An iconic downtown Fort Worth restaurant is looking for a new home, prompting a renewed discussion about how to revive the booming city’s once-bustling city center.
Reata Restaurant president Mike Micallef said at a Wednesday news conference that the Fort Worth restaurant is seeking a new home, asking customers for ideas on where to move. The restaurant’s current lease is up on June 30, 2024, and it has not been able to renew the lease with the landlord, Sundance Square, he said.
“We emailed and asked for a renewal and didn’t get it,” said Micallef. “Then we asked for a face-to-face meeting and didn’t get it.”
One key reasons for Reata’s move is the high cost of parking in Sundance Square, Micallef said.
“There was a valet parking system where it was free to the guests. The restaurant paid initially $3 a car, then $4 a car,” said Micallef. “Now management wants to charge $7 every 30 minutes or $21 maximum plus fees.”
Reata could not support that, Micallef said. “I don’t mind paying $4 for a customer to enjoy free valet, but I can’t subsidize valet at $7 every 30 minutes, $21 max, plus fees.
“That’s a big addition to anybody’s meal,” he said.
In a statement to the Fort Worth Report, Bryan Eppstein, a spokesman for the Sundance Square management team, said it does not publicly discuss landlord-tenant issues, but he did discuss parking concerns.
The Sundance Square spokesman said there is free weeknight and weekend self-parking; two-and-half hours of free customer parking on weekdays, and a 25-block campuswide pay-for-use valet parking.
“Finally, all restaurants in Sundance Square have the option to pay for part (or all) of their customer’s valet parking, and Reata chooses not to participate,” Eppstein said.
Micallef said Reata could reach a new agreement with Sundance Square, but he said the restaurant needs to begin planning if they have to move.
Reata has published location requirements on a website, stating the restaurant is looking for a 12,000-20,000-square-foot building and 200 parking spaces, or 2 acres of undeveloped land.
“I know you’re not shy about telling me what you think of your last meal or your experience at Reata, and I love that,” said Micallef. “Now is the time to tell us where you believe Reata should move and why.”
Reata originally opened in 1996 in the 35th floor at The Tower, then the Bank One building. That location, as well as the building, was hard hit by the tornadoes in downtown Fort Worth in March 2000. The restaurant then moved to the former Caravan of Dreams jazz nightclub, part of the Sundance Square development. The restaurant is known for being part of the then-burgeoning Fort Worth restaurant scene.
The restaurant has thrived at the current location, surviving the business slowdown the pandemic caused. Some of the restaurant’s downtown office customers have returned, though not to pre-pandemic levels, Micallef said.
“They absolutely fit the character of Fort Worth,” said Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., the nonprofit advocacy group for downtown. The organization will do all it can to keep Reata downtown, he said.
The Reata is not the only business moving away from Sundance Square. Bird Cafe, Taco Diner and Revolver Taco have closed. H&M had a prime space, but closed late last year when the retailer shuttered several locations.
Arcadia Coffee, which opened in December 2021, announced on Instagram that it would close its second location on March 28 in Sundance Square on 120 W. Third St.
“Sometimes as businesses we take gambles in hopes the payoff will be great,” the post said. “And sometimes those gambles do not pay off, and the loss is greater. Unfortunately our Sundance Square location was one that just didn’t pay off.”
Arcadia owner Carrie Collins wrote in an email that she and her partners left on neutral terms; the coffeehouse closed in Sundance because it was not making enough money to stay in the area. A couple factors went into this: zero street visibility being in the courtyard and complicated parking, Collins said.
In mid-March, Sundance Square announced a plan that seeks entrepreneurs who have the “Next Big Idea” to create storefronts in the downtown area.
Tracy Hadden Loh, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said vacancy for downtown Fort Worth in the fourth quarter of 2021 was 15.3%. In the Central Dallas Business District, it’s 25.6%, she said.
Taft said there’s been significant move-ins into the downtown area during the pandemic. But info reported to Downtown Fort Worth, Inc., counting cars indicates about 60% of downtown office workers are now going back to the office on any given day with many companies using hybrid remote and in-person work schedules.
“That’s a market indicator that we need to see some improvement on,” Taft said. “If you’re an owner of an office building and only 60% of your tenants are coming back, or workers, the question is what happens when those leases start to turn in a number of years? If this trend continues, will that tenant stay downtown occupying the same amount of space that they were before?”
Downtown Fort Worth Inc., will be giving an update on the state of downtown during its 40th annual meeting April 6.
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.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.