Two years after buying the historic Fort Worth Public Market Building and some adjacent property on Henderson Street, Bob Simpson, the oil-and-gas mogul and co-owner of the Texas Rangers, has sold the property to a real estate investment entity of the billionaire Wilks family in Cisco.
Robert Early, chief financial officer for Wilks Bros., said Kyle Wilks, the son of Farris Wilks who handles the family’s real estate business, negotiated with Simpson for the property.
Farris and Dan Wilks are the West Texas founders of Frac-Tech Services, a hydraulic fracturing and oilfield service company launched in 2002 in Cisco, their hometown. In 2011, they sold Frac-Tech to a Singapore company for $3.5 billion. The company later moved its headquarters to Fort Worth and changed its name to FTS International.
Early said the Wilkses are considering options for the Public Market property at 1400 Henderson St. but have not set a date for work to begin. He said the Wilkses, who started in the masonry business, have the expertise to restore the outside of the building and will renovate the building into something “Fort Worth could be proud of.”
In July 2012, Simpson and his wife, Janice, bought the property through his Morning Star Capital company from Bowen Properties. The Bowens had held the property since 1944. Simpson, who has led the historical restorations of several downtown buildings, said then that he was considering returning the 84-year-old property to its original use as a public market.
Early said the Wilkses will likely restore the building for a business use, not a public marketplace. “We don’t have any intent to tear it down. We’ve got this great opportunity.”
Early said Kyle Wilks told him that Simpson really didn’t want to let the property go but that Wilks “made him some promises. We intend to honor those,” Early said. He did not elaborate.
Joy Webster, vice president of facilities at Morning Star, who has overseen most of Simpson’s restoration projects, said Simpson loved the building but didn’t have a plan yet for it. She said the Wilkses “came in with a good plan. We all feel good about this.”
The deed carries a restriction that the main building can’t be demolished and the outside cannot be materially changed before June 12, 2084. The sale to the Wilkses took place June 11, deed records show.
Webster said Simpson “just felt like he had to put his own layer of protection” on the deal.
In 1980, the property was listed as a Texas historic landmark and in 1984 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which carry certain protections. Historic Fort Worth has listed it on its most-endangered places list in 2008 and 2011.
Simpson has been recognized nationally for his restoration work on several buildings while he was chairman and chief executive of XTO Energy, including the W.T. Waggoner Building, the former Baker Building, which was renamed the Bob R. Simpson Building in 2005 and the former Transport Life Building. He is currently restoring the former Star-Telegram building at Seventh and Taylor streets for his Morning Star firm.
The Public Market has been vacant since 2004. In September 2010, fire destroyed the L-shaped shed behind the main building, which decades ago housed farmers’ stalls. At its peak, the Public Market had space for 145 farmer or vendor stalls and 30 permanent retail shops. Farmers pulled their trucks into the shed and displayed their produce on tables.
Simpson is one of the primary owners of the Texas Rangers baseball club. In 2010, he oversaw the sale of XTO Energy to Exxon Mobil for $35 billion.
Last year, the Wilkses’ real estate company bought 122 acres in the Solana Business Park in Southlake out of foreclosure. Early said the company has some ideas for the land, but no work has started there. The undeveloped acreage is on the north side of Texas 114 at Kirkwood Boulevard near the Sabre Holdings campus.