New Texas A&M Campus, Convention Center Expansion Expected To Lead To Downtown Boom
See full Fort Worth Report article by Kristen Barton here.
Anthracite Realty Partners President Laura Bird has worked in downtown Fort Worth since 1991. She has witnessed it grow and develop across those three decades; almost four years ago, she and her husband’s company added to the iconic skyline by building the Frost Tower.
The building, opened in May 2018, was the first high-rise added to downtown by a Fort Worth-based firm in over 40 years.
Before building the Frost Tower, the realty business was a tenant at the Fort Worth Club. When it was time for Anthracite Realty to move out, she said, they looked all over town. They wanted to stay downtown because of the central location to the city and their clients.
“We went into the suburbs, we went north, west, southwest, and just decided that downtown was the happening place,” Bird said. “And there was such security in downtown, and I really feel like Fort Worth was ahead of this whole downtown revitalization curve. And that’s what we were so excited about, was to be part of that.”
However, downtown offices at the time couldn’t support what they needed in terms of technology, Bird said, so their company’s vision grew bigger. In 2015, Anthracite and Stream Realty Partners announced the 25-story, 278,000-square-foot tower at 640 Taylor St.
Since Frost Tower opened, downtown’s fortunes have sagged under the weight of the pandemic. However, Bird and other business leaders see a renaissance on the horizon.
Recent announcements, led by the Texas A&M Law School selecting Fort Worth as its new campus site and the city using COVID relief funds to expand the convention center, are expected to spur economic growth on downtown’s south side.
Downtown Fort Worth Inc. President Andy Taft said the law school will change the landscape of the area and the culture of higher education in Fort Worth. With a college campus comes college students and student housing.
Additionally, the school will generate students who could start their own businesses and stay in Fort Worth. The development will generate hotels, conferences and enhance the area to make it more attractive for companies.
The convention center overhaul will bring many more people to visit, some of whom might never have seen Fort Worth otherwise, Taft said. Convention centers are at the frontline of economic development, he said. When people come to town for a conference, they stay in hotels, shop, visit local restaurants, contributing to the local economy.
“You can’t buy that kind of advertising, and a convention center this busy that’s bringing people in all throughout the year — that level of outreach to people, export of good impressions and good experiences is invaluable,” he said.
And all that is just the beginning.
The A&M campus and convention center will fill up other spaces, which will lead to more pedestrian traffic, Visit Fort Worth CEO and President Bob Jameson said.
“We haven’t necessarily seen that before, or at least not at the level that we will when these are done,” Jameson said. “All of that suggests or creates energy, vibrancy, the fact that we’re taking these steps is getting people’s attention. And all of that elevates the profile of the city.”
The business district downtown has the highest mass of office space in the city. The more office space that can be added downtown, the more the city can grow and improve, Taft said.
The gross office space rented and occupied downtown did not drop too significantly in the pandemic, although there was a decline in 2020, Taft said.
Aside from business, more housing is expected to come to downtown. Taft said developers are looking at downtown Fort Worth as a possible spot for more luxury, high-rise apartments like the Deco 969 complex. The Deco apartments located at 969 Commerce St., will feature 27 stories with 302 units that will be a mix of apartments and penthouses. Construction, which expected to take two years to complete, started in October.
As more people come downtown, there will be a natural need for more public transit. Transit always is evolving to meet the needs of the city, Taft said.
With those needs, is there a chance the rail car could become a possibility in Fort Worth again?
“As we grow the number of jobs and residents in the core and transit demand increases, we should see more transit service and additional transit options,” he said. “The streetcar idea will have its day at the intersection of higher density, development cluster growth, congestion, parking pressure in the form of both availability and cost, funding sources and public will.”
President of Red Oak Realty Jack Clark is excited about everything happening downtown, and the Texas A&M campus will help drive up property value in the area, he said.
“The more multifamily you put into a denser area downtown, the more it’s going to drive those people to say, ‘Why am I living downtown, getting in a car and driving to West Fort Worth or Dallas or Arlington or wherever?’” Clark said.
This means people will either want to work for a business downtown or convince their company to move, he said.
Taft said there are 661 multifamily units recently completed downtown, 928 currently under construction and 340 in the pipeline. He also said there are significant additional developments the city is pursuing that are not yet public.
More than 10,000 residents live in downtown Fort Worth, Taft said. In 20 years, he sees the possibility of that number doubling.
This downtown development will help the local economy, Clark said.
“(A&M’s) adding the research centers and the companies that could be a part of that. It’s an element of doubt of Fort Worth that we just don’t have right now,” Clark said. “Not putting any shade against TCU or UTA or Tarrant County College — we all need other partners here — and it’s just announced the new shiny toy, and it’s a big toy so it’s going to be very important for us. I just see it all driving; I don’t see that slowing down at all. And there’s plenty of opportunity downtown.”
Three other large projects make up downtown and its future growth: Butler Place, Sundance Square and Panther Island.
Butler Place is a public housing project that was built in 1940 on a triangle of land between U.S. 287, Interstate 35W and Interstate 30 to house Black families. Now, Fort Worth Housing Solutions is redeveloping it, and the families who were living there have been moved.
One of the biggest attractions of downtown, the Sundance Square Plaza, reopened this summer after the COVID-19 pandemic caused it to shut down. In November, a Christmas tree went up in the plaza, and it could bring more people back to downtown after the lockdown.
The Panther Island project, a $1 billion investment rerouting part of the Trinity River, also is part of downtown’s rebirth and was recently drawn out of Congresswoman Kay Granger’s district. The new district leaves questions for the future of the project.
More hotels also are in talks to join downtown.
“As downtown continues to grow and flourish, it just makes those businesses more successful and paves the way for additional hotel inventory to come online, down the road, so success breeds success,” Jameson said.
Incentivizing downtown development
As more of downtown is developed, the city’s tax incentive program helps more developers want to come to Fort Worth.
The city is able to provide specific incentives to downtown development, Economic Development Director Robert Sturns said. The Chapter 380 policy allows for a grant program for a new commercial office going into a business building. In Texas, Chapter 380 allows local government to provide loans or grants of public money to promote local economic development, such as downtown redevelopment.
There also is a provision for free development parking lots that add tax revenue on property that would not be on the site. If developers wanted to redevelop an existing surface lot, they would be eligible for a grant.
“Downtown continues to be an area of focus for us,” Sturns said. “A lot of energy right now is really focused on the southern edge of downtown given the hotel development that has been occurring in the area and the upcoming renovation of the convention center.”
All of this adds up to making Bird delighted to have Frost Tower a key part of downtown. When she selected downtown as the future office space for her company, Bird said, her vision for downtown was a walkable and safe city.
“And it just keeps getting better and better,” she said. “It’s just exciting and it’s bringing new life. We’re really thrilled with the current development in the last six months or so. The transformative projects that they’re talking about — the Texas A&M campus, the convention center, the high-end apartment projects that are going in. All of those are just really going to position downtown Fort Worth to take off in the next five to 10 years.”