Not everyone is as gung-ho about the proposed 14,000-seat arena as the city leaders who hope to have it finished in the Cultural District by 2019.
The $450 million project, touted by well-known figures like Mayor Betsy Price and businessman Ed Bass as a “game changer” for Fort Worth, is drawing some concerns from area neighborhoods in advance of the Nov. 4 election.
Jessica Redman, president of the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association, said residents are worried that the arena, to be located at the southeast corner of Harley Avenue and Gendy Street, would put pressure on neighborhood streets, could cause parking woes and increase the number of bars in the area.
“We know we are going to be inundated with people who want to park in Arlington Heights and go to an event at the arena,” Redman said.
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The neighborhood association has created a task force to study the potential problems and is in meetings with city officials to work out solutions, but Redman is worried because the residents had to approach the city with their concerns, first.
“If you are going to put up a new arena, you need to figure this stuff out before you build it,” she said.
Councilman Dennis Shingleton, whose district includes the neighborhood and the arena, said the current parking solution is for the neighborhood association to issue on-street permits to homeowners as needed. Cars without the permits would be towed, Shingleton said.
“The arena opening is several years away. We have several years to work on these issues,” Shingleton said. “Let’s get this thing passed, let’s get it on the books, let’s get started and then we will address these issues.
“No one is going to let these neighborhoods down,” he said. “I’ve never let them down yet and I’m not going to let them down. This is a work in progress.”
Still, Redman said she herself would like to see a resolution before the November vote, and one that does not require the homeowners association to issue permits.
“I know the city needs an arena. I know it needs to grow and fulfill its destiny, but I also think to fulfill that destiny they’re going to have to do it with a plan and they are going to have to think these things through to make sure we get the best,” she said.
Shingleton said the arena will include enough on-site parking to accommodate all visitors to the arena.
“We are adamantly in favor of it and chomping at the bit to get started on this. This could be a game changer for the city of Fort Worth, both economic development wise and quality of life for our citizens,” he said.
Financing the project
The city’s portion of the arena bill is capped at $225 million, and Event Facilities Fort Worth, a nonprofit group chaired by Bass, has pledged to raise the rest. Voters will be asked to approve three taxes aimed at users of the arena: a tax on each ticket sold for an event there, a parking tax and a tax on each stall or pen used by livestock.
At least one of the three propositions must pass, or the arena project cannot move forward, Assistant City Manager Susan Alanis said.
The public portion of the project would also be funded with the state’s portion of the city hotel/motel tax within 3 miles of the arena. So far in 2014, that account has accrued over $800,000, Alanis said, and the final projection for 2014 is $1.3 million, twice as much as the city originally projected.
The project would also use local hotel taxes generated in the same 3-mile radius.
The private portion of the money will probably also need to be financed, Bass said, though the arena, to be owned by the city, will not be used as collateral.
“It is a big chunk to bite off, but I’m confident we will get there on the same time track that the public sector will,” Bass said.
He compared the project to Bass Performance Hall downtown, which was privately funded. Completed in 1998, the 2,056-seat hall would cost about $180 million to build in today’s dollars, Bass said.
Unlike Bass Hall, which had donations as low as $10, Bass expects that the arena funding will come primarily from a “couple dozen major funders.”
“This has been decades in the making and there are foundations, individuals and organizations in Fort Worth that have long anticipated very major particpation in this,” Bass said. “I think all indications at this point is that it is absolutely doable.”
If needed, Bass said, construction will be delayed to wait on the appropriate funding.
“If it’s 2020 or 2021 and all soundly financed, then that is still better than no arena or unsound financing. I look at it from that business point of view. You have to know the risk and have a way of managing the risk,” Bass said.
A political action committee, Forward Fort Worth Partnership, will raise funds to promote the upcoming election, said Mike Groomer, president and CEO of Event Facilities Fort Worth. Former Mayor Mike Moncrief and his wife, Rosie Moncrief, will be co-treasurers, Groomer said.
Plans for the arena
The arena will range from 9,300 seats to 14,000 seats, depending on the event, Bass said. Concerts would seat 12,500-14,000 people; basketball could hold 13,300; hockey and family shows could hold 12,200; and equestrian and rodeo events could seat about 9,300.
“We did a lot of feasibility studies; consultants looked at it and we ourselves, Event Facilities, went out and talked with promoters … and they are really, really excited about this,” Bass said.
“This is a range of size they can present all kinds of artists. There is nothing near this size. … It opens up the market. Plus, it is on the west end of the Metroplex which is undeserved today, and we are not a small population,” Bass said.
The population of Tarrant, Johnson, Parker and Wise Counties is over 2.2 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The arena will need to host about 14-16 concerts a year to be self-supporting, Bass said, and Event Facilities, the same nonprofit in charge of fundraising, will also run the city-owned arena.
The arena is to complement the historic Will Rogers Memorial Center during the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, but Will Rogers will “continue to be the premier equestrian center in this city,” Shingleton said.
In fact, the Will Rogers complex is getting a $15.1 million upgrade next year, improving cattle barns and creating an open walking space between the north and south ends of Will Rogers. The Stock Show is footing 43 percent of that bill.
Event Facilities has “quietly assembled” most of the land required for the new arena and will turn that over to the city as part of its the group’s financial contribution.
Getting the arena built is the first step to step in tearing down the landmark “flying saucer” arena connected to the Fort Worth Convention Center.
A July report to the City Council from Hunden Strategic Partners recommends replacing that with a multistory building to include a 50,000-square-foot ballroom installed with retractable seating to host events in an arena-style setting; 97,387 square feet of exhibit space; 46,480 square feet of space for 25 more meeting rooms; and two boardrooms, among other things.