Trinity River Vision: Relocation Blues: Businesses struggle to make moves for project

Barry Rubiin, owner and presidend of American Auto Salvage, says business is thriving at its new location at 2567 Decatur Ave.

Jack Z. Smith Special Projects Reporter

Barry Rubin winces at the mere mention of the relocation of his sizable auto salvage operation from its longtime home just north of downtown Fort Worth to a site three miles away, a shift necessitated by the $909.9 million Trinity Uptown project. Although the move has worked out well, “I wouldn’t really want to go through it again. … It was the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” Rubin, owner and president of the 28-employee American Auto Salvage Co., said in an interview with the Fort Worth Business Press. Rubin’s business was the first to move, in the spring of 2007, as a result of the Trinity Uptown venture. The project isn’t slated for completion until 2023, but the effort to acquire properties and relocate businesses already is in a mature stage. Properties are being bought by the Tarrant Regional Water District, the public agency that oversees the Uptown project, to allow construction of a 1.5-mile bypass channel designed to stabilize Trinity River water levels and enable waterfront development. As of Aug. 31, the Uptown project had spent nearly $59.9 million to acquire property and more than $13.5 million to compensate businesses for relocation costs, according to the Trinity River Vision Authority, a TRWD unit playing a major role in acquisitions and relocations. Additional recent acquisitions have raised the outlay for property purchases to more than $64 million, Business Press calculations show.

TRVA executive Director J.D. Granger said he expects total spending for all acquisitions for the Uptown project will wind up being “well under” the $134.8 million budgeted, but cautioned that there still are properties that will need to be purchased outside the near north side area in future years, including properties along the Trinity River channel in east Fort Worth for expenditures related to needs such as flood control and ecosystem restoration. He also said that, while the Uptown project still has to spend money on some expensive business relocations yet to be done, he expects total relocation costs will be at least somewhat under the $45.5 million budgeted for those expenses. TRVA spokesman Matt Oliver said 76 businesses have been relocated from 58 locations and there are only eight remaining to relocate. There are still 10 pending condemnation lawsuits over how much property owners and businesses will be compensated, but “we are continuing to negotiate with all of them to reach an agreement,” Oliver said in an email responding to Business Press questions. The property purchases and relocations have been “a tough part of the project,” requiring extensive negotiations and working with businesses to help ensure that their relocation needs are met, Granger said in a telephone interview. “Right now, we’re approximately 95 percent complete with our acquisition of property for the bypass channel, and we’re about 90 percent complete with our relocation efforts,” Granger said. The water district, which is acquiring the properties under its power of eminent domain, is a local partner with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Uptown project. The Corps supports the project as a means of enhancing flood control along the Trinity River and its tributaries, as well as encouraging central-city revitalization in the near north side. Project backers say it could trigger the eventual construction of 10,000 new residential units and 3 million square feet of commercial space north of downtown. While numerous businesses already have relocated, others are still agonizing over logistical, financial and timing decisions. Some could shut down and sell their assets if relocation prospects aren’t appealing. Some businesses, such as Rubin’s American Auto Salvage, say they are thriving in their new locations. American Auto Salvage buys “totaled” cars and trucks at weekly auctions and sells the parts to body shops and individuals. Its new location is 2567 Decatur Ave., northeast of the Stockyards. About 90 percent of the company’s revenue comes from selling parts and 10 percent from selling scrap.

The company’s 18.5-acre site is about three miles north of its previous location at 930 N. Henderson St. and more than twice as big. Rubin said the property purchase, extensive rehabilitation of an old 75,000-square-foot main building and other expenses have required a multimillion-dollar investment. The TRWD bought the company’s old property for $5.15 million, according to a listing of dozens of property purchases provided to the Business Press by the water district. The price was determined in a legal settlement reached after what Rubin described as “a long fight” of several years. The $5.15 million paid to American Auto Salvage is the highest purchase price of the approximately 60 properties the TRWD bought. Union Pacific Railroad was paid $4.9 million for various rights-of-way and properties; an entity called 2000 White Settlement LP received more than $4.2 million for a large property at 2000 White Settlement Road that once was the location of a Sweet Shop USA factory outlet beloved for its chocolate candies; the city of Fort Worth, a major participant in the Uptown project, received nearly $4.2 million for property just north of downtown that included the Police and Fire Training Academy at 1000 Calvert St.; and Overseas Orders Corp. got $4.1 million for property in the 900 block of North Henderson Street that included large warehouses used for storage. With its new location, American Auto Salvage actually is “doing better” than before, Rubin said of the 78-year-old company started by his grandfather, Harry Rubin, in 1935. On a recent day, the company’s new Decatur Avenue site accommodated about 1,750 wrecked vehicles, from which engines, transmissions, front-end pieces, doors and other parts would be extracted and sold. Rubin said he was “really lucky to stumble across this property, which had just been sitting there vacant for years.” But the buildings there “were horrible, all stripped out, no wiring, no nothing,” he said. It was mentally torturous to determine how best to reconfigure the property for the company’s specific needs and considerable damage was done to its large inventory of salvage vehicles while moving them on flatbed trailers to the new location, Rubin said. But the end result has been satisfying, he said.

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Buck’s Wheel & Equipment Co. Buck’s Wheel & Equipment Co. faced heavy time pressures in moving from its location on Commercial Street that was acquired by TRWD for $846,408. The company was informed in August 2012 that its property was targeted for acquisition and that it needed to move by Dec. 31. That deadline was extended twice, company board chairman Danny Brawner said. The 62-year-old, family-owned business repairs and services large vehicles such as 18-wheelers, trucks for local delivery fleets, school buses, fire trucks and concrete mixer trucks. It also sells parts for school buses. Brawner and his brother, company President Gary Brawner, were unable to find a suitable building to house their 15-employee business because they needed a structure with special features such as a concrete floor at least eight inches thick to bear the weight of heavy vehicles. They finally found an empty 16-acre site in North Fort Worth, just northwest of the intersection of Loop 820 and U.S. Business 287, where they could build their own tailor-made facility.  

They had to secure financing, hire an architect and engineer and go through a laborious process of securing city permits. They held a grand opening for their 30,000-square-foot facility on Nov. 1 and are pleased that their location is near numerous trucking operations that provide a strong customer base. Danny Brawner, 70, said the relocation “truly consumed my life for six to eight months. … There were some sleepless nights.” The undertaking “was both a mental strain and an emotional strain … for all of us,” he said. Gary Brawner said the new location enables future consolidation of other family-owned businesses there, including a body shop and a firm that leases old cargo containers. The new location, he said, is just “a stone’s throw from 820” and therefore “so much more visible” than the old site on a small street that was more difficult for big trucks to reach. Buck’s is named after the company’s late founder, C.E. “Buck” Brawner, father of Danny and Gary. Danny’s daughter, Sandra Laxson, the corporate secretary/treasurer, said the third-generation business now has “a great opportunity for us to take it into a fourth- and fifth-generation business.” She said her daughter, Emilee, 15, wants to attend Texas Christian University and eventually “run Buck’s Wheel … She wants to be just like her grandfather.”

CMC Recycling CMC Recycling moved from a longtime location just north of downtown to a new site near Loop 820 in North Fort Worth. The company buys scrap metal from multiple sources and then sorts, cuts and bales it for sale to mills, foundries and refineries, which remelt the metal for their own purposes. John Holland, marketing manager for CMC’s 46-employee Fort Worth operation, said the company had been at its old location at 601 N. Throckmorton St. since 1949. It was “somewhat difficult” to find a new site, he said, because a scrap-metal recycling facility requires heavy industrial/special use zoning. The company worked with Fort Worth City Councilman Sal Espino and city staffers to locate at the Quarry Falls Industrial Recycling Park at 4500 Old Decatur Road, just south of Loop 820. “Getting our customers adjusted to a new location has been a challenge,” Holland said, referring especially to small-volume sellers of scrap metal. But business generally has remained steady and “in time, we will gain customers” because of the new location’s advantages, he said. The 25-acre site is 30 percent larger than the old site and the location is better because of the proximity to Loop 820 and Interstate 35W, Holland said. “It is especially convenient for large trucks because they can avoid the congestion of smaller and more crowded streets,” he said. Holland said CMC “was committed to staying in Fort Worth” because of the city’s “favorable business climate and the loyalty of our customers.” The Fort Worth operation is a unit of Irving-based Commercial Metals Co., which has extensive U.S. and international operations. The water district paid nearly $2.8 million for the old CMC Recycling site.

Some businesses still in limbo Some businesses are still deliberating relocation decisions forced on them by the Trinity Uptown project. And some are still battling the TRWD over a purchase price. Texas Refinery Corp., a maker of specialty lubricants, must relocate its manufacturing operation from a longtime site on the near North Side but won’t be required to move its nearby corporate headquarters on the east side of North Main Street. The company has declined to discuss specific relocation plans but reportedly is developing plans for a new production facility in Mansfield. The TRWD is paying Texas Refinery $3.06 million for its old facility. McKinley Iron Works is being forced to sell its family-owned foundry operation at 901 N. Throckmorton St. to the TRWD, but a top official of the company declined comment on future plans. The foundry is appealing a purchase price of $1.565 million set by special commissioners in condemnation proceedings. Online: