alternate meeting space could allow that to happen.
Van Cliburn 1934-2013
Van Cliburn’s death from cancer in 2013 left a void in the Fort Worth arts community – and the world as well. The young pianist’s fame grew to rock star level after he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at age 23 in 1958 during the Cold War. He was beloved in Fort Worth, his adopted town, where a group of residents established the now-world-famous the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. “Cliburn’s death left a hole in the performing arts world,” said Wallach. “He was larger than life, an ambassador for our city and beloved for his talent, charm and charisma.”
Assembled by Fort Worth Business Press staff, with assistance from local historian Rick Selcer; Doug Harman, former city manager and head of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau (now Visit Fort Worth); Steve Roth, former editor of the Business Press; Alan Wallach CEO, PAVLOV Advertising; City of Arlington officials; and multiple websites.