Tarleton gets 80-acre gift, plans Southwest Fort Worth campus

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By Scott Nishimura Snishimura@bizpress.net

Tarleton State University said Monday it received an 80-acre gift on the Chisholm Trail Parkway and plans to build a new campus in far Southwest Fort Worth.

The Walton Group of Cos., which owns more than 2,000 contiguous acres in the Chisholm Trail corridor, made the gift.

Tarleton, which by the Texas A&M University system, plans to ask the state Legislature next year for $55 million in funding from tuition revenue bonds to build a first-phase 125,000-square-foot building that could represent the first development on the Walton property. It would hold classrooms, student services, and administration.

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“It will fill a huge need in higher education in Tarrant County,” the A&M chancellor, John Sharp, said in an interview after Tarleton announced the gift and planned development at Sundance Plaza downtown.

The university’s announcement is the latest major growth revealed for the corridor of the new Chisholm Trail, which connects downtown Fort Worth to Cleburne over a 30-minute drive.

Tarleton, which offers college classes in Fort Worth through two small facilities, touts itself as the only public university offering bachelor’s degrees in Fort Worth.

Once the first building is built, Sharp said Tarleton envisions rapid growth in enrollment that will lead quickly to future construction on the campus, which will be at the Chisholm Trail and Old Granbury Road.

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“I suspect the demand for a second and third building is going to grow very fast,” he said.

The city of Fort Worth and North Texas Tollway Authority will also be partners in the project, with the city already planning to have to bring infrastructure to Chisholm Trail corridor.

The university wants an entrance and exit on the Chisholm Trail at the midpoint on the three miles between the McPherson Road and FM 1187 entries, roughly lining up with Old Granbury Road, and the NTTA is on board to help with that.

Jungus Jordan, the Fort Worth city councilman whose south Fort Worth district takes in the Chisholm Trail corridor south of Interstate 20, said early estimates put the cost of the Old Granbury Road entry and exit at $10-$13 million.

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The city and NTTA will ask the Legislature in next year’s session for funding, one of multiple options, Jordan said in an interview.

The original Chisholm Trail plan didn’t contemplate an Old Granbury Road entry, “because there was nothing there,” Jordan said.

With major mixed-use development being planned by Walton, he thinks Fort Worth will be able to secure the funding.

“That’s the kind of thing that ends up paying for itself in the long run,” with spinoff development, he said.

State Rep. Craig¬†Goldman and State Sen.-elect Konni Burton will be the area’s leads in the Legislature on funding. Goldman joked Monday that Tarleton’s purple, the same as the hometown TCU’s, “will help me keep my tie budget down.”

If Tarleton secures funding in the next Legislature, Dominic Dottavio, the university’s president, said construction could begin within 12 to 18 months. That would put the first phase on course for a 2017 opening.

The university next week plans to hold a design charrette, to begin examining its needs and plans. That will lead to a definitive idea of what the campus would look like, Dottavio said in an interview.

The first phase would serve 4,000 t0 5,000 students, he said. The university has about 100 faculty and staff in Fort Worth, serving about 1,600 students, he said.

Tuition revenue bond funding is competitive, with universities across the state putting in requests during each Legislative session.

“We think that this is going to be very high on the priority lists because of the partnerships that are involved with it,” Dottavio said.

Walton, which only this year secured the big land purchases, is still planning what its development will look like and wasn’t contemplating a college campus when Tarleton approached it earlier this year, John Vick, Walton’s regional president-Central U.S., for Walton Development and Management.

“We’re enhancing the entire area, and this is going to help us develop a beautiful master-planned community,” Bill Doherty, the Walton Group’s CEO, said in an interview.¬†

Walton, which has more than 25,000 acres under administration and 18 master-planned communities statewide, was founded by Doherty’s parents. Monday was his mother’s birthday, he noted.

Walton didn’t put a value on its gift Monday and isn’t sure what it is, Vick said.

“Really, this is about Tarleton and this is about Fort Worth,” he said.

It’s not clear yet whether the university will be the property’s first development he said.

“That remains to be seen, the order of development,” he said.

Tarleton has been offering classes in Fort Worth since 1978, including 48 undergraduate and graduate programs. Today, it leases space in the Hickman Building at 6777 Camp Bowie Blvd. and the Schaffer Building at 1501 Enderly Place.

The university, whose main campus is in Stephenville, said it’s seen 10-20 percent enrollment growth in Fort Worth in recent years. It touts its medical laboratory sciences program as “the largest and most prestigious in Texas.”

“Every time we put a program in place, it’s grown very rapidly,” Dottavio said.

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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