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Culture Food Courthouse brawl Stockyards development tensions fueled Billy Bob's management turmoil

Courthouse brawl Stockyards development tensions fueled Billy Bob’s management turmoil

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Billy Bob’s Texas

• Billy Bob’s can accommodate up to 6,000 people and their hats.

• The club has 100,000 square feet of interior space and 20 acres of parking for all those fancy trucks.

• Originally built in 1910 as an open-air barn used to house prize cattle for the Fort Worth Stock Show, the building was used during World War II as an airplane factory for the Globe Aircraft Corp.

• Billy Bob’s has been named “Country Music Club of the Year” 12 times.

• Merle Haggard made the Guinness Book of World Records for buying the largest round of drinks when he bought 5,095 drinks of Canadian Club for the entire club. The bill totaled $12,737.50 and equaled 40 gallons of whiskey.

• More than 17 million visitors have come through Billy Bob’s doors since 1981.

Source: Billy Bob’s Texas

Anything related to Billy Bob’s Texas usually involves fun, frivolity and the celebration of good times. But that hasn’t been the case over the past few weeks as the parties who own the nightclub have been involved in a grueling legal process.

The three-day hearing in the Tarrant County courthouse that ended Tuesday, July 25, was ostensibly about control of Fort Worth’s iconic Billy Bob’s Texas, known internationally as “The World’s Largest Honky-Tonk.”

The contentious legal brawl has pitted family member against family member, ignited tensions between longtime business partners and friends, and resulted in charges of mismanagement, egoism and incompetence.

But the battlefield extends well beyond the bar stools, dance floor and storied stage of the 36-year-old nightclub that has played host to country and pop legends such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Chuck Berry.

That’s one thing both sides do agree on.

As majority owner of Billy Bob’s and co-developer of the Fort Worth Stockyards redevelopment project, Brad Hickman testified on July 25 that the acrimony among the Billy Bob’s Texas owners is tied to the $175 million Stockyards redevelopment plan that Hickman has undertaken in partnership with California developer Majestic Realty.

Agreeing with him on that point is Dallas Mavericks General Manager Donnie Nelson, a minority owner in the club (about 10 percent) who testified for the group that opposes Hickman and the majority owners. He said outside the courtroom on July 24 that the feud among the embittered owners has little to do with operations at the honky-tonk.

“This is about real estate development in the Stockyards,” Nelson told reporters. “It’s a much bigger situation than what’s going on at Billy Bob’s.”

The lawsuit was filed by minority owners of the club in May after the majority owners attempted to oust Billy Bob’s president, Concho Minick, a 3 percent owner. Minick and his allies, including a company owned by former Fort Worth Councilman Steve Murrin and his family, alleged they were being denied their rights to a say in the matter as minority owners.

At issue is the company’s operating agreement, disdained by both sides because it sets up the situation that led to the deadlock over Concho Minick’s continued employment. The operating agreement requires unanimous agreement on all major decisions, including employment decisions, and “unanimous and affirmative” agreement to even bring a lawsuit.

State District Judge Mike Wallach has extended a temporary court order that calls for Concho Minick to remain as head of Billy Bob’s until Monday, Aug. 7, indicating he will likely rule by then. Attorneys for both sides will file post-hearing briefs early the week of July 31.

Hickman, along with members of his family who own a 40 percent interest in the club, said on the witness stand that his anger with Concho Minick stems from the decision Minick made in 2014 to testify before the City Council about a grant and rezoning for the Stockyards redevelopment plan that would bring more shops, restaurants and residences to the Stockyards.

“In my view, the president of Billy Bob’s Texas is a public figure who spoke against the plan three times, misleading the public about a plan that 65 percent of the [Billy Bob’s] owners are in favor of,” Hickman testified.

Hickman said he was especially “infuriated” when Concho Minick expressed his views for television cameras in front of the neon Billy Bob’s Texas sign at the iconic venue.

“This falls under my assessment of very poor judgment,” Hickman said.

Concho Minick testified previously that he expressed his own feelings about the plan as a citizen and not as a representative of Billy Bob’s. He also testified that he received a letter from Hickman chastising him for speaking out and demanding that he write apology letters to the mayor and every City Council member for his public stand.

“I told the City Council that I am pro-development but I’m for responsible development,” Concho Minick testified.

The tense relations reached a boiling point this spring, Concho Minick testified, when Hickman tried to have him demoted and re-assigned.

Concho Minick was hired as president in 2011 at the urging of his now estranged father, then CEO Billy Minick, who would mentor him and then bow out. Billy Minick, now aligned with Hickman and other majority owners, was fired by his son in 2014, according to testimony.

As part of Concho Minick’s employment agreement, he would be given a 3 percent ownership share in Billy Bob’s over a three-year period, according to testimony.

Since he received his ownership shares in 2014, the relationship between Concho Minick and some of the owners has gotten worse, Hickman testified.

“He runs Billy Bob’s like he owns 100 percent,” Hickman testified, saying actions like “not replying to emails have gotten progressively worse and decisions [have been] made that we should have been consulted about.”

The attempt by the majority owners to oust Concho Minick prompted the lawsuit by him and his allies, including the Mavericks’ Nelson and the Murrin family.

This group of minority owners opposes Concho Minick’s termination and alleges they are being denied their rights to a say in the matter despite a company operating agreement that requires unanimous agreement on major decisions such as hiring and firing management personnel.

The majority owners claim the operating agreement is also part of the dispute because it has placed them in a deadlock situation with their opponents by requiring unanimous agreement, rather than majority rule, on key company decisions.

Attorneys for Concho Minick and his supporters pointed to a variety of documents that indicated Hickman attempted to manipulate the company agreement for his own benefit during the past few years.

Hickman also testified that if Judge Wallach agrees that the company’s certificate of formation trumps the operating agreement and Concho Minick can be terminated by majority rule, there is a plan for his replacement. Hickman said Billy Minick, along with his wife, Pam Minick, and former General Manager Marty Travis, who was fired by Concho Minick, would return to run Billy Bob’s until another management team is brought in.

All owners who testified in court expressed strong feelings about Billy Bob’s as an anchor of the Stockyards and said they have no desire for it to be sold.

After founding owner Billy Bob Barnett lost Billy Bob’s to bankruptcy in 1988, Steve Murrin and investor Don Jury recruited Hickman’s father, Holt Hickman, to invest in Billy Bob’s so it could reopen several months later.

The new owners brought in Billy and Pam Minick as the management team.

“Billy Bob’s was my dad’s favorite and prized possession,” Hickman testified.

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