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Downtown Fort Worth sees pandemic in its rearview mirror with major developments planned

February 14,2023

See full Fort Worth Report article by Bob Francis and Seth Bodine here.

With a convention center renovation, a new Texas A&M campus, hotels, residences and apartments in the pipeline, Downtown Fort Worth Inc. and other downtown officials think the area is fully moving past its pandemic lows.

That was reflected in the annual State of Downtown Breakfast on Feb. 14. Downtown Fort Worth Inc.’s president, Andy Taft, promised good news and delivered it, reporting $2.3 billion of development in the pipeline for the downtown area. The biggest are the Fort Worth Convention Center renovation and the new Texas A&M campus.

Downtowns across the country have seen a decrease in foot traffic since March 2, 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged nationwide. Since then, Fort Worth has been trying to move past the economic downturn spurred by the pandemic. Last year, Downtown Fort Worth Inc., the downtown management and advocacy organization, city of Fort Worth and Trinity Metro revealed a 10-year strategic plan for downtown’s future.

The budgets for the two major projects are ratcheting up. The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents approved increasing the budget for the Law and Education Building from $85 million to $150 million. Fort Worth officials say the convention center has inflated to twice the estimate in 2019, to $701 million.

Office space is rebounding
Even with COVID-19 and the oil and gas crash, office market occupancy has dropped only a few points according to Downtown Fort Worth Inc. — from 89% in 2012 to 85% today.

Fort Worth also has a lower overall vacancy rate in its Central Business District compared with Dallas — 18.1% versus 28.6% in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to data from Cushman & Wakefield.

“Despite macroeconomic headwinds involving high inflation and rising capital costs, the long-term outlook for the region remains positive, especially compared to other large U.S. metro areas,” wrote Ching-Ting Wang, director of Dallas Fort Worth research at Cushman & Wakefield.

Apartments in high demand downtown
There’s a high demand for housing — rental rates are up 9% since before the pandemic, and there are 2,939 new residential units in the development pipeline. Apartment occupancy rates are hovering at 90%.

According to the latest Census reports, 8,685 residents live in downtown Fort Worth. The housing mix of 5,900 units is made up of about 4,500 apartments, 400 senior residences, and about 900 condos and townhomes, according to Leah Dunn of Leah Dunn Real Estate Group, who spoke at the breakfast.

“We have about 13 units on the market ranging in price from $200,000 to $4 million,” she said.

The median asking price of those properties is $450,000, she said.

“On the horizon, we have nearly 3,000 units that are already planned,” she said. “Things are happening in downtown Fort Worth.”

Downtown hotels a hot commodity
Hotels are going to see a similar boost as residences, with 1,538 hotel rooms planned, an expected increase of 41.6%.

The redevelopment of the Fort Worth Convention Center will lead to even more hotels, said Bob Jameson, president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth, who spoke at the breakfast.

Jameson noted that the Omni Fort Worth is adding 400 rooms and a potential new convention center hotel could bring as many as 1,000 additional rooms.

Locations Mentioned: Fort Worth Convention Center, Omni Fort Worth Hotel, Texas A&M University School of Law