The Fort Worth Stockyards has been placed alongside the Grand Canyon and sacred Native American land in Arizona as one of America’s most endangered historic places by the nation’s top preservation organization.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation says the Stockyards historic district, “one of the most distinctive historic sites in Texas,” is threatened by the planned $175 million development project proposed by a joint venture of Fort Worth’s Hickman family and California-based Majestic Realty.
The Majestic group said it wants to build hotels, residential units, shopping and entertainment venues on 70 acres it controls but has not yet disclosed specific plans.
“As insensitive development threatens this historically significant place, we believe the local preservation community should be part of the city’s dialogue about the district’s future,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, in a statement.
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“San Antonio has the Alamo, Houston has the Astrodome, and Fort Worth has its stockyards. This historic district attracts millions of visitors each year to experience Fort Worth’s emergence as a center of the American livestock industry. A large-scale redevelopment project would forever alter the character of the Stockyards Historic District.”
Since 1988, the National Trust has added more than 250 places to its annual list spotlighting architectural, cultural and natural heritage sites that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. The Grand Canyon, sacred Native American land called Oak Flat in Superior, Ariz., and the old U.S. Mint in San Francisco built in 1874 are also on the 2015 list of 11 properties being released today.
Jerre Tracy, executive director of Historic Fort Worth, which nominated the Stockyards, said making the list was “a happy surprise.” She said the group hopes it will create new awareness surrounding the proposed development in the district on North Main Street and Exchange Avenue.
“It’s Fort Worth’s core identity,” Tracy said. “And it’s very important. It’s validating to have a national group single something out in your city.”
A year ago, the Fort Worth City Council approved property and sales tax incentives for the so-called Stockyards Heritage project, and approved zoning changes in the Stockyards District. Under the new zoning, development site plans will require city staff approvals. Council members have vowed to protect the Stockyards and its character.
The City Council later set up a 15-member task force of civic and city leaders that has been meeting for several months with a consultant to establish design guidelines for the Historic Stockyards. Those meetings have often been contentious when the issue of historic preservation is brought up. The task force is scheduled to complete its work by the end of August. The developer is expected to share its concept plan with the task force at its July 29 meeting.
Task force members and others are concerned that the design standards, which cover such things as building heights and architectural styles, will not go far enough to protect historic structures. Some argue that form-based codes, or regulations that guide building, and an historic overlay district in the Stockyards are needed to add further protections.
The Stockyards is listed as a National Register Historic District, but less than 10 percent of the buildings are protected from demolition through local designation.
“The establishment of a local historic district would be the most effective solution to the threat of insensitive development,” the National Trust said.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said the Stockyards are nationally and locally recognized.
“Being ranked on the National Trust’s list serves as a reminder that the community must continue to work collaboratively on the future of the Stockyards,” Price said. “We must respect and honor its past and balance the individual property rights in ways that ensure that we will have this true Fort Worth gem for generations to come.”
Craig Cavileer, a Majestic executive vice president overseeing the Stockyards project, said his firm and the Hickmans’ “share the enthusiasm and the excitement about the Stockyards. We think it’s a real treasure.”
In May, Historic Fort Worth put the Stockyards on its Most Endangered Places list. It was first added to the list in 2012.
The Hickman family has owned property in the Stockyards since the late 1980s and has redeveloped some of that property, including the portion called Stockyards Station. It now wants to pursue additional development on its property, primarily east of Main Street.
Beth Wiedower, a senior field officer in the National Trust’s Houston office, said the Stockyards nomination was among hundreds reviewed for the list. It was chosen because of the significant amount of development proposed, she said.
Wiedower called the Fort Worth Stockyards the nation’s best example of the cattle industry. “It put Fort Worth on the map,” she said.
Adding the Stockyards to the list doesn’t mean development should stop or can’t be done, she said. Rather its inclusion should be seen as an avenue to open up more conversations about the tools in place that protect its historic resources. She cited the use of federal and state historic tax incentives as an option.
The National Trust wants to encourage what is done is “smart and respectful” of the historic district, she said.
The Stockyards is the first Fort Worth property to make the list. Other Texas properties have included the Astrodome, Fair Park’s Centennial Buildings, Historic Texas Courthouses and the Statler Hilton Hotel and eight historic neighborhoods in Dallas.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation was created in 1949 in the Truman administration and was instrumental in the passage of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act. The organization owns 28 historic sites nationwide and today relies on private-sector contributions for support.
Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727
America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places (in alphabetical order):
A.G. Gaston Motel — Birmingham, Ala. This motel played host to Martin Luther King and served as a “war room” for leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Now vacant and badly deteriorating, it can be restored as part of a new Civil Rights center.
Carrollton Courthouse — New Orleans, La. Built to serve Jefferson Parish before the city of Carrollton was annexed by New Orleans in 1874, this is one of the most significant landmarks outside of the French Quarter. After decades of use as a school building, it is now vacant and for sale with no preservation protections in place.
Chautauqua Amphitheater — Chautauqua, N.Y. A beloved National Historic Landmark that has occupied a special place in American culture for well over 100 years, the “Amp” is threatened by the Chautauqua Institution’s plans to demolish it.
East Point Historic Civic Block — East Point, Ga. East Point City Hall, City Auditorium, City Library and Victory Park form a contiguous block that has been the heart of downtown East Point since the 1930s, but is currently suffering a potential fate of demolition by neglect.
Fort Worth Stockyards — Fort Worth, Texas. This historic district attracts millions of visitors each year to experience Fort Worth’s emergence as a center of the American livestock industry. A large-scale redevelopment project would forever alter the character of the stockyards historic district.
The Grand Canyon — Ariz. A beloved international icon and a sacred place for several Native American tribes, the Grand Canyon is threatened by development proposals ranging from tourist resorts to mining.
Little Havana — Miami, Fla. A symbol of the immigrant experience and the American melting pot, Little Havana’s scale and character is threatened by zoning changes and lack of protection for its many historic buildings.
Oak Flat — Superior, Arizona. A sacred site to the San Carlos Apache and several other Native American tribes, Oak Flat is threatened due to a land exchange provision included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 that would open the site up to mining.
Old U.S. Mint — San Francisco, Calif. A National Historic Landmark built in 1874 and one of the very few downtown buildings to survive the 1906 earthquake and fire, the Old U.S. Mint is increasingly at risk as decades of neglect and inattention take their toll.
South Street Seaport — New York, N.Y. The focal point of the early maritime industry in New York, the South Street Seaport today features some of the oldest architecture in the city. A tower and other development proposals threaten to dramatically alter a historic neighborhood that has endured for generations.
The Factory — West Hollywood, Calif. The Factory was built in 1929 to house the Mitchell Camera Corp. After being adapted to serve many other uses, The Factory reopened in 1974 as Studio One, an influential disco for gay men that became a hotbed for celebrity performances and AIDS activism.
Source: National Trust for Historic Preservation