After the pandemic forced a pause in plans, the Fort Worth (Texas) City Council has approved $52 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to support the first phase of an expansion of its city-owned convention center.
The $500 million project, which had been in the works for several years, was about to begin using funding from the city's hotel occupancy taxes when the Covid-19 shutdown began in 2020.
“We had our first meeting with the design review committee in February 2020, and then, two weeks later, our plans were shelved indefinitely,” said Mike Crum, director of the Public Events Department for Fort Worth. “With this kick-start in ARPA funds, we can revisit the design with new insights from meeting planners on what they and their attendees now expect from a venue in terms of overall experience.”
The current facility has 253,226 square feet of exhibit space, including an 18,160-square-foot ballroom, as well as 38 breakout rooms. A 55,000-square-foot events plaza connects to the Fort Worth Water Gardens.
The expansion will take place in two phases. The first, which will prepare the venue to operate during the second phase, includes the construction of new food-and-beverage facilities, the relocation of a city street to create a site for a future convention hotel, and the rebuilding of the Fort Worth Convention Center's loading docks. This phase already is fully funded and expected to begin in spring 2023.
The second phase will see the demolition of the 1968 FWCC arena and create more than 97,000 of new exhibit space, additional flexible meeting rooms and a new 60,000-square-foot ballroom; also, the current facility, which was expanded in 2002-03, will be renovated. This phase will begin when hospitality taxes recover to the point where they can support the issuance of $450 million in debt to fund the construction.
“The group meetings business has categorically changed in the past two years,” said Crum. “We may be adjusting the design plans to meet different needs than the initial plans of more ballroom and exhibit space — such as a broadcast studio to conduct hybrid meetings or other technology assets like virtual reality that are becoming an expectation, not an optional add-on.”