At first, it looked like Fort Worth officials were going to be stuck between a rock and a hard place as developers and historic preservationists struggled – with only occasional acrimony – to hammer out a framework to revitalize the Stockyards.
Behind the scenes though, others factors were at work. As the Historic Stockyards Design District Task Force haggled over a design ordinance for Stockyards redevelopment, partners in the $175 million plan that prompted those standards were gradually bringing preservationists on board for phase 1 of the 925-acre project. Construction could begin on that 70-acre portion of the development as early as next spring.
By the time the City Council and its commissions began reviewing the task force recommendations last month, leaders of Historic Fort Worth had held a productive meeting with partners in Fort Worth Heritage Development about a crucial piece of phase 1, redevelopment of the historic Mule Barns located in the 100 block of East Exchange Avenue. Fort Worth Heritage Development is a partnership between Majestic Realty – a nationally recognized developer based in City of Industry, California – and Fort Worth’s Holt Hickman family.
And by the time the City Council was brief Oct. 27 on the design guidelines recommended by the Stockyards task force, supporters included some former critics – among them Phillip Murrin, a property owner and businessman; his father, Steve Murrin; and Historic Fort Worth Executive Director Jerre Tracy.
“The Stockyards is more than just a collection of old buildings,” Phillip Murrin said when speaking before the City Council in October. “It does require special tools, special measures to preserve that authentic sense of place that we all know and love.”
Historic Fort Worth chairman John Roberts said the preservation input likely led the Cultural and Historical Landmark Commission to unanimously approve Majestic’s request to upgrade the historic designation of one of the two Mule Barns from “demolition delay” to “highly significant and endangered structure” (the other Mule Barn already carried that designation).
Kerby Smith, Majestic senior vice president of development, agreed.
“We arrived at a win-win by solving it with the preservation community,” Smith said during a presentation Nov. 4 to CREW Fort Worth, a group of commercial real estate women.
Smith, an Aledo City Council member who was a senior vice president of Trademark Property Co. in Fort Worth before joining Majestic’s Fort Worth office in May, said he understands the emotions surrounding redevelopment of the Stockyards in general and the 100-year-old Mule Barns in particular.
But many of the area’s iconic structures are deteriorating and could be destroyed by neglect if they are not renovated, he said.
Smith said Majestic has a long history of collaboration with key leaders in the Stockyards, highlighted by the relationship dating back to 1997 between Majestic’s chairman, Edward Roski, and the late Holt Hickman.
“It’s a priority to Majestic-Hickman to understand and learn from individuals and organizations who are passionate about the Stockyards,” Smith said. “Our architect carefully considered all input as he created the Mule Barn plans.”
Smith said plans for the Mule Barns, one of which houses the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame where many task force meetings were held, call for turning part of the 180,000 square-foot space into a walk-through retail street that tourists and locals can enter from Exchange Avenue.
The barns were built by the original Fort Worth Stock Yards Co. and have been used primarily as stables for rodeo events, as well as warehouse and retail space.
Roberts said preservationists approved most of the changes suggested by the developers and architect Bennett Benner Partners.
“We didn’t have a problem with the east and west walls of the existing mule barns,” he said. “They were keeping the existing buildings, the doorways, windows, and demolishing the non-original parts of the building – in some cases, taking original windows down when putting in required doors under new codes.”
Roberts said he had some issues with changes to the north wall, where the developer wanted to put in a storefront to face Exchange.
“We felt that was changing more than what we liked, but we’re realists,” he said. “As an architect, I realize they have to make the building functional and useful.”
Roberts said he made suggestions to keep the building façade flat, as it is now. The Landmark Commission approved those suggestions and suggested the developers limit the number of openings – doors and windows – in the buildings.
After reworking the plan to include those suggestions, the Mule Barn plan received its final certificates of appropriateness in late October, Smith said.
“We have our challenges,” he said. “It’s not getting fixed by hope or designations but by investment. Strong winds could blow down some of these historic buildings. We presented it to the various preservation groups and we all agreed – to preserve, you need investment.
“We’re committed to the vision – to integrate our project into what’s there; to repair and enhance the aging infrastructure and to attract culturally relevant business.”
When the City Council approved the $175 million Majestic project in June 2014, it included sales and property tax incentives estimated at $26 million at current values and up to $67 million if Majestic follows through with its proposal.
Roberts acknowledged that it’s worthwhile for preservationists to continue working with developers to ensure that historic property is protected.
In the meantime, he said, Historic Fort Worth is continuing to work with individual property owners and city officials to protect as many historic properties as possible through individual designations and creation of a historic district, which requires the approval of 51 percent of property owners in the district.
“One thing historic districts tend to do is raise property values,” Roberts said. “That might be encouragement for those owners to fix up their properties. With a new historic district, those owners would have local, state and federal tax credits to do it.”
Story has been updated to indicate that the council did not vote at its Oct. 27 Pre-Council meeting.