Opposition builds against major Stockyards development

Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX), 2014-06-09

June 09 -- Fort Worth City Council Sal Espino said he will move forward with the proposed $175 million redevelopment of a large portion of the city's Historic Stockyards at Tuesday night's council meeting unless a "compelling reason" is brought up to delay it.

The proposed development by the Hickman family, who own a large portion of the Stockyards, and Majestic Realty Co. of California , the largest privately held real estate company in the country, is drawing concern from several long-time boosters who are urging the council to postpone awarding economic incentives Tuesday.

The project could bring two more hotels, residences and livestock auctions to the historic district.

"This is going to be a public, open and transparent process. I am certainly going to listen to everyone and everyone has the right to express their opinion at City Hall , but I believe with the design and development standards we can continue to protect the history of the Stockyards," said Espino, who represents that area of Fort Worth .

But Steve Murrin , a former City Councilman and longtime supporter of the Stockyards unofficially as the "mayor of the Stockyards," said he is concerned that the historic character of the Stockyards could be lost if the city doesn't get some assurances from the Hickman family and Majestic.

"I can only go by what Majestic has done in other developments," Murrin said. "National tenants in a large commercial shopping center is their expertise. If it's just a commercial shopping center that's called the Stockyards, I would worry that we would be losing the uniqueness of the Fort Worth Stockyards that we have maintained to this point."

Former Fort Worth City Manager Doug Harman , a history buff and former Fort Worth Convention and Visitor's Bureau executive director, said in an email to the Star-Telegram and others that he wants the council to delay any approval.

"I have never known where a city government has given such sweeping redevelopment powers over a historic district with so little oversight, regulation and advanced public notice!" Harman wrote. "I am deeply disappointed in the city staff and city council because this proposed action reflects a serious lack of concern and understanding about the importance of the Stockyards national historic district."

"A delay is imperative. But the concerned leaders need to map out what should be accomplished during a possible delay," he added.

Project a "significant investment"

The Hickman's project would involve three phases and includes property on the north and south sides of Exchange Avenue between Northeast 23rd and Northeast 28th streets, and the former Swift-Armour packing plant area east of Packers Avenue .

They are asking the city for an economic development incentive worth $26 million over 25 years and to establish a tax increment finance district in the Stockyards. There are certain criteria on investments and construction spending that must be met to receive the full incentive.

Espino said the developer will be required to work with staff and council on design guidelines to preserve the historic nature of the Stockyards.

"We are going to have design guidelines and develop standards to preserve the western feel of the Stockyards and certainly that will be required in this development," Espino said. "This is the first step. The project, as it continues, will be vetted by staff and council."

Espino called the project a "significant investment" that could be a catalyst for further development in that area of town.

Gary Brinkley , spokesman for Brad Hickman , said in a statement that the Hickman family has invested over $1 million in preserving the Livestock Exchange Building and invested another $1 million to purchase a historical cowboy lifestyle wagon collection and the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame collection and relocated both to the Historic Stockyards.

"The Holt Hickman Family has spent 25 years enhancing and preserving the western culture of the Fort Worth Stockyards. ... We have always been committed to the western heritage and culture of the Stockyards and will continue our longstanding commitment with our development partners, Majestic Realty Co. ," he said in a statement.

Representatives from Majestic, headed by Ed Roski Jr ., would not comment on the issue, but last week, Craig Cavileer , Majestic Realty's executive vice president, said the Stockyards are already an international brand.

"It's already iconic, the theme is already determined, the culture is already determined, " Cavileer said. "We just have infrastructure that's been completely neglected for 60 years."

Brad Hickman , a vice president of the Hickman Cos ., said the partnership with Majestic -- to be called Fort Worth Heritage Development LLC -- will be an equal joint venture. The two entities have been working on the project for 2 1/2 years, he said last week.

Billy and Pam Minick , two Stockyard stars in their own rights and partners in Billy Bob's Texas , also supported the proposed project in letters and emails to the council saying

"We have had the opportunity to see first-hand several projects that Majestic has developed and are impressed with their attention to detail and their respect for the architecture in each area," the Minicks wrote. "We are proud to consider Holt and Ed our good friends and have no doubt they and their teams embody all that Fort Worth and the Stockyards could hope for."

Jay Chapa , director of the city's housing and economic development department, in presenting the proposed development agreement to the council last week, said some areas of the Stockyards "need some significant work." Much of the tax incentive would go toward the needed infrastructure improvements.

Maintaining character

In a letter to the City Council , C.K. Reid of Double R Rodeo Company , urged council members to protect what is unique about the Stockyards. Reid runs the Stockyard Rodeo.

"Council members, as you well know 3.5 million visitors come to the Stockyards each year to see real livestock and real cowboys," Reid wrote. "This new wave of development for Fort Worth is needed and welcome, but not at the expense of potentially lost heritage and, in a location encroaching upon a National Historic District . With the decline and closing of the Kansas City Stockyards in 1991, the Fort Worth Stockyards now holds the responsibility of serving as the only remaining example of a legitimate, historically accurate district of western commerce in America."

And Reid reminded the council that this space is needed to maintain that character.

"On an average Friday and Saturday night, the rodeo contestant parking is vital to the survival of Cowtown Coliseum's Stockyards Championship Rodeo," Reid said. "On average 11,000 contestants come to the rodeo each year. We need to make sure that these customers of the Stockyards have the ability not only to park their vehicles and trailers, but also have sufficient space to unload their stock and get them to the venue safely."

"Please delay the vote until you and the council have enough convincing information from the developers that they have --and will -- address the current and long established logistics required to maintain the success of this significant part of the Fort Worth Stockyards," he wrote.

Murrin said he spoke to Holt Hickman about his concerns but is still worried that there isn't enough in place to guarantee the historic character and space will be guaranteed.

"Holt told me that's what he likes too," Murrin said. "But he's turned it over to his son and daughter and I question whether they have the same commitment to sacrificing maximum income to get the authentic atmosphere."

Murrin acknowledged that there is nothing to prevent the Hickmans from going forward with the development but the city's only hope is postponing the vote to get more guarantees.

"It's the only leverage they've got," Murrin said.

This report includes information from Star-Telegram archives.

Caty Hirst , 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst


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