The giant sigh of relief Thursday in Fort Worth came when American Airlines announced its decision to build a new corporate headquarters site inside the city.
But one tiny groan followed, because the final deal is not worked out yet among the airline, Fort Worth and DFW Airport.
American Airlines has been a powerful part of Fort Worth since 1933, when the airline’s southern division executives were moved from Dallas to a new, $150,000 headquarters that still stands at what is now Fort Worth Meacham Airport.
The airline returned from New York to a new Fort Worth home near DFW in 1979, and now plans to build a newer and more modern headquarters by 2018 on 97 leased acres west of Texas 360 alongside other American facilities.
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The four-building complex for 5,000 employees would give American a 300-acre campus and a total of 25,000 employees across the region.
That’s a lot of workers, a lot of economic development and a lot of bargaining clout when it comes time to deal for government incentives.
Fort Worth officials knew one and maybe two other suburban North Texas cities were offering attractive locations to the new American executive team in place since a merger with then-Phoenix-based US Airways. Even though the airline just built a new operations center inside Fort Worth, there was no guarantee the executive offices also would remain in the city.
The way American chief executive Doug Parker described it, the airline decided to go ahead and announce its favored site because land was available adjacent to the operations center and the airline’s older conference center and museum.
(The airline will demolish the former Sabre Holdings building at 13951 Trinity Blvd.)
The DFW Airport board and airport partner cities Dallas and Fort Worth are expected to sign off on the deal. But Fort Worth and American officials still must settle final details of any economic incentives.
This is a thrilling event for Fort Worth. It may not be as flashy as when city leaders brought American here from Dallas in 1933, or “home” from New York in 1979, but the airline’s new campus will be a dramatic addition to the Texas 360-DFW Airport corridor.
Much work remains before the airline and city can fully celebrate. But now we know that a new generation of Fort Worth leaders can sit down with a new generation of airline executives, start from scratch looking at possible headquarters sites, and decide all over again that Fort Worth is the best partner for American.