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Richard Connor: Goodbye ‘Cowtown,’ hello ‘Destination Master Plan’

🕐 5 min read

Well, Fort Worth will never be a Waco but we can shoot for second place.

There’s an ambitious new project afoot called “Destination Master Plan,” a brainchild of Visit Fort Worth, which you might recall as the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The plan includes development of a $300,000 “analytics portfolio” that will help Visit Fort Worth use data to understand how to bring more folks to town.

Hell, Waco achieved visitor haven status with a little television show: HGTV’s most popular program to date, “Fixer Upper,” which ran for five seasons and drew upward of 5 million viewers for a single episode.

Chip and Joanna Gaines of Waco were the stars, buying and rehabbing older homes. Along the way they began producing their own home goods.

They opened Magnolia Market at the Silos, which is now a retail outlet for their products and those of others. It takes up more than two acres in downtown Waco and is centered around two ancient grain silos.

Magnolia draws an average of 1.6 million visitors a year, many of them coming from all corners of the country and the world. It draws more folks than the Alamo. Charter buses from places such as New York City, yes NYC, pull up to Magnolia loaded with folks anxious to spend money and see Waco.

One of the great amenities at Magnolia: FREE PARKING and shuttle transportation when lots and nearby streets are full. In Fort Worth you can expect a parking ticket faster than you can say “Cowboys and Culture,” a clever and accurate phrase but one that did not stick.

An estimated 2.6 million visitors a year now trek to Waco, an increase of about fourfold since Magnolia opened in 2015. The so-called “halo” effect on other businesses is astounding.

If you have not been there, go. It is a sight to behold. The business is housed in a 20,000-square-foot converted barn.

And while you’re in Waco, be sure to visit the Dr Pepper Museum, home to the first cola in the United States. It used to average 65,000 visitors a year but now, basking in the glow of the Magnolia Market halo, gets about 150,000.

Fort Worth reportedly had 9.1 million visitors in 2017, generating an estimated $2.3 billion of economic impact, according to Visit Fort Worth. We are no slouch.

Personally, I always view economic impact figures with suspicion but regardless of precision we have a lot of folks visiting and spending money here. More is most always better unless you are wearing concrete shoes and the water is rising.

But this isn’t about numbers, per se. It’s about attitude. Change. Broadening your appeal.

Bob Jameson, longtime Fort Worth businessman who ran the Worthington for years is one of the finer people in this city and he’s president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth. He knows how to treat customers right. He has decades of experience in hospitality and can be expected to lead a team that now has as his second in command Mitch Whitten, recently promoted to executive vice president for marketing and strategy and tabbed to manage the 10-year master plan.

Whitten is young and bright with a growing family. He is married to former Star-Telegram reporter Kristin Sullivan, and the couple has a youthful and energetic vibe that Fort Worth needs.

We have too many old folks hanging in all the old places who think they still run the city and hold the keys to the future. Some waste their time knocking Dallas and trying to instill fear of encroachment from Dallas folks. Give me a break.

Those old birds need only to go to Clearfork and get some of that cool Dallas ambiance.

Marketing superstars such as the Gaineses and their television show come along once or maybe twice in a lifetime. They have ended the TV show to concentrate on their family and other businesses. They have five children.

What makes them stand out is their embrace of wholesome family values and a tireless work ethic, which combined with their entrepreneurial nature and creativity creates a brand that is irresistible. They also had a small, local Waco bank at their side.

In contrast, the hillbillies from “Duck Dynasty” made West Monroe, Louisiana, a destination – a real feat – but only for a while. They were funny until they weren’t. They bogged down and stopped after getting into controversies over racial slurs and political causes.

Focus groups and other strategies have been used to help chart a course for “Destination Master Plan,” with some input from a couple of aging and bureaucratic Fort Worth institutions.

Anything you infer from that comment is intended.

But the new group has young leaders at its core and that’s what we need.

No one asked me to attend a focus group but I have an idea or two about moving Fort Worth into the 21st Century.

My most significant idea is to stop calling the city “Cowtown.” We were able to rid ourselves of “Panther City;” now we need to ditch “Cowtown.” We can still celebrate our historic Stockyards, our great stock show and rodeo and our cowboy culture, but we are so much more these days.

How’s this for a slogan? “Cowtown, home of the original cow patty. You’ll have to watch where you step so often you’ll think you’re dancin.’ ”

Now, that would bring out-of-towners rushing to Fort Worth in a New York minute, wouldn’t it?

So, let’s start there. Ban “Cowtown.” Personally, I have never used it to describe where I live.

Then let’s offer a boatload of money to Chip and Joanna Gaines – or draft a couple of up-and-coming stars on the horizon – to bring a jolt of Waco-like marketing magic to Fort Worth.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net

Richard Connor
Richard Connor is the owner and CEO/Publisher of DRC Media, the parent company of the Fort Worth Business Press. he also owns newspapers in Virginia. Mr. Connor held a number of corporate media executive positions before founding his own company. He is an award-winning columnist and at one time wrote a weekly column on national politics for CQ Politics, the online version of Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Quarterly.

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