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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Richard Connor: There’s a right way and a wrong way – what a difference!

Have you heard about the major construction project in Fort Worth that will cost $540 million and has been promised to be completed on time and within budget?

No. No. No. Not that up-the-lazy-river project.

We’re talking about Dickies Arena, the new multi-purpose entertainment venue in the Cultural District.

Approved by voters in 2014, the arena is a true public/private partnership combining taxpayer money from the city of Fort Worth and private funds raised by a nonprofit headed up by Fort Worth businessman Edward P. Bass. The city’s portion is capped at $225 million with no debt service and was financed through bonds that will be paid back through user taxes at Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum and Dickies Arena.

Bass conceived the arena project and spent years planning how to execute his idea. Bass’s plan was thorough and precise, just like his plan to build the magnificent Bass Performance Hall, and it evolved over a 20-year period.

The private money to complete the project was raised through Event Facilities Fort Worth, a nonprofit that promised to cover any cost overruns and that for years was instrumental in helping the city develop and maintain the Will Rogers Memorial Center.

Compare the Dickies project to the Trinity River Vision – aka Panther Island – project and it’s easy to see why government can be so inefficient and downright inept.

The projected cost for Panther Island has almost tripled since its inception, cost overruns multiply by the day, design deficiencies have been found in the project’s three unfinished bridges, there is no timetable for completion, and there is currently little prospect for acquiring the federal money needed to finish it.

One of the first and most crucial pieces of the arena plan was to cast an executive recruitment net wider than a five-mile radius of downtown Fort Worth. A former city manager was hired to work with Event Facilities Fort Worth.

But a key factor in the project’s success was hiring Matt Homan as president and general manager. He came to Fort Worth to run the arena after serving as general manager of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. He had worked for 17 years for Comcast Spectator/Global Spectrum.

Homan and his family have been a great fit for Fort Worth. He’s young, smart, and he “fits in here” just as snug as the boots he now wears. Many local folks may think the arena will be primarily for the rodeo but that will be only one of many different sporting and entertainment events on the venue’s eclectic menu.

Homan knows how to sign up events and entertainment that will attract diverse audiences. Homan booked one night of country music legend George Strait and it sold out so fast Strait committed to another. Homan knows how to manage all the arena’s functions, big and small, right down to what you will eat and drink there. When you eat something at the arena, Homan will have tested it.

There may be as many as 135 events at the Dickies each year.

Governance was set up in an orderly and professional manner and is handled by Trail Drive Management Corporation, where Bass is chairman. A total of seven members serve on the board and two of them are required to be Fort Worth city employees at the assistant city manager level or above. City Manager David Cooke sits on the board at present.

The arena will open on time in November and will have been completed in 34 months.

It will seat 14,000 and has 100,000 square feet of exhibit space. A total of 62 folks will be employed full time and the part-time staff will exceed 500. When completed, over 3,500 persons will have “touched” the construction phase.

Staggering numbers.

Trail Drive Management, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has a 70-year lease with the city to manage Dickies Arena and any net operating revenue will be used for capital improvements, replacements, and reserve operating capital.

When you look at this impressive accomplishment, handled professionally and above board by both private individuals and the city – without blatant politics – and then you look at the botched river project you have to ask yourself this:

How can a city that did this not do that?

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

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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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