Gary Pille is aware of the impact the Will Rogers Auditorium, Coliseum and Pioneer Tower have on Fort Worth.
Built in 1936, the coliseum is home to the iconic Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo that attracts a million visitors to the city every year. And the 200-foot-tall tower is a Cultural District landmark that has burned its way into the hearts of many on the city’s near west side.
But Pille believes the new $540 million Dickies Arena — which is about 17 percent completed and expects its superstructure to top out in December — will have a similar culture-changing influence on Fort Worth’s urban landscape.
“I’ve got to believe that the impact of this will compare to what the Will Rogers had when it was built,” said Pille, a project executive for Beck, the construction firm. “It can only become a project of that magnitude.”
The 14,000-seat multipurpose arena, scheduled to open in late 2019, is being built by a public-private partnership with Event Facilities Fort Worth, a nonprofit headed by billionaire Ed Bass. The city’s contribution is capped at $225 million, with the rest of the funding coming through various foundations, individuals and organizations.
The arena, which will become the new home for the Stock Show Rodeo starting in 2020, eventually will host a variety of events including concerts and sporting contests like the first and second rounds of the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, who can often be seen at the Stock Show in a white cowboy hat and black boots, said “a whole new generation of children and young adults will make memories” at the arena.
Making those memories possible has taken a lot of hard work — and planning.
Long before the project broke ground in February, years of planning went into the design and selection of materials. The arena’s architecture mirrors the Will Rogers Auditorium and the accompanying tower, including the cupola that will grace the ridgeline of the roof. Brick layers are still creating miniature mockups of the building’s exterior to allow the architects to check the design and color.
Then, there’s the challenge of coordinating the mind-boggling logistics of getting the arena built.
For most of the year, workers at the site southwest of the existing Will Rogers seem to be racing as swiftly as a stallion in a barrel race. With dust flying, cranes swinging and whistles blowing, the arena has been built like the stages of a wedding cake.
Roughly 600 people come to the job site every day, a number that is expected to swell to about 1,000 as work continues. Workers now are busily installing the plinths, or bases, for the steel trusses that are currently being fabricated in Oklahoma and steelworkers will begin installing in December.
“It is a very aggressive pace in terms of speed of construction,” Pille said, who has worked for Beck for 39 years and directed other big projects including the Kimbell Art Museum’s Renzo Piano Pavilion nearby. Pille said the “geometry of an arena” makes it a challenge.
When the arena is completed, it will have 8,400 tons of reinforcing steel and 85,000 cubic yards of concrete, enough to have built a 50-story building. At one point, there were six pier-drilling rigs working at the same time grinding out 60-inch-diameter shafts, 60 feet deep into the earth as part of the building’s foundation. But that was only the beginning. There are about 1,000 piers in the arena. Most large projects like office buildings will have about 200.
“That is five times the number of piers ... the scale of the building is just so large,” Pille said.
Speeding through the construction doesn’t not mean Pille and others aren’t minding the details.
In off-site warehouses, mockups of the finishing touches such as the millwork, handrails, flooring and lighting have been built. On the top floor of the recently completed six-level, 2,200-space parking garage, a sale center is being completed with models of rodeo boxes and other seating in the arena.
Bass, who is riding herd over the arena’s construction for the nonprofit, is a frequent visitor. He comes to the construction site at least once a month and double and triple checks everything, repeating the approach he took when the Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall was being built downtown.
“He is so into the details,” said Bill Shaw, director of operations for Multipurpose Arena Fort Worth. “He wants a building Fort Worth can be proud of and Fort Worth can enjoy.”
While generations of Stock Show rodeo patrons are fond of the Will Rogers, despite its outdated and dingy attributes — the show moved there from the Stockyards coliseum in 1945 — Pille says he thinks that Dickies Arena will be able to lasso even the toughest critic.
“It will be a big change from the Will Rogers,” Pille said. Still, he believes “some cowboys from West Texas will walk in and go, ‘Wow!’”