A decade ago, Mike Berry couldn’t fathom having 50,000 people working in the AllianceTexas development in the north Fort Worth area. The first shops at Alliance Town Center were opening. E-commerce was in its infancy so fulfillment centers hadn’t yet entered the lexicon.
And no one would have guessed a social media giant called Facebook would build a $1 billion data center. Or that an online shopping business — Amazon — would open shop.
“It would have sounded like a big number to me,” said Berry, president of Hillwood. “Now we’re almost there. I look at the potential for the future that we have to grow and it’s pretty exciting.”
Now Alliance Town Center, at Interstate 35W and Heritage Trace Parkway, is bustling with shopping activity. Amazon and Walmart.com have built fulfillment centers totaling 4 million square feet and Facebook’s data center could ultimately be 2.5 million square feet.
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With that growth has come traffic congestion, especially on I-35W in north Fort Worth. While one reconstruction project along I-35 is expected to be finished later this year, the second phase — from the U.S. 287 “Decatur Cutoff” to Eagle Parkway near Alliance Airport — is facing delays.
The traffic woes have done little, however, to slow down growth in the Alliance corridor.
AllianceTexas created $4.7 billion in economic impact in 2017 and has a long runway for growth in the future with about 15,000 acres of available land, according to a study by Insight Research Corp. The raw land is just about evenly split between commercial and residential.
Since Ross Perot Jr.’s Hillwood started AllianceTexas in 1990, the project has generated $69 billion in economic impact, including $1.9 billion in local property taxes paid to five cities, two counties and two school districts, according to the study.
And Hillwood continues to buy more prime real estate to accommodate future growth, the study showed.
AllianceTexas, a 26,000-acre master-planned community, added 1,300 jobs in 2017.
Expanded runway opens in March
“AllianceTexas continues to be a significant driver for our regional economy as we expand our footprint even farther north into Denton County,” Berry said. “It’s the second biggest year we’ve had in terms of growth in the last five years.”
Another big factor in the area’s growth will be the runway expansion at Fort Worth Alliance Airport, which is scheduled to be completed in March. The project extends the runway to 11,000 feet, allowing larger and heavier cargo planes to take off.
“That will further enhance its reach into the global marketplace,” Berry said.
Also at the airport, the launch of Hillwood Airways adds a new perk to nonprofits and corporate executives. The airline has a single Boeing 737 that can be outfitted for private flights complete with a luxury interior and extra fuel tanks for longer distance. Within a matter of hours, those modules can be removed to convert the aircraft into a cargo plane for humanitarian relief efforts.
“It has the ability to operate with a VIP passenger configuration and also an all-cargo configuration,” Berry said.
The aircraft has flown relief missions to Puerto Rico and Africa.
Logistics continues to be a driving force for AllianceTexas, too, with UPS announcing construction of a second 800,000-square-foot sorting facility.
“That’s driven a lot by the growth in logistics and e-commerce,” Berry said. “UPS is just trying to keep ahead of it.”
‘A completely new metric’
Data centers are a big part of Alliance’s future and have reached the point where they are measured in megawatts of electricity consumed. Alliance could deliver more than 400 megawatts of data center capacity, Berry said. The land dedicated to data centers already has infrastructure in place for uninterrupted power and data service.
“It’s really about what the power requirements are,” Berry said. “It’s a completely new metric than what we’re used to.”
Facebook opened the first phase of its data center complex, totaling 500,000 square feet, last year.
But Facebook is not alone in the data center business at Alliance. A new T5@Alliance data center campus will be developed just north of Facebook through a partnership with Hillwood and IPI Data Center Partners Management, LLC. The campus will provide customizable computing centers that companies can use for their cloud computing needs.
The financial sector has also been growing with Mercedes-Benz building a 200,000-square-foot financial services building at I-35W and Eagle Parkway. The facility will handle auto leasing and direct auto financing for car loans when it opens in early 2019. More than 800 people will be employed.
And Charles Schwab will open its 500,000-square-foot facility in the middle of 2019. The facility will ultimately have 5,000 people working at the campus in Westlake, located at the junction of Texas 114 and Texas 170.
Westlake Mayor Laura Wheat said the town was honored to be chosen as the home of one of 10 regional centers.
“I must confess, however, that we are not surprised. Westlake is indeed unique in the Metroplex. We are almost equidistant between Fort Worth and Dallas, are minutes from D/FW [Airport] and are surrounded by great schools and varied housing options,” Wheat said. “From a business standpoint, Schwab’s presence is sure to benefit not only Westlake but our entire region.”