June 6, 2014

Consultant: Tear down Fort Worth Convention Center arena

A preliminary report, to be presented to the City Council on Tuesday, says Fort Worth needs a full-size sports, concert and event facility as well as a second convention center hotel.

A consultant recommends that the Fort Worth Convention Center arena and some adjoining meeting space be torn down and replaced with state-of-the-art facilities to attract more and larger events to the city.

Hunden Strategic Partners says Fort Worth “can and should” support its own full-size concert, event and sports arena and also suggests that the city pursue a second convention center hotel. Fort Worth, the report says, is one of the only markets of its size without such a multipurpose arena.

The recommendations are contained in an informal report of its preliminary findings, which will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday.

While an expansion of the convention center 10 years ago and the opening of the Omni Fort Worth Hotel five years ago have attracted larger meetings, Fort Worth could draw even bigger conventions with upgraded facilities, the consultant said.

“Event planners and promoters love the Fort Worth experience, but cannot be accommodated by existing facilities, due to space or quality issues,” the report says. It recommends that the city replace the “obsolete” portions of the convention center with “high-quality, flexible spaces that include a net expansion of exhibit space, a second, large ballroom and new meeting rooms.”

The full report will be presented to the council July 15.

In January, Rob Hunden, president of the Chicago-based firm, spoke at the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau’s annual meeting and said he was likely to suggest that the city make investments in the convention center to help attract bigger meetings and conferences.

The preliminary report also calls for more hotel rooms to serve the convention center, including a possible expansion of the Omni, which is across the street.

Bob Jameson, president and CEO of the visitors bureau, said Friday that the 46-year-old round arena on the north end of the convention center, as well as some annex meeting space that runs along Commerce Street, has caused some constraints in attracting events.

Jameson noted that previous studies by consultants have also called for tearing down the arena.

“Frankly, it hasn’t been functional,” Jameson said. “For the people who use it, it’s great. But there are a lot of dates throughout the year we don’t use it like we could. The arena is long past its prime.”

The arena has long been the annual location for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and has hosted high school graduations, concerts and hockey games over the years.

The city and the visitors bureau retained Hunden for the $150,000 study several months ago. The city completed a $75 million expansion of the center 10 years ago, but the 10,000-seat arena, built in 1968, was left untouched.

The city bought the convention center from Tarrant County in 1997.

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