FORT WORTH — Developers want to transform the neglected historic Mule Barns in the Fort Worth Stockyards into 180,000 square feet of restaurant, shopping and office space as part of a master plan that also proposes outdoor festival and event areas. Details of the redevelopment project, which encompasses 70 acres and about 800,000 square feet of new space, were revealed Tuesday by Fort Worth’s Hickman family and California-based Majestic Realty Group, which own the property. The plan shows a hotel proposed along Marine Creek near Main and NE 23rd streets, an animal exhibition area, several parking areas, office buildings and areas set aside for residential development.
The plan also proposes upgrades to Stockyards Station, redeveloping the historic auction barn and scale house behind the Live Stock Exchange Building, and keeping a large portion of the cattle pen for a livestock demonstration area on the north side of East Exchange Avenue.The plan was presented to a city task force working to develop design guidelines for redevelopment in the historic district. The standards will regulate such things as building design and materials, architectural style, parking and walkway design, signage and landscaping and lighting.
The developers hope the detailed plan will allay fears from preservationists who believed the group wanted to make wholesale changes or perhaps tear down historic structures as part of the project.The developers said they are committed to improving the decades-old infrastructure and want to increase the education, entertainment and cultural programming of the Stockyards.
“We’re not tearing any of our buildings down,” said Craig Cavileer, Majestic’s executive vice president. “We want to broaden the brand down here. We’re going to bring those buildings back and take care of them.”
But, he said, they’re not sure how many of the 72 cattle pens they will be able save, or the ruins of some industrial buildings that were once part of Swift & Co. operations east of Niles City Boulevard. “This is a creative work in progress” Cavileer said. “The Stockyards have evolved over the past 10 to 20 years and so will our master plan” John Roberts, chairman of Historic Fort Worth, said knowing the developers won’t tear down historic structures makes him feel better about the project, but he wants to wait for more details before forming an opinion. “The only thing I’m concerned about, they’re going to do adaptive reuse of the mule barns” Roberts said. “What do they actually have in store for those? Overall this could be a good plan, but then again, I’d like to see more” Philip Murrin, a member of the task force and a Stockyards property owner who has opposed the proposed development, said the plan “shows commitment to preserving buildings,” and “is a great starting point.” But he hopes the architecture and design captures the authenticity of the Stockyards.
‘Great first look’
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price called the presentation “a great first look” at the project and liked the cultural and educational programming that is planned. “I’m pleased with what we’ve seen so far,” Price said. The task force began meeting in May and is expected to have its work completed by the end of August. More than a year ago, the Fort Worth City Council approved tax incentives for the planned $175 million project. Zoning changes in and around the Stockyards were later approved and a tax increment finance district has been set up. TIFs direct the taxes generated by development into the district to be used for a project.
The plan proposes turning an area north of Stockyards Boulevard and east of Main Street, adjacent to Cooper’s Old Time Bar-B-Que restaurant, into trailer parking. That land is owned by Stockyards 2000, a limited partnership of Brad Hickman and other Stockyards investors and business owners Billy Minick, Don Jury and Steve Murrin, according to state records. Overall, the plan calls for about 20 new buildings and lots of green space, including a large tract running from Exchange Avenue north to Stockyards Boulevard. Most of the residential development, likely apartments, is planned for east of Niles City Boulevard and north of NE 23rd Street.
The proposed project is already attracting potential tenants. Dave Munson, president of Saddleback Leather Co., who founded the fine leather goods company in 2003, said he’s committed to opening a store in the new Stockyards development, saying the area is a perfect way to reach the millions of Western enthusiasts and visitors to north Fort Worth. The company recently moved from San Antonio and operates a factory near Golden Triangle Boulevard and Highway 377. A Stockyards location would be the company’s first brick and mortar store. Its goods are now sold online.
‘Real and authentic’
“The Stockyards were just perfect,” for their first location, Munson said. “We’re real and authentic. We’re just waiting for the development to get going. The more you add to the higher quality of the Stockyards, the more people will come. I’m really protective of my brand.” The American Paint Horse Association, the official registry of the Paint Horse, is also considering a retail location in the new development. The site would complement its headquarters off Meacham Boulevard near Loop 820 and Interstate 35W and allow the group to tap into the area’s 3 million annual visitors, said Billy Smith, the association’s executive director.
The group has been in Fort Worth since its founding in 1962 and has 50,000 members in the U.S. and 40 countries. “We have been paying attention to what’s been going on,” Smith said. “We are exploring a presence in the Stockyards and that could be a lot of things. A presence in the Stockyards could open up some opportunities. We didn’t want this opportunity to pass without exploring it.” The National Cutting Horse Association and cable television network RFD-TV based in Nashville are also said to be looking at locations in the Majestic-Hickman development.
Bob Jameson, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Fort Worth “has a proud history of balancing preservation and progress. The growing number of visitors to Fort Worth loves the Stockyards but we need to offer them even more to experience. Development is happening all across the city, and the Stockyards represents a unique opportunity.” The Hickman family has owned a large portion of the Historic Stockyards since the 1980s and has done some redevelopment, including turning the sheep and hog pens into the Stockyards Station shopping, restaurant and meeting venue. It entered into the joint venture with Majestic Realty last year. The Hickmans do not own property at the iconic Main Street and Exchange Avenue intersection, or any buildings on the north side of East Exchange Avenue.
In June, the National Historic Fort Worth Stockyards District was added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Most Endangered Historic Places list. The district was nominated by the nonprofit Historic Fort Worth, which said it wants to protect the Stockyards character in the face of planned developments. Many structures in the Stockyards carry local and state historic designations, but those do not prevent property owners from razing the buildings. Majestic Realty was founded in 1948 by Ed Roski Sr. His son, Ed Roski Jr., heads the company today and was in Fort Worth this week touring the project. Majestic, with a portfolio of 72 million square feet of commercial space, is the largest commercial real estate developer in the U.S. Roski Jr. is the co-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Kings, and developed the Staples Center and L.A. Live, a $2.5 billion entertainment complex adjacent to the arena in Los Angeles.
Fort Worth Star Telegram – Sandra Baker