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Fort Worth looks to pair new Will Rogers arena with Convention Center makeover

Scott Nishimura
snishimura@bizpress.net

 

The Fort Worth City Council is moving the long-discussed idea of building a new multipurpose arena in the city’s Will Rogers Memorial Center ahead, and is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a resolution saying it supports a public-private partnership and the search for funding.

The resolution is a necessary step under state law before the City Council can call an election on certain funding sources. The election would likely be in November, Councilman Dennis Shingleton, who represents the West Side, said in an interview.

The city said the partnership would be a 50-50 split between public and private money; it must have at least 40 percent private funds to qualify for certain state sources. Event Facilities Fort Worth, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that has long benefitted the Fort Worth Stock Show and Will Rogers facilities, has agreed to raise the private money, Susan Alanis, assistant city manager, said in an interview Friday.

The estimated cost of the 14,000-seat arena hasn’t been determined yet, city officials said.

“I expect it to be high, but I also expect it to be one of the great venues for the city,” Shingleton said. “It’s going to be a commercial draw for the city” and, at the same time, it will allow the city to raze the aging, outmoded Convention Center Arena downtown and expand that facility, he said.

The new Will Rogers arena and support facilities would be built on an existing parking lot at Harley and Gendy streets.

The size and form of the facilities would “complement the architecture of the Will Rogers District,” a copy of the resolution, posted Friday on the city’s web site, says.

The new arena will be able to host concerts, family shows, sporting events, community and high school sporting events and ceremonies, rodeos, and other agricultural and equestrian shows, city officials say. It would take pressure off of the 5,700-5,900-seat Will Rogers Coliseum and broaden the city’s event draw, city officials have said.

The public money would likely come from multiple sources.

The state is allowing the city to set aside incremental growth in the city’s hotel taxes derived after 2013 from zones around the Convention Center and Will Rogers to pay for the Convention Center expansion and Will Rogers facility.

“We’ve got five years to get the project started to access those funds,” Alanis said.

Additionally, the resolution authorizes the city to put three sources of funding - and the maximum rates allowed by state law - before voters:

* A tax on tickets sold to events held at the arena, capped at 10 percent of the ticket price;


* A tax on parking in a parking facility that serves the arena, capped at $5 of the total parking charge at the time of the arena’s first public event; 

* A tax on each stall or pen used or occupied by livestock during events at the arena, capped at $1 a day and up to $20 for an event.

Alanis said the goal would be to pay off the city’s share of the arena debt through the extra volume generated by it, and not have to raise rates.

The council could also choose to put all three of the measures before voters, or a combination of them, she said.

The city and business establishment have long backed the construction of a new arena at Will Rogers.

The council’s move on the area is in conjunction with an outside study it commissioned on the city’s convention and hotel needs. The authors of that study have preliminarily determined the city needs tear down the Convention Center arena, replace it with modern facilities, and back the construction of new full-service hotel space around the Convention Center.

The council will hear the final results of that report during their pre-council meeting Tuesday.

If the plan moves forward, the city would look to build the new Will Rogers first, then begin work on the Convention Center remodel, city officials said.

Kirk Slaughter, the city’s special events director and manager of the Convention Center and Will Rogers complex, said it would probably take about three years from when voters approve the funding measures to get the new Will Rogers arena built.

The new arena would “add more flex” to the Will Rogers complex and enable the city go after some of the larger equestrian shows it hasn’t been able to recruit, said Slaughter, Will Rogers’ chief salesman.

Fort Worth has competed chiefly against Oklahoma City and Tulsa for major equestrian shows.

Once voters approve the money, "we're going to start marketing that arena," Slaughter said. "Hey, this is the best one ever to be built. Let's do business here."

 

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