Weatherford: City back in business after weathering recession woes

A. Lee Graham

Since recessionary woes struck Weatherford, the modest community west of Fort Worth lost sales tax income, jobs and new retail and residential development as Parker County struggled to regain its footing. But things are turning around. Struggling to rebuild like most other communicates rocked by the nation’s 2008 economic downturn, Weatherford has seen its sales tax revenue reach record levels as it went on a retail tear. “Retail has grown significantly,” said Dennis Clayton, executive director of the Weatherford Economic Development Authority Inc., a nonprofit economic development agency created by the City Council to market and promote Weatherford. Folks who used to shop Fort Worth now browse closer to home, thanks in part to Weatherford Ridge Center and Weatherford MarketPlace Center, whose respective 2005 and 2006 openings added some heavyweight retailers to the city’s commercial landscape. Weatherford Marketplace brought Lowe’s, Target, Kohl’s and other big-box names to the southeast corner of South Main Street and Interstate 20, while Weatherford Ridge heralded the arrival of Belk’s, TJ Maxx, JC Penney and other heavyweights on the northeast corner of South Main Street and Interstate 20. Symbolizing the city’s retail reinvention is JC Penney, which moved from an older location to a space three times bigger. “We have over 850,000 square feet of new shopping centers that have been built since 2005. Things have really picked up here since the recession,” Clayton said. That’s reflected in city and county sales and use taxes. From 1990 to 2008, the city enjoyed annual sales tax growth. But the recession saw numbers drop in 2009, falling from $9.1 million in 2008 to $8.6 million in 2009. But those numbers rose as the city beefed up its retail sector, rising from $8.2 million in 2010 to $9.9 million in 2013, according to the Texas Comptroller’s Office. “Weatherford has truly become a regional retail center,” Clayton said. Its housing, medical and industrial offerings also have grown. Numbers of new residential building permits rose from 135 in 2012 to 162 in 2013, according to information compiled by the authority. Numbers include Weatherford, as well as the cities of Annetta, Hudson Oaks, Springtown, Aledo and Willow Park. “Those numbers are a major indictor of housing sales,” said Clayton, reporting a 28 percent rise in current housing sales from the sale period last year. Also bolstering the city’s economic base were two expansions at Weatherford Regional Medical Center. A $27 million upgrade added a 23-bed emergency department, 12-bed intensive care unit and laboratory expansion in 2008, followed by a $22.3 million renovation that added 52 private medical-surgical rooms, eight critical care rooms and an enhanced endoscopy suite, among other additions, in 2012. A key factor to city development lies with the Barnett Shale, which Clayton credits for helping push the city and county’s collective labor force to 30,000. “The Barnett Shale has been a big part of that,” said Clayton, pointing to residents working at oil and gas sites. Many of those live in the city temporarily while specific oil and gas operations are under way. “We also had three new hotels built between 2008 and 2009 because of the Barnett Shale,” Clayton said. Those are the Marriott Fairfield Inn, Candlewood Suites and Holiday Inn Express. Workers traveling between well sites north and south of Weatherford found the community a convenient central location to live, Clayton explained. So what’s ahead for Weatherford? A movie theater, bowling alley and arcade housed in a single building next to JC Penney at Weatherford Ridge. Also on the horizon is a new 100-acre industrial park along the western loop of the Ric Williamson Memorial Highway north of U.S. 180 and Interstate 20. “We’re thrilled by all the growth that’s going on,” Clayton said.