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Dickies Arena, Fort Worth’s new one-of-a-kind venue, is for more than just rodeo

Fort Worth likely hasn’t seen anything like Dickies Arena in a generation.

Sure, Fort Worth has seen its share of visionary endeavors. AllianceTexas is an economic driver. TEXRail connects downtown to DFW Airport. We’re promised continued growth in Near Southside and one day maybe along the river’s Panther Island.

But Dickies Arena — opening Oct. 26 — offers something quite unlike anything else in Fort Worth, or really North Texas. While the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo will be the main tenant, this is no rodeo arena. It’s also not the American Airlines Center.

When visitors — up to 14,000 — enter the coliseum they’ll pass elaborate terrazzo tile work, massive chandeliers and stitched leather work. It’s a significant upgrade from the aging Will Rogers Memorial Center next door.

“I think, you know, the level of finish that you have in this building is second to no other in the United States,” said Dickies Arena General Manager Matt Homan.

The roughly $540 million arena is a unique public-private partnership between the city and private donors, led by billionaire Ed Bass. Private investment picked up more than half of the tab because the city’s portion is capped at $225 million. Taxes on tickets, parking and livestock facilities will help pay off the city’s investment. Because the arena’s operator, Trail Drive Management, is a nonprofit, any gain from ticket sales will go toward the upkeep.

Dickies Arena would not have been possible with out the generosity of Fort Worth’s philanthropic community, said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price.

“There’s not a lot of cities that can say they have a nearly $600 million venue that’s mostly funded by private donors,” she said. “People who don’t want to go to Dallas can come to Fort Worth and feel right at home.”

Very Texas

Like the hidden Mickeys at Disney World, Dickies Arena is full of Texas surprises.

Stainless steel cutouts of three types of native grass decorate the upper level banisters. Light fixtures resemble giant Texas roses. The floor of the TX Whiskey Tavern is locally sourced mesquite. Hand-stitched leather panels adorn the walls of the concourse overlooking the arena.

“I think someone can come to this building over 40 times a year and still find different details in the facility that truly make it special,” Homan said.

Instead of a shiny dome or reflective modern glass structure, Dickies’ exterior blends seamlessly into the rest of the historic Will Rogers Memorial Center. That’s important to keeping the integrity of the complex, which John Roberts, a local architect and member of Historic Fort Worth, called one of the finest examples of Art Deco in the state.

Famed architect Wyatt C. Hedrick designed the Will Rogers Coliseum and Pioneer Tower in the 1930s. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. The clear span arched trusses Hedrick used in the coliseum were the first of their kind at the time, but are now the norm in buildings like Dickies Arena.

Roberts applauded architect David M. Schwarz for pulling inspiration from the surroundings.

“I think it’s a really great mix of old and new,” Roberts said. “Our Cultural District is the best in the country. We’ve been very fortunate to have these world-renowned architects add to our city.”

Dickies may not be as large as the 20,000-seat American Airlines Center, but what it lacks in scale it makes up for in detail.

Cowboy opulence

There are no bad seats in Dickies Arena.

The upper level concourse is roughly the same distance as the platinum level at American Airlines Center, giving the arena a more relaxed feel. Each cushioned seat in the general arena has its own cup holder and looks more like it belongs in a movie theater than in a rodeo hall.

If you can’t see the action on the floor, there’s a 25-by-38-foot rounded video board hanging from the dome. It’s the second largest of its kind in the country (behind the one in Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena) and weighs 12 times as much as a Chevrolet Silverado.

Loge boxes, best for a small company or family, feature four to six seats and built-in refrigerators. Large suites can comfortably fit 16. Stone counters in the bar and between the seats give the boxes a lounge feel.

Both the suites and loge boxes are leased on an annual basis, but owners can sell unused seats on Ticketmaster or back to the arena. But don’t get too excited: they’re already sold out for the first year.

Suite and loge box holders, along with founding members, have access to the arena’s north club. Though it’s not closed from the arena like a standard club, dark walnut and emerald green stone makes for a more high-end feel.

Across the arena, backlit yellow onyx glows a warm golden color from the arena’s south club. M.L. Leddy’s, the Stockyards boot maker, stitched leather panels along the base of the concourse looking into the arena.

Like the north club, it features a bar, but the dining is casual grab-and-go.

Food, whether in the clubs or at the concession, will be made in-house.

Staples like popcorn and hot dogs will join street tacos, barbecue and mini doughnuts, once a tradition of the stock show at the Will Rogers Coliseum.

Fine-tuned performance hall-style acoustics are tucked into the design. From special insulation and a bass trap in the ceiling to sound-absorbing walls, designers paid close attention to what visitors will hear when they come.

That’s fairly uncommon for a multipurpose building. Most arenas turn to movable panels and curtains to create concert sound, but that’s already built into Dickies Arena.

Dickies could elevate the music scene and bring new energy to Fort Worth, Homan said.

Pam Minick, owner of Billy Bob’s Texas, agreed.

Without Dickies Arena, DFW lacks the mid-size venue vital to a vibrant music scene, Minick said. Billy Bob’s tops out at 6,000. Above that, folks have to drive to Dallas.

Fort Worth has historically been a music town. Elvis Presely played in Cowtown Coliseum early in his career and Willie Nelson cut his teeth in honkytonks along Jacksboro Highway, she said.

“We’ll have it all within our city — from a singer-songwriter on a stool in front of 30 people all the way up to Dickies,” Minick said. “I think you could say Fort Worth has always been a ground-breaker in the music industry, and this just continues that.”

College athletic center

Dickies Arena will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in 2022 as well as the women’s gymnastics championship.

“We’re having conversations now about sports opportunities we never would have been able to engage in before,” said Visit Fort Worth CEO Bob Jameson. “That’s because of Dickies Arena.”

The gymnastics and basketball events bring in about $3 million each in direct spending from visitors, and fill roughly 3,500 hotel rooms. That’s quite a boon for Fort Worth’s economy, but the national exposure Dickies Arena will bring can’t be estimated, Jameson said.

“I think a lot of people are going to be talking about that place,” he said. “This is really giving Fort Worth a much higher profile.”

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.
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