Transformational projects steer Fort Worth economic growth for 25 years

Bill Thornton and David Berzina

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Fort Worth Business Press. It also happens to be the anniversary of the Fort Worth Chamber’s first economic development fundraising campaign, which generated resources from local business investors to substantially enhance the chamber’s efforts in attracting and retaining businesses in Fort Worth. Twenty-five years later, the community is still giving of its time and money to fund programs designed to promote economic growth. Our collective efforts have yielded world-class projects that have turned Fort Worth into one of the world’s leading business destinations over the last two-and-a-half decades. One of the most significant economic initiatives for the Fort Worth community was the development of AllianceTexas by Hillwood Properties. This 17,000-acre, master-planned community has generated more than $50 billion in economic impact for the North Texas region. Anchored by the world’s first industrial airport, AllianceTexas also includes the Alliance Global Logistics Hub, Circle T Ranch, Heritage, Alliance Town Center, Saratoga and Monterra Village projects. AllianceTexas is now home to over 360 companies, which have built more than 32 million square feet and created over 37,000 jobs. AllianceTexas also includes over one million square feet of retail, restaurant, and entertainment components integrated with a variety of single-family and luxury apartment residential options.

While AllianceTexas transformed north Fort Worth by generating unprecedented commercial and residential growth, another transformation was taking place in the downtown area: the development of Sundance Square by Ed Bass. This vibrant, 35-block area filled with commercial and residential space, restaurants, unique shops, and entertainment options is one of the reasons that downtown Fort Worth is widely considered to be one of the top downtowns in the nation. Capitalizing on the new vitality created by Sundance Square, RadioShack invested $12.2 million to build a new headquarters campus in the heart of downtown Fort Worth and is still a valued corporate partner today. Just recently, the Sundance Square Plaza opened, creating an even more expansive, walkable downtown area for residents and visitors; it is truly a sight to see.

While projects such as AllianceTexas and Sundance Square have placed Fort Worth in the national and international spotlight, there are a number of other projects over the past 25 years that have also further defined our city. The West Seventh Street project gave new life to the neighborhood surrounding the Cultural District with its luxury condos and townhomes, trendy restaurants and upscale entertainment options. Likewise, revitalization of the Magnolia neighborhood brought much-needed residential, retail and dining options to the hospital district. The construction of mixed-use projects at Edwards Ranch and the emerging Walsh Ranch development has further supported the growth of Fort Worth, providing residents with urban amenities in a scenic ranch environment. Fort Worth’s transformation has not been without obstacles. The city demonstrated its true resilience in the aftermath of the tornado in 2000 that destroyed parts of the downtown area. The devastation prompted rebuilding, including the successful redevelopment of a downtown office tower into a condominium project, the construction of the Pier 1 building, and the rebirth of retail hub Montgomery Plaza, and Seventh Street/Henderson multi-family residences and retail, just west of downtown.

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As growth continued, the industries composing Fort Worth’s business community also became more diverse than ever. Most notable has been the increased presence of energy companies in Fort Worth, in response to natural gas drilling in the Barnett Shale. Sitting atop one of the largest natural gas resources in the nation, global energy corporations such as Devon Energy, Chesapeake Energy, and XTO, and North Texas-based companies like FTS International, EOG Resources, Quicksilver Resources and Pioneer Natural Resources, all increased their Fort Worth footprint to leverage their position in the marketplace. These energy companies made substantial, long-term investments in the Fort Worth community. Chesapeake purchased the iconic Pier 1 building, while Bob Simpson, former CEO of XTO, dedicated himself to enhancing the Bass family investment in downtown Fort Worth by purchasing and renovating historic buildings.

While manufacturing has remained a major economic driver for Fort Worth, this sector has also evolved since 1988. The addition of GE Manufacturing Solutions facilities to manufacture state-of-the-art locomotives and mining equipment were tremendous wins for Fort Worth, bringing thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Another game-changer was the selection of Fort Worth by Google and Motorola Mobility as the site for the Moto X assembly plant. This is the first and only facility in the United States to assemble smartphones, and it demonstrates that Fort Worth is a viable destination for reshoring projects. The selection of Fort Worth by the U.S. Department of Engraving and Printing as the site of its new currency production location in 1986 was another example of the diverse manufacturing and processing companies that have chosen Fort Worth for its value-added amenities, such as a central location, educated workforce and low cost of doing business.

In addition to welcoming new companies and industries, several well-known businesses with a long-standing presence in our community experienced significant changes within the past 25 years. For example, four major companies – BNSF Railway, TTI, Acme Brick and Justin Brands – all of which were headquartered in Fort Worth, were purchased by Berkshire Hathaway. The most recent change is the merger of American Airlines, Tarrant County’s largest employer, with U.S. Airways. In the wake of the bankruptcy of American Airlines’ parent company, AMR, the airline emerged stronger than ever with this new partner at its side. Lockheed Martin was awarded contracts from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop and construct the F-22 and, in 2001, the Joint Strike Fighter F-35, altering the future course of this industry leader. These innovative aircraft play a critical role in our nation’s defense. Traditionally known for its Cowboy heritage, Fort Worth continues to leverage its Western roots. Expansions to the Stockyards National Historical District and construction of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame and the expansion of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art all pay tribute to Fort Worth’s history. Other new, sophisticated cultural amenities include the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, which opened in 2002, and the opening of the new Renzo Piano Pavilion at the Kimbell Art Museum in late 2013. The addition of the $67 million Bass Performance Hall in 1998 to Sundance Square has brought world-class musicians, singers and dancers to Fort Worth on a regular basis. The stunning facility is considered one of the top 10 opera halls in the world, according to Travel & Leisure magazine.  

Outdoor enthusiasts, and businesses catering to them, have also benefitted from projects that are bringing to life the Trinity River Vision, which is a comprehensive, master plan to revitalize 88 miles of the Trinity River and major tributaries that run through Fort Worth. With biking, walking, horseback riding and water sports only steps away from downtown, Fort Worth now enjoys the economic advantages of this valuable recreational amenity. The expansion of existing tourist attractions, as well as the addition of new places for locals and visitors to explore, has created new economic opportunities. NASCAR and other professional race series taking place at Texas Motor Speedway bring millions of dollars in revenues annually, while multiple expansions of the Fort Worth Convention Center and of Will Rogers Coliseum have enabled the city to attract a new caliber of premier events that generate more revenue for the city and its businesses. Fort Worth’s growth means that its transportation infrastructure has also changed. The explosive growth at AllianceTexas was supported by the addition of SH 170, and will be further facilitated by the upcoming expansion of I-35W. The completion of the Chisholm Trail Parkway will open up a major north-south corridor connecting Fort Worth with Johnson County communities to the south, fostering enhanced commerce, new jobs and increased tax revenues.  

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Roads are not the only infrastructure to evolve in 25 years. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport made a substantial capital investment to transform Terminal D into a world-renowned international destination with retail, dining and hospitality options. More than 57 million passengers pass through the airport’s gates each year, making it the 4th busiest airport in the world. Without a doubt, the last quarter-century has yielded transformative economic progress in Fort Worth, dramatically enhancing the economic vitality of the region and improving the quality of life for its 768,000 residents. Ahead on the horizon are a number of exciting new projects and initiatives that will extend Fort Worth’s reputation and recognition as one of the premier places to work and live well into the next 25 years. Bill Thornton, president, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce David Berzina, executive vice president of economic development, Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce