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Thursday, April 22, 2021

Stockyards 2.0: Developers reveal plans for historic site

Stockyards Facts

• By about 1900, after much work by local Fort Worth area businessmen, both Armour & Co. and Swift & Co. were persuaded to build plants adjacent to the Stockyards.

• Construction began in 1902, but not until after the exact site of each plant was decided by a flip of the coin. Armour won the toss and selected the northern site and Swift began to build on the southern tract, which was the site of the original Livestock Exchange and Hotel. Swift & Co. received an unexpected financial bonus when a large gravel pit was found on the southern site that was ultimately used in the construction of both plants.

• During World War II, the Fort Worth Stockyards processed 5,277,496 head of livestock making 1944 the peak year of the entire operation.

– Stockyards Museum

Renovations planned in Stockyards

After several years – if not decades – of talking, planning, meetings, grousing, arguments and occasional legal entanglements, plans for the future of Fort Worth’s historic Stockyards began to come into focus on Aug. 9.

That was when the Stockyards Heritage Development Co., a partnership between California-based Majestic Realty Co. and Fort Worth-based The Hickman Cos., unveiled plans for a $175 million development.

Those plans include a new boutique hotel, Hotel Drover, that will be located within the Fort Worth Stockyards redevelopment, as well as new retail, restaurant and office space plans, including such marquee tenants such as Shake Shack, Second Rodeo Brewing, MB Mercantile & Supply, REF-TV’s headquarters and studios and the American Paint Horse Association headquarters.

Also in the mix is a Fort Worth company that will add the patina of Silicon Valley to the old world feel of the area.

Simpli.fi, a programmatic advertising platform that provides localization and personalization services that had sales of $79.9 million in 2016 and a growth rate of 301 percent according to Inc. Magazine, has signed a lease for 77,000 square feet of office space in the Horse and Mule Barns on Mule Alley in the Fort Worth Stockyards, JLL announced on Aug. 8.

Additional plans were shared with key city officials and Historic District stakeholders Aug. 9 for improvements to the Stockyards’ Exchange Avenue and Mule Alley’s planned street of shops, eateries, creative office spaces and live-entertainment venues, the company said in a news release.

Operating under Marriott International’s Autograph Collection, the hotel will include 200 rooms and suites, as well as 15,000 square feet of meeting space and a barn for weddings, meetings and social events. It will also feature 97 West Kitchen and Bar, offering regional cuisine served in an environment that will feel like a true extension of the great ranch houses that inspired it, the news release said.

“The Stockyards present a unique challenge, but also a rare opportunity,” Craig Cavileer, executive vice president of Majestic Realty Co./Stockyards Heritage Development Co., said in the release.

“We knew from the moment we first visited the district over 20 years ago that this was a rare gem, a place people from all over the world visit for a taste of Texas and the West,” Cavileer said. “That’s a tall order as a developer, but also an inspirational one. We have never taken it lightly.”

Fort Worth Stockyards is a public-private partnership among Stockyards Heritage Development, the City of Fort Worth and Tarrant County.

The project’s first phase has just broken ground, launching the $175 million renovation and ground-up development that has been master-planned and designed over the past several years.

“My father, who passed away in 2014, would be so moved to see the care and thoughtfulness being poured into this new chapter in the Stockyard’s history,” Brad Hickman, president of Hickman Investments and son of legendary Fort Worth Stockyards supporter and benefactor Holt Hickman, said in the news release.

“This is not just real estate development – it’s so much more. When we came together with Ed Roski, Majestic’s chairman, and Craig Cavileer and the team he has assembled, it was evident they saw my father’s vision. They’ve spent years getting to know and understand this place, and what it means to the City of Fort Worth.”

Stephen Coslik, chairman of Fort Worth-based commercial real estate services provider The Woodmont Co., said the roster of innovative lineup of restaurants and businesses isn’t surprising for this location.

“These are ambitious plans,” he said. “Hopefully these new restaurants and service providers will bring new concepts that will continue to drive growth and bring more visitors and guests to the Stockyards.”

The Stockyards plays a significant role in Fort Worth’s $2.3 billion visitor economy, noted Bob Jameson, president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth.

“We are excited that this district is preserving its heritage while providing much-needed updates to ensure that the western story is shared with generations to come,” he said.

The Stockyards experience is a unique story Fort Worth gets to tell its visitors.

“Last year, Fort Worth welcomed a record 9.1 million visitors,” he said. “Many people are attracted to our incredible downtown and our museums. For many, especially from beyond our state and nation, the Stockyards offers a Texas experience they want.”

Plans for redevelopment of the Stockyards have been rocky at times and initially drew strong opposition, especially from historic preservationists.

The dispute over the initial plans spilled over into the unresolved legal battle among the owners of iconic Stockyards landmark, Billy Bob’s Texas.

Former City Councilman Steve Murrin, often referred to as the Mayor of the Stockyards, is a co-owner of Billy Bob’s, along with Hickman. Murrin opposed the Majestic/Hickman plans during the zoning process several years ago out of concern that the project would alter the character and authenticity of the Stockyards.

“I think we got off on the wrong foot,” Murrin said after the latest plans were announced. “They were very secretive and were talking about a Disneyland concept and condos. I wish them well with their plans for the horse and mule barns.”

The collection of new businesses that will call Mule Alley home will ultimately reflect some of the best restaurateurs, merchants, artisans and entrepreneurs Texas will offer in one place, the release said.

Mule Alley, the refurbished horse and mule barns, located at 122-124 East Exchange Avenue, will be the first structure to be renovated as part of the project. The horse and mule barn renovation will cost an estimated $45 million.

Majestic said earlier it is working with Fort Worth architect Bennett Benner Partners on the project. The structures were designed by Klipstein & Rathmann and built by James Stewart and Co. and opened sometime after 1900, according to the Fort Worth Architecture website.

“We are taking our time, making sure new residents of Mule Alley fit the character of the Stockyards, and we’re encouraging our leasing team to think creatively about the mix,” Cavileer said. “We would rather take a risk with an inventive tenant than play it safe with a chain that brings little to the table. We’re not looking to overly commercialize the Stockyards; we’re looking to make it even more exciting and broaden its appeal for locals as well as guests from Texas, the U.S. and around the world.”

Currently, confirmed tenants include:

– Second Rodeo, a concept from Chef Jason Boso, most notably known for the popular Truck Yard in Dallas and Houston and Twisted Root restaurants throughout the Metroplex. The 12,000 square foot barn will overlook Marine Creek with a patio featuring indoor/outdoor seating under a retractable roof.

– An as yet unnamed new concept from local Chef Marcus Paslay, executive chef and owner of Clay Pigeon and Piattello Italian Kitchen.

– Shake Shack, the first Fort Worth location for a hugely popular restaurant group that started as hotdog cart in New York’s Madison Square Park in 2004 and now has more than 100 locations in the U.S.

– The American Paint Horse Association, the world’s second-largest international equine breed association, relocating its headquarters to the Stockyards. The facility will include offices, a theatre, a retail gallery and a museum-like environment.

– Simpli.fi. This highly successful Fort Worth company will bring over 450 skilled professionals to the Fort Worth Stockyards daily, according to the news release. JLL Executive Vice President Ryan Matthews and Vice President Matt Montague represented the tenant. Stream Realty Partners’ Seth Koschak and Tyler Maner represented the landlord in the Simpli.fi deal.

¬– RFD HQ and STUDIOS. The new headquarters of RFD-TV, The Cowboy Channel, and Rural Radio, all part of Rural Media Group, now occupies a free-standing headquarters building on Exchange Avenue and will also create a brand-new broadcast studio open to the public in the historic Auction Barn adjacent to the Livestock Exchange Bldg.

RFD will have office, retail, and entertainment broadcast facilities in the heart of the Historic District. The network has a focus on rural lifestyle, western sports and entertainment and a day-to-day emphasis on programming centered on the cowboy and cowgirl market.

Rural Media Group (RMG) is the parent company, started and still run by Patrick Gottsch, with a mission to reconnect “city with country.” Its networks reach more than 100 million homes worldwide each day.

– MB Mercantile & Supply. The news release said the venue was inspired by the earliest general stores with a modern twist, and “is an exciting emporium of carefully curated goods that locals and tourists, souvenir hunters and memory gatherers will flock to.”

– Hotel Drover. The anchor and crown jewel of the Stockyards and Mule Alley is Stockyards Heritage Development Co.’s own hotel with a planned opening in spring, 2020.

Paul K. Harral and Maurice Richter contributed to this article.

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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