Texas A&M, Fort Worth accelerate timetable for downtown campus
See full Fort Worth Report article by Bob Francis here.
The massive Texas A&M University project coming to downtown Fort Worth is on an accelerated timetable that could see the three-building project completed in the next six to seven years.
Texas A&M and city of Fort Worth officials have set up a financing plan for the project that cuts the time needed to build the project nearly in half, according to Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp.
“This allows us to get all this stuff built within five years instead of 10-plus years,” Sharp told the Fort Worth Report.
Texas A&M officials said that when they looked at the capital needs for the university system, which is 11 universities and eight state agencies, they realized they could allocate money for a building on the campus, but then they would have to wait for additional capital funding from the Permanent University fund. That might take 15 years, according to Texas A&M officials.
“We didn’t want that, the city didn’t want that and the county didn’t want that,” Sharp said.
The school wants to break ground on the first building in June of next year, he said.
The city will set up a local government corporation and use bonds to finance two buildings of the complex — the research and innovation building and the “gateway” building, while Texas A&M will handle the law and education building and the plaza. Fort Worth officials said they expect to set up the special corporation by the end of the year.
The overall project is estimated to cost about $350 million.
Plans for the plaza and the buildings are still being developed, according to city and Texas A&M officials.
The city released a request for proposal in September and set a deadline of Nov. 16 to receive proposals on the project. Texas A&M officials expect to release an RFP for their portion of the project later this year, probably in November.
The city will issue bonds to pay for its part of the project, but Texas A&M will guarantee the bonds, meaning taxpayers will not see any impact from the project, according to Texas A&M and city officials.
“We’re going to pay the debt with debt service, and we’ll also have other partners that are paying it, but at the end of the day, we’re responsible for the debt,” said Sharp. The city of Fort Worth and Texas A&M announced the estimated $350 million project in November 2021, with businessman John Goff calling it a “game-changer” at the time. Goff and JP MorganChase Dallas regional chairman Elaine Agather are head of Fort Worth Now, an economic development group that worked with Texas A&M to land the project.
“I am thrilled with both the pace and increased scope of the campus development,” said Goff.
The announcement by Texas A&M of the Fort Worth campus has already drawn interest from companies – which he did not disclose – considering relocating to Fort Worth, Goff said. He also noted that several existing area companies are looking at how to interact with the expertise Texas A&M is bringing to the new campus.
“I am more confident than ever that this will change the pace and scope of Fort Worth’s economic growth,” he said.
Sharp said the project is going to be transformative, not just for Texas A&M, but for Fort Worth and businesses here.
“We really are excited about what’s fixing to happen in Fort Worth,” he said.
The Texas A&M project is getting underway just as the city is remodeling and refurbishing the Fort Worth Convention Center and the $217 million expansion of the Omni Hotel Fort Worth, also in the area.
The Texas A&M Fort Worth campus in relation to Fort Worth Convention Center. (Courtesy of RFP from city of Fort Worth)
“There’s a whole cascading effect to what’s happening in this area,” said Robert B. Ahdieh, dean of the Texas A&M Law School.
In August, Texas A&M leased over 10,000 square feet of space in the Burnett Plaza building as the system grows its Fort Worth footprint.
Several member institutions have or will move into the space, including Texas A&M AgriLife, Texas Division of Emergency Management, Texas A&M Engineering, the Mays Business School and Tarleton State University. These Texas A&M System members will be among the first entities to join the Texas A&M University School of Law as part of planned expansion into Fort Worth.
Kevin Starbuck, Texas Division of Emergency Management’s assistant chief of Region 1, will lead his team in the new space as soon as it is ready. Emergency Management personnel will work on issues such as mitigation, recovery and preparedness. Region 1, which covers 42 counties from North Central Texas to the piney woods of East Texas, will focus largely on flooding, tornadoes, wildfires, drought and homeland security-related issues.
Joining Emergency Management, Texas A&M AgriLife’s Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Evidence Center also will be one of the first tenants in the leased space. The group will help policymakers reach science-informed solutions for addressing malnutrition and diet-related chronic disease.
“People from A&M want to be here,” said Ahdeih. “That’s a great situation for Fort Worth to be in. They’re getting here as soon as they can.”
The new Texas A&M campus is to be constructed around the current location of the Texas A&M Law School at 1515 Commerce St. The law school, housed in a former Southwestern Bell call switching facility, will be razed and replaced with a new building serving as an entryway to the campus. Texas A&M acquired the law school from Texas Wesleyan University in 2013.
Two buildings, the Texas A&M System Research and Innovation Center and the new Law and Education Building, will be located on land owned by the school on Calhoun Street. According to the RFP from the city, the site where the law school building current sits will become a gateway building for the school.
Texas A&M officials said the ultimate plans for the school could change as interest grows in the project.
Since the project was first announced, Sharp said, other companies and organizations in Fort Worth have expressed interest in being involved in the project. Texas A&M and Tarrant County College launched a partnership this fall that is aimed at creating more engineers.
“It obviously created some excitement,” he said.
Sharp said several Texas A&M colleges and schools also have expressed an interest in being part of the Fort Worth campus.
“They come to us saying, ‘I want to be in Fort Worth.’ The excitement is not just in Fort Worth. It’s here in College Station, too,” said Sharp.
Location Mentioned: Texas A&M University School of Law