Fort Worth should expand convention center, add downtown hotel, travel expert says

A consultant’s report calls for tearing down the Fort Worth Convention Center arena and rebuilding.
A consultant’s report calls for tearing down the Fort Worth Convention Center arena and rebuilding. Star-Telegram archives

Expanding the Fort Worth Convention Center could be a “game changer” for the city, one of the nation’s top travel and tourism leaders said Wednesday.

“You’ve got such a unique thing. It’s just so special,” Roger Dow, president and CEO of U.S. Travel Association, told more than 300 people attending the second annual Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau meeting on Wednesday.

“To grow the convention center ... it will be a driver for business in this community,” Dow said. “It’s the biggest thing you have to do.”

The city is considering a consultant report from last summer that calls for tearing down the round arena on the north end of the 45-year-old convention center at Ninth and Commerce streets, and building a multistory structure to provide an additional 200,000 square feet of meeting and ballroom space. The report also calls for a second convention center hotel, saying that as many as 1,400 hotel rooms are needed downtown to remain competitive.

Bob Jameson, the CVB’s president and CEO, said the city lost out on a huge convention last year because the client would have had to pay for transportation from several outlying hotels. Demand for hotel rooms in the city has been strong, he said. Fort Worth had 6.5 million visitors last year, up 20 percent over the past five years, he said.

“People want to come to Fort Worth,” Jameson said. “Occupancy rates downtown are above the industry average. Projections are for this to continue and average daily rates to increase. Demand for hotels in Fort Worth is strong, and not just in downtown. The strength of this market has sparked interest in hotel development like I have never seen in my 30 years here. There is more tire-kicking going on than ever before.”

The CVB reported an 18 percent growth in room nights at Fort Worth hotels from a year ago. And the city hosted a record number of conventions in 2014, including the Texas Republican State Convention that drew about 8,000 attendees, it said. Fort Worth tourism-related jobs grew by 1,000 in the past year, to about 14,000, Jameson said.

Dow said about 6 percent of business travel to Texas comes to Fort Worth. In the last six months, international business travel that comes through Dallas-Fort Worth Airport has picked up and is now outpacing the rest of the U.S.

“I don’t know what you’re doing, but you’re doing something special,” Dow said. “I can’t think of a market that is better poised to take advantage of the growing leisure market than this whole area.”

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727

Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST