Facebook and American Airlines showed how much they like Fort Worth in 2015.
The companies each launched high-profile developments — a Facebook data center at Alliance and a new American headquarters in far east Fort Worth — bolstered by tax incentives from the city.
By the end of the year, construction was well underway on the first of three 250,000-square-foot Facebook data centers in far north Fort Worth that over time will become one of the largest such projects in North Texas.
In a nod to its self-devised references, the company will be changing the address on the $1 billion development at 4901 Alliance Gateway to 4500 Like Way. A Facebook data center in North Carolina is on Connect Way, and one in Oregon is on Share Way.
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“Like Way was next up in the rotation,” Facebook spokesman Michael Kirkland said.
It’s not that the company “likes” Fort Worth any more than the other cities it’s in, he said. But officials admitted they were overwhelmed at the Texas-size welcome they received at a groundbreaking held in July. The Fort Worth center will become Facebook’s fifth data center and is expected to be its most advanced.
Facebook, based in Menlo Park, Calif., bought 110.7 acres from Ross Perot Jr.’s Hillwood company in June for the project, which officials say will have a huge economic impact in Fort Worth and North Texas. The project was held close to the vest, and Fort Worth was said to have emerged as one of two finalists from as many as 220 cities initially interested.
City and state officials, and other business representatives, opened their arms to Facebook that July day. Earlier, they opened the coffers.
In May, the City Council approved an incentive that could give Facebook $146.7 million in tax rebates over 20 years, potentially becoming the city’s largest incentive package ever offered. Projections show that Fort Worth will receive $48.5 million in new taxes in that period.
Facebook said it will hire about 40 full-time employees in Fort Worth but said the number could go up to about 100.
Moreover, the Legislature this year approved new sales tax breaks for data centers at least 250,000 square feet and Tarrant County approved property tax abatements on the project as well.
Kirkland said the first “data hall” at the center should be in operation this time next year. Each building will be divided into four data halls and brought online as Facebook needs them, he said.
New American headquarters lands in Fort Worth
In October, American Airlines made its big headquarters announcement, and Fort Worth officials breathed a sigh of relief.
The city’s largest private employer unveiled plans to create a new headquarters campus on the west side of Texas 360 south of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, near where a new operations center opened a month earlier.
The announcement ended months of speculation that the Fort Worth-based carrier might move its top offices to downtown Dallas or Irving.
“It speaks to the importance of Fort Worth in the global community … to have a prominent company like American Airlines say ‘we want to stay here,’ ” said Homer Erekson, dean of Texas Christian University’s Neeley School of Business.
Erekson said the decision shows the confidence that American has in the future of Fort Worth and will add to the city’s growing employment base.
The airline plans to locate about 5,000 employees at its new $350 million corporate campus, which will have at least four buildings on the site of a former headquarters building at the southwest intersection of Trinity Boulevard and State Highway 360.
Architecture plans for the campus have not been released, but American CEO Doug Parker says it will include open spaces and areas for workers to collaborate. It will also include walkways and bridges to connect the site to the airline’s flight training facility north of the site.
American expects to break ground in the first half of 2016. The project, which received a $21.25 million tax incentive package from the city, should be completed by the fall of 2018.
“We want this to be a place where people come to work but also stay and enjoy working with their colleagues,” Parker said during a recent tour of the abandoned former home of American and Sabre at the site, which will be torn down. “We’re going to build a facility that is going to encourage that.”
American achieved several milestones in 2015 in its integration of US Airways. The airline received its single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration in April and combined frequent flier programs into one AAdvantage program.
It also integrated the airlines’ passenger service systems in October without any hiccup in flight operations and took down the remaining signs of US Airways at airports nationwide.
American put its new Boeing Dreamliner aircraft into service on routes to Beijing, Argentina and Brazil and opened its $88 million Integrated Operations Center in Fort Worth in September. Andrea Ahles
Jeff Williams replaces Cluck as Arlington’s mayor
Jeff Williams had never run for political office, but he was far from unknown or untested when he defeated six-term Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck in May.
His résumé was 30 years in the making, including presiding over an Arlington civil engineering firm that worked on some of the city’s most significant projects — Globe Life Park, AT&T Stadium, the Three Bridges Project over Interstate 30 and the River Legacy Living Science Center. He also served six years as president of the River Legacy Foundation and as chairman of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.
Still Williams, 56, said this month that running for mayor hadn’t been in his plans. That changed after he was “recruited by many community leaders.”
“As president of a civil engineering firm, I had some skills that would be very useful for the city,” he said.
Williams overwhelmingly outspent and outcampaigned Cluck, who said his decision to even try a run for a seventh two-year term was a struggle.
“I think it was just time,” Cluck said. “I don’t think I knew how hard I was working until I stopped.”
It was the first time Cluck had drawn an opponent in a re-election bid.
Looking ahead, Williams said, “We need to continue on our pace to repair and reconstruct our streets. That is critical.” He also wants to streamline the permitting process for businesses.
He wants to leverage the economic impact of some recently announced developments including Fortune 500 company D.R. Horton’s relocation of its headquarters from Fort Worth to Arlington, the $1.4 billion expansion of the General Motors assembly plant and Texas Live!, the $200 million sports/entertainment/hotel development announced this month. And that, in turn, will bring more jobs and tourists, he said.
“We draw 8 million visitors with a $600 million-a-year economic impact,” he said. “Now there is more in Arlington for them to come and see.” Robert Cadwallader
Syrian refugees arrive in North Texas
North Texas made national headlines when Syrian refugees moving to Dallas County tested Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban on their resettlement in Texas over terrorism concerns.
Abbott ordered that no Syrian refugees be allowed to move to Texas. He and other governors and politicians nationwide raised concerns that Islamic State terrorists could be among the refugees.
In support of the ban, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission filed a federal lawsuit against the government and the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit that works with the federal government to resettle refugees in communities across the country. That case is pending in a Dallas federal court.
Despite efforts to halt the arrival of Syrian refugees, 21 were resettled in Dallas and Harris counties in early December.
Texas is home to the country’s second-largest population of Syrian refugees, with 242 resettled here since 2012. More than 40 Syrian refugees have settled in Tarrant County since September 2014. Diane Smith
Stockyards development generates controversy
A public process to put standards in place for a major new development in Fort Worth’s Historic Stockyards generated heated debate. But by the end of the year, a document outlining design details for the district was created and the first demolition permits had been issued.
Hickman Investments announced in spring 2014 that it was partnering with Los Angeles-based Majestic Realty in a $175 million project that covers about 70 acres in the Stockyards. The council approved $26 million in tax incentives for the project, which is planned to bring hotels, apartments, offices and livestock auctions to the district.
In April 2015, the public process began to create standards, guidelines and protections for the century-old Historic Stockyards on the city’s near north side.
The first phase was establishing a Stockyards Design Overlay District. A 16-member committee met with a consultant team. The meetings often became tense, but within six months the group agreed on a document that will help guide the Stockyards into the future.
The Urban Design Commission recently suggested some changes to the document, which will now be considered by the Zoning Commission on Jan. 13. The City Council is scheduled to vote on the design overlay district on Feb. 2.
And in October, the council also set in motion the public hearing process to establish boundaries for a historic district in the Stockyards as well as hiring a consultant to guide the process for establishing form-based codes.
The Stockyards was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Most Endangered Places list in 2015.
In November, the Hickman-Majestic partnership received approval for several demolition permits, primarily for former Swift & Co. buildings known as the ruins. Majestic has filed a demolition plan with the city. Some of that work will begin in March, but it could take until July for it to be completed, according to their plan. Sandra Baker