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More than nightlife: How Near Southside could be DFW’s health-care hub

A new look at an old south Fort Worth favorite

Jesus BBQ & Tex-Mex in South Main Village took down its bars on the windows.
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Jesus BBQ & Tex-Mex in South Main Village took down its bars on the windows.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct the UTA department studying Fort Worth’s medical district.

Fort Worth draws nearly 40,000 to work in the hospitals, clinics and treatment centers of the Near Southside — the largest concentration of medical jobs in Dallas-Fort Worth — but the colorful district receives little attention as a regional or national medical innovator.

That could change under a plan from the city to make Fort Worth a medical innovation hub. It is an effort to bring attention to Fort Worth and cultivate thousands of medical, tech and health care jobs. The hub could also be home to the new TCU and University of North Texas Health Science Center School of Medicine.

The idea is to foster partnerships between established hospitals and entrepreneurs in the medical, life science and bio technology fields in a “medical innovation district” through increased collaboration. The result would be a concentration of high-paying jobs that would bolster Fort Worth’s economy and put the Near Southside on the map as a treatment and research destination, said Robert Sturns, Fort Worth’s director of economic development.

“For a long time the prevailing view was the Near Southside was a great place for bars and restaurants, but I don’t know that we’ve really capitalized on the large number of medical facilities there and what that means for us as a whole community,” Sturns said.

The Near Southside is already a nucleus for medical careers and housing in central Fort Worth.

The area south of downtown sports an eclectic blend of modern architecture and industrial and rustic buildings. Near Southside Inc., tasked with promoting development in the area, estimates about 3,000 apartments will be available based on recently completed projects and those in the works, and a 2014 UNT study found he district’s healthcare facilities had a $4.2 billion annual economic impact in Fort Worth.

The designation would spur attention to the already bustling area, Near Southside Inc. President Mike Brennan said.

Along with shops and restaurants, the area is home to John Peter Smith Hospital (which will benefit from an $800 million bond for modernization), Cook Children’s, Texas Health, Baylor Scott & White and Medical City Fort Worth. Brennan said an innovation district will create “strong synergy” between the major institutions and Fort Worth small businesses, like those coming out of Tech Fort Worth, the business incubator.

Brennan said the hope is Fort Worth will have a vibrant center of medical innovation, where diseases are treated and cured, but also where people will want to live and play. The shops, restaurants, bars and breweries along Magnolia and in the South Main Urban Village will be just as vital as the clinics.

“That’s where people, particularly young professionals, are spending a lot of time,” he said. “Those places help foster a whole ecosystem.”

Some of the development could spill over to the east side of Interstate 35 into the Evans and Rosedale Village, where the city has been encouraging new development. Like the Near Southside in years past, the area has struggled with a lack of investment. Neighborhoods surrounding the Near Southside have seen increased development, so Brennan said a lot of the housing focus will be north of Magnolia.

“If our intention is to attract thousands of residents, we need to take steps to ensure the housing responds to all social economic backgrounds so we have fair housing for everybody,” he said.

The city’s strategic plan outlined the medical district as a vital component of growth back in 2017. Since then, UT Arlington’s Center for Transportation, Equity, Decisions and Dollars has been tasked with studying the district’s needs and advantages while Shaefer Advertising will develop messaging and a brand for Near Southside Inc.

To get an idea of how this might work, Fort Worth officials visited Oklahoma City, where about 18,000 work in a medical district, and St. Louis, where 4,200 work in the Cortex Innovation Community, which has a goal of employing 15,000, Sturns said. The group learned Fort Worth already had many of the pieces needed to create a successful health hub.

TCU and UNT’s partnership for a medical school, which received accreditation last year and is expected to have a $4 billion impact on the local economy by 2030, made the timing of designating a health district perfect, Sturns said. The school will be a pipeline of talent to the district’s hospitals and emerging companies. The first class will be welcomed in July.

“Our school supports the collaborative efforts to establish a Medical Innovation District in Fort Worth,” Dr. Stuart D. Flynn, dean of the TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine, said in a statement. “We are excited to see the City work toward growing the life sciences in this community and to gather all of the excellent resources our community has to offer. We stand by to help in any way to make this effort a success.”

A goal hasn’t been set for how many people could live and work in the area, but Sturns said adding 15,000 jobs would be “pretty aggressive.”

For now the district won’t focus on tax breaks or other incentives to attract business. Instead Sturns said that by labeling and marketing the area, business will continue to grow naturally.

“Fort Worth is steps ahead because of what we already have on the ground,” he said. “Our hope is that as we promote and grow the medical district, it will become a landing spot of those kinds of cutting edge companies.”

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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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