July 19, 2014

Big plans for arenas in Fort Worth

The Fort Worth City Council has put the city on a path to resolve long-standing problems with two crucial public sporting, entertainment and meeting venues.

The Fort Worth City Council has put the city on a path to resolve long-standing problems with two crucial public sporting, entertainment and meeting venues.

There are questions still to be answered and plans still to be made firm, but moving ahead step-by-step on these key projects is the right thing to do.

The council was briefed Tuesday on plans for adding a 14,000-seat multipurpose arena and sports facility in the Cultural District.

The new arena is targeted for a site at the southeast corner of Harley Avenue and Gendy Street on the southern side of the Will Rogers Memorial Center.

The annual Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show has long needed a larger arena for its world-renowned rodeo and other events. The rodeo currently is held in the 5,600-seat Will Rogers Coliseum.

And a well-planned new arena would add much more to Fort Worth’s possibilities for sporting and entertainment events. With no current Fort Worth venue providing enough seats to be truly competitive, many big-name acts go to Dallas, Grand Prairie and other sites in North Texas.

The council also heard recommendations for tearing down the 44-year-old domed arena at the Fort Worth Convention Center downtown.

A $150,000 study commissioned by the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau recommends replacing the “flying saucer” arena with a multistory building that would contain a 50,000-square-foot ballroom; 97,387 square feet of exhibit space; 46,480 square feet of space accommodating 25 meeting rooms; two board rooms and more.

Plans for tearing down and replacing the old arena were discussed during the planning of what turned out to be a $75 million expansion and renovation of the southern end of the convention center, including a 28,160-square-foot ballroom, completed in 2004.

Forging ahead with replacing the convention center arena and other plans could give the center the flexibility to accommodate large meetings simultaneously.

A cost estimate for those plans is not yet available. That, along with additional design ideas, is expected to be included in a second phase of the consultant’s study, which could be completed this fall.

But the recommendations given to the council on Tuesday call for completing the work by 2020. Construction of the new arena in the Cultural District could come first, so that events now held in the downtown arena could shift there while the convention center arena demolition and replacement is under way.

Local convention and visitor leaders long have said Fort Worth is missing out on meeting business because its facilities simply are not large or modern enough. The consultant’s report backed up that assessment.

The city also needs more hotel space downtown, the report says, including a second convention center hotel with 1,000 rooms and expansion of the 614-room Omni Fort Worth hotel.

If the Omni doesn’t expand, the report says, yet another new hotel will be needed near the convention center to meet potential demand.

This is a grand plan — in fact, so grand as to be a lot for Fort Worth residents to absorb all at once.

While people who have led or been deeply involved in production of the Fort Worth Stock Show have known about desires for a new arena in the Cultural District, specifics have not been widely discussed.

At the same time, the desire for convention facility and hotel expansion downtown have been no secret, but neither have they been given a broad, public forum.

Private donations are expected to cover half of the cost of the Cultural District arena, along with new taxes (subject to voter approval) on tickets, parking and facility rental.

Other details are yet to come, but the goals are worthy and achievable.

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