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Covid Poses Risks And Opportunities For Fort Worth

With the coronavirus pandemic creating more retail, restaurant and office vacancies in parts of Downtown Fort Worth, the North Texas city and its surrounding suburbs have a unique opportunity to woo businesses and residents.

Some of Fort Worth's troubles during the pandemic could actually make it one of the more attractive landing spots as the rest of the Metroplex loses its affordability edge. 

"Retail rates are down, office is down, multifamily is down and land prices are down," Fort Capital founder and CEO Chris Powers said of Fort Worth. "The pandemic certainly didn't help a few of those asset classes, but that leaves a big opportunity to buy in. The city is affordable if you look around the Metroplex, and we are much more affordable than the eastern side of the Metroplex and the northern Metroplex." 

That edge may be lost if the city loses its independent restaurant and entertainment scene to the pandemic, however. 

Fort Worth Stockyards in Fort Worth

To energize itself and create the right density for a true renaissance, the area needs to create roughly 20,000 to 30,000 new jobs, Majestic Realty Executive Vice President Craig Cavileer said. 

Its success in doing so and in remaining a corporate hot spot will hinge on its ability to leverage its unique urban experience while creating connectivity between the city's various neighborhoods and suburbs through transportation and connectivity through infrastructure development. 

One of Fort Worth's main selling points right now is its availability of affordable housing and land, even though the area needs more housing construction, particularly in the suburbs surrounding the city, experts said at Bisnow's Fort Worth State of the Market webinar Tuesday. 

"There is good housing stock that exists in Fort Worth, and it's certainly in proportion to the number of jobs," Catalyst Urban principal Paris Rutherford said. "But as that number of jobs continues to change and grow, there is going to need to be more focus on the construction of quality residential of all types."

Rutherford said there's already quality housing stock in the core of Fort Worth at West Seventh and west of it, but he sees a need to focus more heavily on establishing housing in bedroom communities outside Fort Worth and connecting the vision of those cities to the greater Fort Worth area, so the entire region can be sold to relocating firms.  

"What I find intriguing is the suburban areas around Fort Worth probably need to catch up a bit in terms of additional quality housing with more jobs coming down the pike," Rutherford said. 

The greatest risk to Fort Worth coming out of the coronavirus is if it allows its unique Southwest, down-home patina to slip as smaller, independent restaurants lose ground in their fight against the pandemic. 

"There is some turnover going on downtown with restaurants," said Cavileer, who is working on the redevelopment of the historic Fort Worth Stockyards.

Fort Worth will survive by focusing on existing outdoor and patio spaces and leveraging its existing walkable environment, Cavileer noted.

"I will say in general the transformation [after Covid] is going to be more walkability, more restaurants, more entertainment and more programming."

Fort Worth has the potential to become the next Austin by maxing out its longtime focus on music venues, bars, restaurants and destinations, but the city needs to remain mindful not to create the types of affordability challenges that tend to chase out entrepreneurial restaurateurs, Twisted Root Burger Co. owner Jason Boso said. 

Boso recommends Fort Worth remain mindful of tax abatements and other incentives to reduce overall annual costs for boutique restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. 

"Cities are making it difficult for these hyperlocal guys to be able to open their restaurant. The code compliances keep getting more difficult, a lot of the standards are coming to where we have to make the place tornado, monsoon, swarm of locusts protected and that adds 30% to the cost of opening a restaurant," Boso said.

The end result is that a Chili's restaurant can make it, but an independent restaurateur is unable to find the capital to do it, he warned.