Hotel and history: Armour plan sets stage for future development

Hotel rendering. The final design has not been completed.

The Fort Worth City Council didn’t take much time on Oct. 17 – a few minutes at most – approving an agreement with Niles City Resort to develop a luxury hotel on the site of the old Armour Packing Plant at the northeast corner of E. Exchange Avenue and Packers Street.

But those few minutes may signal the first significant – historic even – shift for one of Fort Worth’s great landmarks, the Stockyards. Once an economic powerhouse during the days of the meatpacking plants in the early part of the 20th century, the area’s fortunes fell mid-century when the plants closed. Decades of indifference, decay and desolation followed. The revival began in the 1980s when businessmen, most prominently Holt Hickman, began acquiring property in the Stockyards. Popular spots like Billy Bob’s Texas began drawing locals and tourist dollars to the area to see, taste, feel, hear and smell a bit of Texas history.

“I think it’s extremely important we approve this,” said District 9 City Councilman Dennis Shingleton, during an Oct. 10 council work session on the agreement. “This building will set the precedent on what the other buildings should be and what our expectation is that they will be conforming to the design picture we demonstrated throughout the Stockyards.”

Niles City Resort LP, a joint venture involving longtime Fort Worth business owners Philip Murrin, Max Reising, Don Jury and John Martillo, plans a 120-room hotel with a minimum four-star rating near the spot where the Armour plant once stood. Niles City is committing to a $21 million capital investment with a minimum of 40 full-time employees and an all-masonry facade designed to reflect the historical and architectural heritage of the Stockyards.

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In return for its commitment, Niles City and the city entered into a 15-year agreement that would reimburse the developer 40 percent of the city’s incremental property taxes, capped at $1 million for a 21-1 private-to-public ratio.

The $21 million, five-story boutique hotel will sit on approximately four acres of the 20-acre site that once was home to Armour and will have 121 guest suites as well as several two-story penthouse suites, according to Max Reising, a principal in Niles City Resorts Ltd.

The four-star hotel will be built out of red brick and the design will be in keeping with the Armour plant that was built in 1902, employed more than 1,000, and operated for 60 years.

“It will have an industrial theme that pays homage to the history of the site as the Armour packing plant,” Niles City principal Murrin said. “The future of the Stockyards is rooted in the past and is the key to its longevity and ability to stand the test of time.”

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Construction is expected to begin in 2018 and will take about 18 months. Further details will become available when the building is designed.

The developers chose the costlier approach of a red brick façade rather than using stucco or other materials as a nod toward preservation as well as creating a striking presence for the hotel that will be perched prominently on the hill overlooking the Stockyards.

The hotel will kick off the first phase of a three-phase development, which will be positioned above the Historic Armour-Swift steps overlooking Exchange Avenue.

The developers plan to use the remaining 16-acres of the site they purchased from Chesapeake Land Development Co. in 2014 for expansion of the hotel as well as office, entertainment and other hospitality uses.

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The Armour will be a locally owned, independent hotel licensed under the Hilton Curio collection.

“This gives us flexibility to design the hotel the way we want,” said Murrin. “But we will be connected to the Hilton reservation systems and earn points through the Hilton Honors program.”

The Armour Hotel is intended to attract leisure and business travelers. Amenities will include a full-service restaurant and bar with indoor and patio dining areas; a swimming pool, fitness center, a meeting room and a coffee bar. It will also have parking lot space

The hotel will join The Stockyards Hotel, Hyatt Place and the new Marriott Courtyard Fort Worth Historic Stockyards hotel in the Stockyards area.

“As a former member of the Stockyards Design Standards & Guidelines Task Force and now council member representing District 2, I am pleased to give my support to this exciting project,” said Carlos E. Flores, who represents the district that includes the Stockyards.

The upgrade in the materials to develop a project that fits into the history and culture of the area increased the costs of the project, said Michael Hennig of Fort Worth’s Economic Development department during the council’s work session.

That caused the developers to seek the economic development agreement with the city, he said.

As part of the agreement with the city, Niles City promises to spend 30 percent of the hard construction costs with Fort Worth companies; 15 percent of the hard construction costs with Fort Worth Minority/Women Business Enterprise Companies; 15 percent of utilization of Fort Worth companies for services and supplies; and 15 percent utilization of Fort Worth MWBE companies for services and supplies.

The estimated tax benefit to the city over a decade would include $960,000 from tax increment financing, and almost $8 million from hotel occupancy tax (arena fund). Altogether, the estimated tax revenue would be over $9.3 million, according to the city.

The hotel will fit the city of Fort Worth’s form-based code for the Stockyards area, the developers said.

Also planned for the Stockyards is a $175 million redevelopment project being developed by Majestic Realty Co. of California and Fort Worth-based Hickman Cos. The project received development incentives from the city and followed a long public process that laid out guidelines for development. –

Rick Mauch contributed to this report.

Giddy up history!

1887 – Plans drawn for construction of the 258-acre Union Stockyards approximately two miles north of the Tarrant County Courthouse.

1889 – Union Stockyards president Mike C. Hurley invited Boston capitalist Greenlief Simpson to invest in the business, which he bought in 1893 for $133,333.33 and named the Fort Worth Stockyards Co. Simpson invited other investors to join him, including fellow Bentonite Louville V. Niles, whose primary business was meatpacking.

1900 – Niles and Simpson decided to build local packing plants rather than ship cattle to be processed in other cities. Armour and Swift agree to build plants in Fort Worth and held a coin toss to decide who would get which tract of land. Armour won the toss and chose the northern site; construction began in 1902.

1905 – The Fort Worth livestock market grows to be the fifth largest in the country. The Livestock Exchange building, which housed the Stockyards Company and livestock commission companies, becomes known as “The Wall Street of the West.”

1911 – Niles City incorporated. Named after Louville V. Niles, investor in the Stockyards Company, it was called the “Richest Little Town in the World” or “Richest City in Texas” because of its size and the number of large businesses located there.

1917 – Fort Worth Stockyards becomes the largest horse and mule market during World War I.

1923 – Despite some opposition, Fort Worth annexes Niles City.

1944 – During World War II, the Fort Worth Stockyards processed 5.3 million head of livestock, making 1944 the peak year of the entire operation.

1962 – Due to a changing marketplace, Armour shuts its doors.

1971 – Swift follows suit.

1976 – Charlie and Sue McCafferty found the North Fort Worth Historical Society.

1981 – Billy Bob’s Texas opens, dubbed “The World’s Largest Honkytonk”