News Article | 4/12/2005

Fort Worth Heats Up

FORT WORTH-It’s not the Wild West, but it is the “west” that’s attracting attention in the retail world as developers scout for their next high-growth market in the metroplex. The next development frontier appears to be Fort Worth, where roughly 5.1 million sf is being bandied about to start this year or next.

Retailers of all sizes and categories are being chased to get the projects out of the ground as developers stake land claims in the north, northwest and west sides of Fort Worth, which historically has been a retail sleeper when matched up to Dallas. Last year, retail development delivered 4.4 million in the metroplex, of which only 1.4 million sf landed in Fort Worth. That’s not the case right now.

“I don’t think I’ve seen this much in one period,” Bill R. Shelton, partner of CommunityID for Buxton, one of the South’s leading retail research firms, tells GSR. And, he adds, the development plans in the past seemed more scattered than what’s occurring of late, with the Alliance Corridor to the north and West Fort Worth catching all the attention. Three malls, with about 3.8 million sf, are on the drawing boards for Fort Worth’s corner of AllianceTexas while 1.3 million sf is being plotted for the west, which already has close to two million sf in place.

Ross Perot Jr.’s AllianceTexas development hasn’t caught anyone by surprise because the 17,000-acre hub is now supported by 20,000 jobs and 4,000 homes in an area platted for 40,000 single-family lots. The push to the west, though, is a different story because it’s the promise of rooftops yet to come that seems to be the magnet. At least four large master-planned communities are ticketed for the west side. “There are thousands of acres at play right now,” says Ted Wilson, principal in Dallas-based Residential Strategies Inc. “But, the rooftops aren’t there yet. It may take a couple of years.”

Still, the wide open spaces to the west have created a new frontier for the metroplex’s expansion, particularly with Lockheed Martin Corp.’s defense contract win, the Joint Naval Reserve Base’s escape from closure and 35 miles separating Fort Worth from its closest neighbor of any size on its western front.

Developers have pinpointed the Ridgmar area as the logical staging ground, mulling over plans that would put at least 1.3 million sf of new retail beside a renovated 1.1-million-sf mall and a 406,342-sf town center that’s getting dressed up too. The renovation projects represent an investment of more than $80 million into the submarket.

“It’s completely revitalized now,” Harvey H. Yamagata, senior vice president for Buxton, says about the Ridgmar corridor. “And there’s so much new residential growth that it only bodes well for the Ridgmar area. The residential growth clearly is going west.”

Yamagata adds the mall’s $70-million makeover has been instrumental in setting up the area for the new plays. Foot traffic has increased significantly, he says, helped along by the addition of a Rave Theater, the only stadium-seating venue on that side of town. In fact, the made-over mall is now drawing customers from a longtime regional favorite. “Ridgmar recently has taken away from the allure of Hulen,” he says, adding that unto itself is cause for developers to start looking at the prospects of being its neighbor.

Tom Higgins, Fort Worth’s economic development director, says residential lot development has skyrocketed along Interstate 820 and north to Interstate 35W in AllianceTexas. The sweet spot about the activity is “we’re getting a lot of inquiries from sophisticated retailers,” he says. “With 16,000 new homes, this market is having a reaction to that.”

One of the developers in the Ridgmar mix, Don Silverman, managing partner of Dallas-based Margaux Development Co., credits the high interest to the upcoming subdivisions along Interstate 820. “For a significant period of time, this will be the retail focus,” he predicts.

Despite the amount of proposed retail, it could be just what the city needs, says Robert Riley, Fort Worth’s development director. He says Fort Worth historically has had a 50-50 balance for residential and commercial building permits. In 2003, the pendulum started to swing with residential edging to 55%. It jumped to 60% of the permits in 2004. “Frankly, I was getting a little concerned,” he says. “We’re believing now that we’re going to see a swing more toward the 50-50 balance.”