Fort Worth, developers hashing out Stockyards incentives

Scott Nishimura

Fort Worth officials and a development group are working toward a financial incentive agreement for a major mixed-use project in the historic Stockyards.

City Council members are scheduled to hear a staff briefing on the project during Tuesday’s pre-council meeting. Asked if it was likely that a final proposed agreement would be in place by then, Jason Lamers, the mayor’s chief of staff, said in an interview Friday: “That’s the goal, absolutely.”

City officials and the development group have been meeting this week, Lamers said.

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“They’re still working on the details,” he said.

Mayor Betsy Price, in a May 21 appearance before a neighborhood association at the Woodhaven Country Club, said the council was set to hear a June 3 briefing on a Stockyards announcement that will “expand the tourism there.”

Price said then that the project would be mixed-use, “largely commercial and tourism.”

The mayor declined to be specific on the scope of the project or identify the players. A Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce executive in January told two business groups that a 30-acre development was in the offing for the Stockyards.

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People familiar with the Stockyards have tabbed its largest property owner, the Hickman family, as the likely leader of the group behind the proposed development.

Businessman Holt Hickman bought much of the historic Stockyards and redeveloped it into a major attraction – including the Stockyards Station festival center – in the 1990s. The Hickmans own much of the undeveloped property east of Stockyards Station between East Exchange Avenue and Northeast 23rd Street.

“Out of respect for our mayor, City Council, city staff and their deliberative process, we will refrain from public comment at this time,” said Holt Hickman’s grandson, Bradley Hickman Jr., in an email to the Business Press on Friday. “The Fort Worth Stockyards has been an important part of my family for over 25 years. It has been our pleasure to work with many to preserve and enhance our western heritage, so generations to come have an opportunity to experience and enjoy Fort Worth’s unique history.”

Chesapeake Energy owns two sites – a 16.8-acre site at 400 E. Exchange at Niles City Boulevard, and a 4.5-acre site on the south side of Northeast 23rd at Niles City – and both are for sale and reportedly under contract.

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Much of the North Side speculation about possible redevelopment is focusing on those two sites, in combination with others that are contiguous and that the Hickmans already own.

Gordon Pennoyer, a spokesman for Chesapeake in Oklahoma City, declined comment Friday.

It was not clear at week’s end what kind of incentive Fort Worth and the development group were negotiating. The city has various tools it could use in crafting a deal, including Chapter 380 last-resort gap financing, property tax abatements, tax increment finance districts and public improvement districts.

Price said in an interview following her May 21 appearance that she couldn’t specify the possible components of the Stockyards agreement.

Price also said it wasn’t clear at that point whether the staff would present something for the council to vote on soon. “Nothing’s been said yet,” Lamers said Friday.

It remains to be seen what uses might be might be involved in the proposed project.

The Stockyards – including the Chesapeake sites – is largely zoned K, which allows hotels and commercial, but not single-family and multifamily housing.

Mike Costanza Sr., who heads the Exhibits Building Partnership, which owns a five-acre site at 601 E. Exchange next to the larger Chesapeake site, said the Stockyards’ biggest need is lodging.

“Hotels, hotels, and hotels,” he said.

The Stockyards has about 200 hotel rooms in four properties, and it has demand for 1,000, said Costanza, who said his site isn’t for sale and isn’t in play.

“There’s probably about a half-dozen hotel companies looking at coming to the Stockyards,” he said. “The problem is there’s no sites, because there’s only a limited number of people that own the land.”

Costanza’s partnership is under contract with a hotel developer for a four-acre site it owns west of North Main Street, but Costanza said the likelihood of that project coming to fruition is “slim” because a stream flows through the property and the site is considered part of the 100-year floodplain.

Costanza said he sees a need for limited service hotels such as Holiday Inn Express in the Stockyards. A “higher-end” hotel product with stables that would serve horse owners who come into town for shows is also a possibility, he said.

Beyond lodging, Costanza said, he sees a need for senior living and retail in the Stockyards.