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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Billy Bob’s return: Irving Music Factory takes shape

Irving Music Factory

Following the opening of the Pavilion during Labor Day weekend, additional restaurant and entertainment concepts will debut almost every week through the end of the year. Some of the many restaurant and entertainment options scheduled to open include the following:

• Alamo Drafthouse 8 Screen Movie Theater

• Bar Louie

• Bar Manzanilla

• Boi Na Braza Brazilian Steakhouse

• Burgerim

• C-Bar

• Freshii

• Gloria’s Latin Cuisine

• Grimaldi’s Coal Brick Oven Pizza

• Highway 61 South

• Kabuki Japanese Restaurant

• Martini Ranch

• MaxFrut, Texas’ First Frozen Whole-Fruit Bar

• Nosh & Bottle

• Sambuca


• Texas Jam House & Marketplace

• Thirsty Lion Gastropub & Grill

• Top Round Roast Beef

• Uncle Gino’s Cucina Italiana

• Yard House


After a long absence from the spotlight, the man with one of the most recognizable names in the Dallas-Fort Worth entertainment industry has suddenly re-emerged in a big way.

Billy Bob Barnett hasn’t exactly been laying low. He’s been a player in the long and tangled development of the Irving Music Factory, a $200 million entertainment and restaurant venue set to debut in Las Colinas on Labor Day weekend.

It’s a big deal, for Irving, North Texas and for Billy Bob. He was involved early on, but then stepped away when it looked like the project would be shelved. But he has his hand in the project, now in the hands of new developers.

In Fort Worth, where a battle among the dozen current owners of Billy Bob’s Texas is playing out as courtroom drama, questions have emerged about what has become of the original founder, the namesake of the legendary Stockyards honky-tonk.

Barnett, 70, is living in Dallas and deferred most questions to Irving Music Factory developer, the North Carolina ARK Group, to talk about the new development.

Gone but interested

As for Billy Bob’s Texas, Barnett said he has been following the developments but is purposely staying out of the fray.

“I think they’ve done an excellent job with it,” he said of the owners of Billy Bob’s. “I’ve got friends on both sides and don’t want to get involved.”

Barnett opened Billy Bob’s in 1981 and shepherded the 127,000 square-foot facility that started life as a cattle barn, then became an airplane manufacturing plant and department store before morphing into an internationally known entertainment venue.

Known as the world’s largest honky-tonk, Billy Bob’s Texas attracted big name performers, including Waylon Jennings, the Gatlin Brothers, ZZ Top, Willie Nelson, Alan Jackson, Ringo Star and the Beach Boys. George Strait launched his career as an opening act there.

The club’s notoriety was helped along by references by the fictional Ewing clan in top-rated primetime TV soap opera Dallas in the early 1980s.

Despite its success, Billy Bob’s was plagued by problems, including a decline in the popularity of country music.

After reaching a high point with the urban cowboy trend in the early ‘80s – epitomized by the film of the same name, filmed at Gilley’s in Pasadena – country music hit a rough patch. Billy Bob’s held on until Jan. 8, 1988, when the club went bankrupt and was forced to close.

“Financial mismanagement and unrealized projects drained the nightclub,” according to a report in the Texas State Historical Association Online Handbook.

“Billy Bob’s got caught up in everything that was going on in the Stockyards,” Barnett told the Fort Worth Business Press.

Fort Worth entrepreneur Holt Hickman and his long-time friend, Steve Murrin, a former Fort Worth City Council member, partnered with investor Don Jury to re-open Billy Bob’s in November 1988.

The new owners brought in Billy Minick as a partner and general manager and eventually promoted him to CEO. Minick’s wife, Pam, was hired as head of marketing.

The second group of owners, along with their children and other relatives, remain as owners of Billy Bob’s nearly 30 years later. At the center of the feud among the embattled group, is the termination of Concho Minick, the president of Billy Bob’s who took over for his father, Billy, in 2011 and allegedly forced his father and step-mother out. Concho Minick is now a 3 percent owner of the club.

Billy Bob’s Texas’ operating agreement, which both parties dislike, has deadlocked the owners over language that requires unanimous agreement on major decisions such as terminating Concho Minick. Minick and minority ownership allies have been able to block his termination, but there are more court dates in the future.

Life after Billy Bob’s

As for Barnett, a Texas A&M athlete, he went on to involvement in nightclubs and other entertainment venues in other parts of the country, including the Cat’s Meow on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, according to various media reports.

“I’m out of all that now,” Barnett said.

For about the last 10 years, Barnett has had his sights set on the Irving entertainment district. In 2007, city residents voted to spend city money on building a convention center and adjoining entertainment district.

Barnett was involved with the Las Colinas Group, which joined with the city of Irving to build a $250 million concert venue and restaurant complex. Barnett’s sister was a part owner in Las Colinas Group and brought Barnett in to develop the concept and help run it once it opened, according to The Dallas Morning News.

Over the next few years, the project was at the center of turmoil among residents and the City Council. In 2012, the city ended its partnership with Barnett and Las Colinas Group. A lawsuit by the spurned developers almost killed the project altogether, according to an Irving Chamber of Commerce news release.

The ARK Group, which had built the successful N.C. Music Factory in Charlotte, North Carolina, now called the AvidXchange Music Factory, was intrigued by the possibilities in Irving and won city approval for the project along with financial incentives.

“We loved the fact there is 29 million square feet of office space and 12,000 hotel rooms in Irving, said Noah Lasez, president of ARK Group. “There are all these people there Monday through Thursday and not much for them to do after work for happy hour and in the evenings.”

Looking at the success of Dallas’ Uptown and Fort Worth’s Sundance Square, Lazes said the opportunity to develop an entertainment and restaurant venue within walking distance of the office buildings was like a dream come true.

“The Bass family really did a marvelous job with Sundance Square,” Lazes said. “Through their vision of bringing in restaurants and entertainment, they revitalized downtown Fort Worth.”

Entertainment is key

The entertainment portion is key and should help spur new development in Las Colinas, Lazes said.

A 100,000-square-foot office building in the mixed-used Irving Music Factory development has already been fully leased to the Ethos Group, which partners with auto dealers on sales, financing and servicing of vehicles.

“This is the first new office building in this market to be built in 30 years,” Lazes said. “Just knowing this entertainment district is coming has stirred things up and companies want to be here.”

The 17-acre development designed by the San Francisco-based architecture firm of Gensler will feature 25 restaurants and entertainment venues, including an eight-screen Alamo Drafthouse movie theater.

The centerpiece is The Pavilion, a state-of-the-art indoor/outdoor concert center. The facility features a retractable partition that can open up the 4,000-seat covered venue to accommodate up to 4,000 more with lawn seating.

The Pavilion is set to kick-off Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 with sold-out shows featuring comedian Dave Chappelle.

The covered portion, which also can be partitioned down to host 2,500 guests, will have full heating and cooling capabilities for guests.

“If you attend a concert here in the summer, you won’t be hot if you sit in the covered area,” Lazes said.

The ARK Group partnered with LiveNation to create The Pavilion. Barnett brought Restaurants Unlimited to the project.

Barnett, along with Restaurants Unlimited, will bring five restaurants and bars and to the development.

“He’s created the concept for five of the 25 restaurants,” Lazes said. “Restaurants Unlimited is a tenant of ours and he will operate and market those establishments through an agreement with them.”

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