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Will life get back to normal in Sundance Square? Downtown Fort Worth tenants say yes

March 30,2020

See full Fort Worth Star-Telegram article by Gordon Dickson here.

Sundance Square is arguably the city’s most pedestrian-friendly, vibrant and photogenic place — a celebration of Fort Worth’s urban core.

But these days, with city and county emergency declarations in place because of the coronavirus, the thriving, 35-square-block section on the north end of downtown Fort Worth resembles a ghost town.

The office buildings that serve as work places during weekday are mostly vacant. The clothing shops and music venues are shuttered. The residential buildings are occupied, but eerily quiet.

Even the restaurants and clubs that make Sundance Square such a desirable destination on nights and weekends have either closed, or converted their operations to carryout and delivery services. While some of the restaurants seem to be doing okay in pivoting to this new focus on takeout food, it doesn’t appear that anyone is getting richer in the process.

But the business owners haven’t lost hope.

So far, none of the restaurant or retail tenants has announced any plans to close up for good — only for as long as the COVID-19 crisis requires.

Mike Micallef, president of the well-known Reata restaurant, is optimistic that pedestrians will once again be soaking up sunshine and sitting next to Sundance Square’s water fountains by summertime.

“I’m not a doctor so I don’t know how long we’re going to have to ‘social distance,’ but we’re hoping things will be back to normal by June 1st,” Micallef said in an email.

“I believe restaurants in downtown could bounce back faster than in other areas of the city,” Micallef said. “Business traffic slowed down/stopped weeks before the city closed the dining rooms. Many of those reservations for the private rooms re-booked for the summertime. Summertime is our slowest time of the year so those sales might not be totally lost, just redistributed to the 2nd and 3rd quarter.”

To help bring in some traffic to downtown, many of the restaurants are offering carryout specials, including family-size meals and cocktails — including bourbon kits and beer six-packs. The switch also allows the restaurants to hang onto as many employees as possible.

Also, most of the eateries are offering half-price specials to police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other uniformed first responders.

Another business, Melt ice cream shop, is partnering with area restaurants to include the frozen treats with family meals. Melt also is offering a “Happiness for Heroes” program in which customers can buy ice cream online for delivery to hospitals and other first-responder care facilities in Fort Worth.

Sundance Square is managed by Henry S Miller Co. under an agreement with Fine Line Diversified Development, which is owned by well-known Fort Worth businessman Ed Bass and wife Sasha Bass.

Sundance Square spokesman Bryan Eppstein declined to say whether the property managers are offering direct benefits to tenants, such as delayed lease payments.

Although many of the businesses are small and locally-owned, there are also chains in Sundance Square. One of them is Cheesecake Factory, which is located at Fourth and Commerce streets, across from the famous Ball Hall concert venue — and Cheesecake Factory’s chairman and chief executive officer has already notified landlords nationwide that it would not be able to make April rent payments, according to the food publication Eater Los Angeles.

The important thing at Sundance Square, Eppstein says, is that property managers are in daily contact with tenants, to make sure that everyone who needs some form of assistance — whether it’s a small business loan, or similar relief — has all the appropriate information about what programs are available.

“They’re working with all the tenants,” Eppstein said, “and protecting their privacy and their individual situations.”

Locations Mentioned: The Cheesecake Factory, Melt Ice Creams, Reata Restaurant, Sundance Square Plaza