Home Front

A blog about the economy and the Sacramento-area real estate market.

May 8, 2008
Fort Worth or Sacramento: Will the real cowtown please rise

I'm just back to Dallas after hours of group roaming in Fort Worth, a city of 580,000 that is sure proud of its downtown - and a little bit like Sacramento in that respect.
Riding a tour bus filled with real estate editors and writers from New York, Chicago, Florida and all points between, I was struck again, like yesterday in Dallas, to see a city where construction is happening in all directions.
Told by the convention industry that their downtown hotels were dowdy they are remodeling them.

We also toured some of the downtown housing they are really talking up there. All these cities now are talking up the young professionals and the empty nesters downtown. And some on this trip have been quick to hint that $5 gasoline is going to put some muscle behind the trend.

We first saw the new Texas and Pacific Lofts in an old train station and corporate offices that had fallen into serious disrepair over the years.

I like lofts, but these did not do it for me, even with price tags of $180,000 to $225,000 for studios and one bedroom units. Especially with $286 a month in homeowners association dues for a view of the freeway and railroad tracks. The concrete ceilings were really industrial rough and the floors from the 1930s were a little too authentically spotted and cracked for my taste.
Never mind my taste, though. They are selling and that's what matters.

Incidentally, where you you sleep in a 745 square-foot loft in the Texas skyline? Here's the answer I saw Thursday:

We then toured some really expensive models for the 87 condo units that are going atop the city's new Omni Hotel downtown. They were beautiful and smooth and a great place to live. Of course, what would not be at $897,000 for 2100 square feet with a view?

My favorite Fort Worth attraction - I really do love nothing better than going out and looking at stuff- was the 10-year-old concert hall called the Bass Performance Center. Talk about a stunning anchor for a downtown. Inside the concert hall was room for 2,000 and it was somewhere beyond magnificent for $72 million – all raised by the private sector. Naturally, this being Texas it had to be bragged about, that it ranks among the top five concert halls in the world for accoustics.

If you care to have a look inside here is a clip:

I think it really helps to have Visionary Rich People in a city's DNA. The Bass Brothers, descended from old Texas oil money, not only moved mountains for the concert hall. They also bought up a ton of downtown real estate back in the 1970s, when downtown property was a wreck like in most cities. Then with money to burn and years of patience, they slowly brought back a huge area now called Sundance Square, filling it with entertainment, restaurants and shopping - all of it jumping Thursday evening. Now they are making money off that, too.

I digress here about money, but these old families kept all their oil money in the towns where they made it. In Sacramento the gold and railroad barons moved to San Francisco - so we don't have Stanfords and Crockers and Huntingtons now to rebuild 30 blocks of downtown or finance a concert hall.

A couple other points about their downtown. The street musicians, I was told, are hired by the Bass Brothers companies. It means you don't have to give the performers money or feel bad if you don't. It really removes somne of that odd annoyance that comes with guys playing badly on guitar and making eye contact with you for spare change.

One more thing: the city offers free weekend and nighttime parking at five downtown parking garages. The idea is to attract people from the suburbs to come party, too, not charge them $1.50 for 30 minutes as in Sacramento. Hint, hint.

I only have three hours experience with downtown Fort Worth. Some of the landscape is raggedy, even more so than some of downtown Sacramento. I really think Sacramento is a nicer place, but Fort Worth has more serious power and money behind their revitalizing and maybe a clearer sense that they are inhabiting a good place to live. That spirit is sure getting things done.

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