A rejected Olympic bid helped lead to one of the most visionary projects Fort Worth has pulled off — Dickies Arena, a $540 million project paid for mostly by private investors led by billionaire Ed Bass. 

Fort Worth leaders attempted to get the 2012 Olympics in Cowtown, but the city lacked a state-of-the-art arena to host such an event. City leaders had long wanted to update the Will Rogers Coliseum, but they knew a multipurpose area would position Fort Worth for even greater success. Plans for the coliseum update grew into what would become Dickies Arena.

The arena came to be as a private-public partnership, with the private side picking up more than half of the tab. The city capped its investment at $225 million with taxes at the venue going to help the city pay for the investment.

That public-private partnership created one of the biggest successes in the community, Mayor Mattie Parker said. Already, she said, the city is seeing immense benefits from travel and tourism, including the international spotlight shone on Fort Worth as host for the Olympic trials in April.

“If you think about trying to perform on a bigger stage, Dickies allows us to do that,” Parker said.

(Alexis Allison | Fort Worth Report)

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For many, Dickies Arena is the latest in an impressive line of world-class amenities developed under the Fort Worth Way. Others include the Kimbell Art Museum, the Modern Art Museum and the Fort Worth Zoo.

The so-called Fort Worth Way is alternately celebrated and cursed. To many, it means people are welcoming, looking to help their neighbors and quietly getting things done. For others, it means too many people are excluded from the halls of power.

Either way, Fort Worth’s leadership is changing. The handful of wealthy families that have funded much of the city’s philanthropic efforts are aging, and many of their children and grandchildren are less involved in the city. Where does this change leave the city? Who will step up to make financial investments and lead Fort Worth? Will new leaders have the financial backing to push progress?

Those emerging leaders are who the Fort Worth Report plans to highlight with the launch of a new series, “Profiles in Leadership.” The Report will profile a new leader each week.

North Texas Community Foundation CEO Rose Bradshaw, 55, said she sees Fort Worth leadership moving away from its traditional structure.

“The tradition was that the town fathers would make a plan and fund it, and we presumed we’d all be taken care of,” she said. “For many people in the community, that worked very well.”

North Texas Community Foundation CEO Rose Bradshaw (Submitted photo | North Texas Community Foundation)

Our leaders were civically engaged, made investments in the city and made sure it was strong, Bradshaw said.

“I think what you’ve seen happen with population growth that we’ve had, the loss of a corporate base here, that’s a challenge, because there’s been a transition of newcomers, who weren’t acquainted with the Old Guard,” Bradshaw said. “And when I think you’ve seen probably in the last five, seven years, is some transitions happening that are exciting, they’re generational. They’re also demographic.”

Former Fort Worth ISD trustee Ashley Paz, 38, who now is an independent consultant with nonprofits and school boards, is one who looks forward to changing the Fort Worth Way.

“That term has come to change for me over my time on the board,” said Paz, who served from 2013-21. “When I first was introduced to that term, it was that we respect one another and that we treat each other cordially, and that there is a good kind of gentlemen’s agreement that we don’t fight in public, and that we always extend kind of the golden rule.”

Over time, she said, it came to mean something different to her. She said established leaders don’t want to see in-fighting on the school board or protests in the streets.

She came to understand the Fort Worth Way as “we’re just going to bury the things that are embarrassing to the city, and we are going to instead have a sense of artificial harmony.”

Parker, at 37 the country’s youngest mayor of a major city, sees the Fort Worth Way differently. She tries to blend the positive and negative connotations and make it more neutral.

Mayor Mattie Parker thanks members of United Fort Worth for attending the swear-in event. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

“It’s important to note that I’ve never felt excluded, or didn’t have access to decisions made, I’ve been in a unique position since I moved here and worked really hard to continue to be at the table,” Parker said. “Do I think the city needs to evolve and change and open doors and new seats to the table? Absolutely.”

The more neutral view of the Fort Worth Way, she said, is that it pays homage to the heritage of the city and honors those who built it. At the same time, she said, she wants to see Fort Worth move forward and provide more seats at the table.

Pete Geren, 69, a former congressman from Fort Worth and current president and CEO of the Sid W. Richardson Foundation, is among those expressing concerns about the  significant age gap in Fort Worth leadership.

When reflecting on leaders in the area, Geren said, his mind goes to people his age, the Baby Boomers. However, Parker blew that age gap wide open when she won the mayoral race.

“It’s kind of like we didn’t transition,” said Geren, who supported Parker as mayor. “We just went from older Baby Boomers to Millennials.”

While some in his age group may disagree, Geren said, he sees positive impacts in the city’s leadership getting fresh, younger faces.

For example, it will raise the city’s profile for young people. Seeing young people in important, influential positions in the city will help other Millennials see themselves in those positions and realize their potential for advancement.

“Those are the people that do new things, those people who have optimism. They’re the people who really see the potential for change,” Geren said. “And it needs to be tempered by some of the experience of old folks, but if I had to err on a side, I mean, you take risks either way. I think it’s time to take some risks, and make some mistakes, rather than be old and cautious.”

Young leaders gather for a Policy & Pints event hosted by Steer Fort Worth. (Submitted photo | Steer Fort Worth)

But change is not just about age, Paz said. Although Parker is young, her campaign still was funded by Old Guard leadership, she said.

“It’s good that it is a younger person, and I think that provides hope,” Paz said. “But also, I have concerns about what that means for communities of color in Fort Worth, and how meaningful new leadership is going to actually be about enacting change that is going to truly empower the communities …”

Mary Uhl-Bien, 56, BNSF Endowed Professor of Leadership in the Management and Leadership Department of Texas Christian University, said she knows there will be new leadership in Fort Worth but has concerns about the transition.

TCU Professor Mary Uhl-Bien (Submitted photo | Texas Christian University)

The recent national political environment is aimed at keeping a party in power and representing that party’s interests, she said.

“Then, there is an advantage to having divides, among the populace,” Uhl-Bien said. “So, parties and politicians are winning by trying to divide the populace and get more support for their position. That then serves the politicians and the party, but not necessarily the community or the country. So as a result, the challenge of bipartisanship is greater than ever.”

A strong community leader is focused on the whole population and the greater good of the community, not party politics, she said.

“Fundamentally, we’re not in the same situation we were in pre-pandemic, or even previous decades,” Uhl-Bien said. “We are experiencing a seismic shift on the level of the Industrial Revolution. And, as a result, that requires leaders to think in different ways. So, the old assumptions we held are no longer necessarily true, or relevant.”

Even the way the economy works is being upturned, she said. The pandemic has brought up issues of inflation that requires people to think differently and means old solutions will not continue to fix new problems.

“We need leaders who are thinking in novel ways, and who are willing to take risks on that,” she said.

In her time as mayor, Parker said, she is working on bipartisanship. 

“I tried to keep it my core what I think makes politics and government really work, which is when you’re able to work alongside one another, you sort of put down your sword, and you find consensus, whenever possible,” she said. “And you keep a level of decorum and respect for one another, regardless of politics.”

Though Parker is a Republican and votes in Republican primaries, she said there is a lot she agrees with Democrats on.

“My job is to try to keep out of the fray and focus on the things that really move Fort Worth forward, and we can work together,” she said. “I really am intentional about trying to unify this council, because I think that working together we have to solve some pretty complex problems on behalf of our community.”

(Contributed photo | Leadership Fort Worth)

Diversity in leadership is a focus for Jennifer Treviño, 45, who became executive director of Leadership Fort Worth in January.

“All the research shows that the more diversity you have around a table in a room, decision-making, the better your decisions are going to be, the more creative ideas you’re going to have, the better products and services you’re going to have,” she said. “But it also helps to pave the way, because there’s a lot to be said for if you can see it, you can be it. You know, so if you don’t ever see women in elected office, you might — as a young girl — not think that that’s a possibility.”

To help increase diversity and train young leaders, Leadership Fort Worth has Leading Edge, a program to develop leadership skills in young professionals.

The sixth-month program helps people who have not served on a board or commission yet, but still want to get involved in their community learn valuable skills and connections, Treviño said. The Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce have similar programs to develop leadership skills in young members.

Top characteristics for community leadership

Leadership Fort Worth outlines leadership traits it teaches in its program Leading Edge, which is specifically for emerging leaders. Those are:

  1. Model the way
  2. Inspire a shared vision
  3. Challenge the process
  4. Enable others to act
  5. Encourage the heart

Trevino also said some of the characteristics of leaders across their programs are:

  1. Critically engaged
  2. Adult learners
  3. Decision makers
  4. Collaborative
  5. Resourceful 
  6. Curious
  7. Service-minded
  8. Creative

“I don’t think anybody would disagree that now more than ever we need leadership at all levels,” she said. “Everywhere from our grassroots organizations all the way to the corporate boardrooms downtown type of thing … and we need those diverse voices and unique perspectives at the table and so we’re trying to make sure that we get an opportunity for that as well.”

In some ways, Treviño said, Fort Worth is seeing new leadership in people coming to the city versus generational leadership among people born and raised in the city.

“It’s a blend. You know you still see some of the, what you might call Old Guard supporters that are pushing forward candidates,” she said. But there also are younger leaders, such as Mayor Parker or members of the City Council.

For the city to complete the next monumental project like Dickies Arena, Parker said, there are a few ways it can be accomplished without relying as much on the Old Guard.

Parker sees philanthropic support of Fort Worth remaining strong, but adds that corporate stewardship will be an increasingly important source of leadership and funding. To lay the groundwork for more success, she said, the city needs to focus on adequately planning infrastructure, preparing students for the workforce, and making its diverse population a strength.

With Fort Worth on a growth curve to become one of the country’s 10 biggest cities, it is no longer possible for a select few people to make decisions, she said.

“The decisions are decentralized, in a lot of ways, and more people are helping push the community in new directions,” Parker said. “So, I think we’re in a very healthy place. And I’m focused on the positive there and making sure we’re providing transparency in the decisions we do make.”

Solutions for future projects

Mayor Mattie Parker outlined what she sees as solutions to help Fort Worth afford future projects that would have an impact similar to Dickies Arena. 

  1. Private investors: Parker said continuing a relationship with private investors should be part of the next generation of leaders in Fort Worth.
  2. Philanthropic and foundation organizations: Fort Worth has a “robust and involved” philanthropic community, Parker said. As young business leaders emerge, so will even more philanthropy.
  3. Corporate stewardship: There are several corporations in Fort Worth, Parker said, and she believes they always will be some of the top contributors to major causes in the city.

The Sid W. Richardson Foundation is a financial supporter of the Fort Worth Report. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

The story was updated to correct the total cost of Dickies Arena. Also, Rose Bradshaw’s quotes and the history of the Dickies Arena project were edited for clarity.

Kristen Barton is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen BartonEducation Reporter

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...

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