The economic health of downtown Fort Worth has remarkably rebounded by several key measures since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a new report released Tuesday.
The Downtown Fort Worth Inc. organization’s annual analysis estimates that $2.3 billion in development projects are in the pipeline. Much of the growth is in residential — more than 2,900 units are in various stages of development in the city center.
Downtown Fort Worth Inc. released its “State of Downtown” report Tuesday during an event at the Fort Worth Club. About 250 civic leaders attended breakfast to hear remarks from key leaders across downtown’s major segments: office and employment, transportation, retail, education, hospitality and population and housing.
Three years ago next month, COVID-19 delivered a particularly devastating blow to downtown tourism, retail businesses and demand for commercial office space. But several economic indicators, from restaurant traffic to apartment rents, are showing healthy rebounds to pre-pandemic levels.
Same-store sales for alcohol consumption, which is a measure of overall restaurant and bar sales, now exceed the pre-COVID peak, the report says. Likewise, average hotel rates are up nearly 20%, and apartment rental rates are up 9%.
Visit Fort Worth President and CEO Bob Jameson discussed the extraordinarily challenging time Fort Worth’s hospitality industry went through with the pandemic and how it has since bounced back.
“On some level, it is beyond my comprehension that we are where we’re at today as a result,” said Jameson. “It has recovered remarkably.”
About 1,500 hotel rooms are in the development pipeline. The Omni Fort Worth Hotel is moving forward with a $217 million expansion to add 400 rooms and a garage. The Sandman Signature Hotel should open this spring in the renovated 20-story Waggoner Building with 245 rooms. And the two-tower downtown Sheraton is undergoing a $45 million overhaul.
“Everything that had us on this remarkable path going forward is in play today,” said Jameson. “It’s helping us pick up the pace and move on, and that is exactly what has happened.”
Construction of the Texas A&M-Fort Worth campus, a three-building project estimated at more than $320 million, is expected to further drive demand for downtown apartments — and all the types of retail and restaurants that typically follow.
“If we want to grow the population of families in the center city of Fort Worth, we need to have strong educational options at all levels,” said Bobby Ahdieh, dean of Texas A&M’s School of Law, during his remarks Tuesday. “In addition, however, education is the foundation of a well-trained and continuously-trained workforce in any city, in any downtown area. Fundamentally, economic development is reliant on workforce development.”
The 27-story Deco 969 luxury apartment tower under construction on Commerce Street will be watched closely by developers and investors when it begins pre-leasing late this year. David Walters of CBRE, the commercial real estate and investment firm, previously told the Star-Telegram he expects the Deco will be a bellwether for future projects that could reshape the city’s skyline.
Several other recently announced projects will convert aging office towers into hundreds more apartments, including the former Oncor tower at West Seventh and Main streets, and the Oil and Gas building at West Seventh and Taylor streets. Both towers are 16 stories.
Office occupancy stands at 85% in downtown “despite significant economic shocks” in the oil and gas markets and with COVID’s upheaval, the report says.
Laura Bird, co-owner of Frost Tower, pointed to new businesses moving in as a sign that the commercial office market is gaining momentum. Bird said the office and employment data downtown has seen is great news for Fort Worth.
“Southern downtowns with good leadership have emerged from the pandemic very strong,” Bird said. “Fort Worth is no exception.”
Downtown still has commercial space to fill, but developers are already expressing interest in select sites, Bird said, such as the city’s recent sale of Central Library property.
The “State of Downtown” report is produced in conjunction with the Fort Worth Public Improvement District 1 to communicate the underlying economic trends shaping the center city.