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Government Will Rogers arena plan moves ahead on Fort Worth council's vote

Will Rogers arena plan moves ahead on Fort Worth council’s vote

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Robert Francis
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.

By Scott Nishimura

snishimura@bizpress.net

The Fort Worth City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday night that put it down the path of building a long-discussed multipurpose arena in the Will Rogers Memorial Center, and potentially razing the outmoded Convention Center Arena downtown and replacing it will modern meeting space.

The vote was a necessary step before the council can call an election on certain kinds of funding for the Will Rogers facility. The resolution says the council supports a public-private partnership and the launch of a search for funds.

The election would be as early as November, Council member Dennis Shingleton, who represents the district, said in an interview last week. Once the city builds the facility, it could then begin work on remodeling and expanding the north end of the Convention Center.

“This is going to be a game-changer” for the city, Shingleton said in making his motion for approval.

“Having a multipurpose facility opens Fort Worth up to being able to attract conventions and events that we don’t have,” said Mike Groomer, CEO of Event Facilities Fort Worth, a nonprofit that has long benefitted the Fort Worth Stock Show and Will Rogers facilities and has agreed to raise 50 percent of the money to build the multipurpose building.

“But equally as important or more important, it’s a pathway for the Convention Center wing expanded,” Groomer said in an interview.

A consultant earlier Tuesday laid out recommendations for the Convention Center that included demolishing or remodeling the arena, adding new ballroom, exhibit and meeting space, building underground parking, and adding a 1,000-room full-service hotel and encouraging a 400-room expansion of the Omni Fort Worth Hotel.

The city expects to push more local business typically hosted by the Convention Center, such as high school graduations, to the Will Rogers facility, letting the Conveniton Center focus on booking business that generates hotel stays.

The city must raise at least 40 percent private funds for the Will Rogers facility to qualify for certain state sources, but the city in the resolution is committing to a 50-50 split.

The estimated cost of the arena hasn’t been determined yet, city officials said.

“I expect it to be high, but I also expect it to be one of the great venues for the city,” Shingleton said last week.

The new Will Rogers arena and support facilities would be built on an existing parking lot at Harley and Gendy streets.

The size and form of the facilities would “complement the architecture of the Will Rogers District,” a copy of the resolution says.

The new arena will be able to host concerts, family shows, sporting events, community and high school sporting events and ceremonies, rodeos, and other agricultural and equestrian shows, city officials say. It would take pressure off of the 5,700-5,900-seat Will Rogers Coliseum and broaden the city’s event draw, city officials have said.

The public money would likely come from multiple sources.

The City Council passed an ordinance several months ago that allows it set aside incremental growth in the city’s hotel taxes derived after 2013 from zones around the Convention Center and Will Rogers to pay for the Convention Center expansion and Will Rogers facility.

“We’ve got five years to get the project started to access those funds,” Susan Alanis, assistant city manager, said in an interview.

Additionally, the resolution authorizes the city to put three sources of funding – and the maximum rates allowed by state law – before voters:

* A tax on tickets sold to events held at the arena, capped at 10 percent of the ticket price;

* A tax on parking in a parking facility that serves the arena, capped at $5 of the total parking charge at the time of the arena’s first public event; 

* A tax on each stall or pen used or occupied by livestock during events at the arena, capped at $1 a day and up to $20 for an event.

Alanis said the goal would be to pay off the city’s share of the arena debt through the extra volume generated by it, and not have to raise rates.

The council could also choose to put all three of the measures before voters, or a combination of them, she said.

The city and business establishment have long backed the construction of a new arena at Will Rogers.

Kirk Slaughter, the city’s special events director and manager of the Convention Center and Will Rogers complex, said it would probably take about three years from when voters approve the funding measures to get the new Will Rogers arena built.

The new arena would “add more flex” to the Will Rogers complex and enable the city go after some of the larger equestrian shows it hasn’t been able to recruit, said Slaughter, Will Rogers’ chief salesman.

Fort Worth has competed chiefly against Oklahoma City and Tulsa for major equestrian shows.

Once voters approve the money, “we’re going to start marketing that arena,” Slaughter said. “Hey, this is the best one ever to be built. Let’s do business here.”

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