Baker, Ahles & Kaskovich

After more than 80 years, Fort Worth law firm has filed its last brief

The Shannon Gracey law firm was well known at the Tom Vandergiff Civil Courthouse in Fort Worth.
The Shannon Gracey law firm was well known at the Tom Vandergiff Civil Courthouse in Fort Worth. Star-Telegram archives

It’s definitely over at Shannon Gracey Ratliff & Miller.

While it’s hard to figure out exactly when it happened, the storied law firm has shut down operations as expected. If you go to their website, all you get is a thank you.

“To our valued clients, we appreciate the years you have allowed us to serve you. It has truly been our pleasure,” the website states. It tells visitors to go to the State Bar of Texas website to find their attorney. If you call the firm, a recording says the “extension can’t be reached at this time.”

Attorneys who have been watching the firm’s demise said the website changed within the last few weeks.

The firm has been mostly mum about what was happening. A previous spokesperson didn’t want to comment and the former chief financial officer didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment from the Star-Telegram.

While the firm officed on the top three floors of The Commerce building downtown, officials for Sundance Square referred all questions about when the space was vacated to the law firm.

Late last year, it was reported that the venerable law firm’s partners had voted to dissolve the firm at the end of 2016, according to a court document. Still, despite the fact that several attorneys left to join other firms or start new ones, management at the firm said that “no decisions had been formalized.”

They stuck to that story after the first of the year even as one of its namesake partners, Kleber C. Miller, left to be “of counsel” at the law firm of Lacy Lyster Malone & Steppick.

New hangars at Alliance

With a growing list of private planes needing a place to call home, Alliance Airport announced plans to build two new hangars.

The north Fort Worth airport, operated by Hillwood Properties, will double its hangar space with the construction of a 32,150-square-foot hangar and a 40,000-square-foot hangar. The facilities, scheduled to open in June, can accommodate larger private aircraft like a Gulfstream 650 or the Global Express.

“We have no more room and we’ve been like that for a few months,” said Tom Harris, president of Alliance Air/Aviation Services for Hillwood. “The demand is pretty strong in North Texas for these kinds of hangars. I would say we get calls almost weekly looking for this kind of space.”

Harris said the airport has a wait list of 16 private planes that will be able to move into the new hangars as soon as they are completed. Some of the planes currently sit on the apron of the airport since there is not enough room in Alliance Air’s two existing hangars.

The new hangars will also have 8,000 square feet of office space that has already been leased, Harris said. According to a building permit filed with the city of Fort Worth, the project is expected to cost $5.38 million.

The last time Alliance built a multiple-use hangar for private jets was in 2006. Last year, the airport had over 120,000 operations which included takeoffs and landings of private planes, FedEx aircraft and commercial jets undergoing maintenance at GDC Technics.

Dishing up more court time

The Tarrant Appraisal District is serving up more courtroom time for restaurateur Tim Love.

TAD is appealing a lower court ruling that allows Love to avoid paying property taxes on his trendy, 5,300-square-foot Woodshed Smokehouse along the Trinity River because the land where it was built is owned by the Tarrant Regional Water District.

The agency’s notice of appeal, which was filed with the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth Feb. 7, didn’t come as a big surprise since TAD has steadfastly said that the land is taxable.

“I’m not at all surprised by the appeal,” said Bill Warren, Love’s attorney. “The good thing about the issues is that they are targeted and pretty pointed … there’s not a lot in there to muddle it up.”

Tarrant Chief Appraiser Jeff Law said his agency believes “that the facts and the law supports its position.”

“The higher court’s guidance on this issue has wide-ranging consequences for many other properties owned by government entities but with leases to private, for-profit businesses,” Law said in a statement.

For those of you who don’t remember what the issues are, let us dish up a little background.

In 2011, Love signed a 10-year lease with the Trinity River Vision Authority, a political subdivision of the Tarrant Regional Water District. Love was lured into the project because both agencies wanted to encourage development along the Trinity River. They were so excited about the idea, they pumped $2.4 million into the project.

As part of the deal, Love agreed to finish out the restaurant and pay 4 percent to 6 percent of its revenues essentially as rent. He also agreed to allow the public access to the property, even those who aren’t patrons. Over four years, the Woodshed paid $800,000 to the district.

Since the water district’s land is usually tax-exempt, it didn’t think Love or the restaurant owed any property taxes. The district’s attorneys compared it to concessions at places like Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. Love’s attorneys also argued that state statutes allow for it to be tax-exempt and override the state tax code.

But the appraisal district disagreed, saying that since such a large part of the property was privately controlled, it should be on the tax rolls.

To fight the decision, Love hired Warren. In November, state District Judge Wade Birdwell agreed and said that the land was, indeed, tax exempt. He also said that the district/Love didn’t have to pay the $23,197 in taxes owed from 2012 to 2015.

The money will remain in a fund until the appeals process is completed, Warren said.

United snags another American executive

United Airlines has hired another top executive away from American Airlines.

On Wednesday, American’s senior vice president of network planning, Andrew Nocella, resigned to take a “leadership position” at United. The move comes after American’s president Scott Kirby left the Fort Worth-based carrier for the same job with United in August.

In a letter sent to employees, American President Robert Isom said he has no plans to fill Nocella’s position and noted that he looks forward to competing against him.

“Andrew has been a valuable member of our team for more than 20 years and we owe him a debt of gratitude for shaping the American Airlines network that we fly today,” Isom said. “And while we don’t like seeing people like Andrew leave, we are really fortunate to have an exceptionally talented group of leaders in place and who already oversee those functions that reported to Andrew.”

It was not disclosed what Nocella’s role will be at United. In January, United’s chief commercial officer Julia Haywood left the Chicago-based carrier after only five months on the job to return to Boston Consulting Group.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

Max B. Baker: 817-390-7714, @MaxbakerBB

Steve Kaskovich: 817-390-7773, @stevekasko