When football player TyQuandrik Conner walked through the halls of Farrington Field before football games in high school and college, he was reminded “every time you walk down this tunnel, you’re a part of history.”
The historic site has been the home field of student athletes in Fort Worth for decades. Although the aging stadium near downtown is filled with memories, the stadium also is brimming with doubt about its future.
The recent historic landmark designation leads historians to hope the field will not be demolished. Fort Worth ISD officials say they want to keep using it as a football stadium. Meanwhile, the city sees a piece of land with high value and wants to make sure it’s being used the best way.
“Farrington Field is not only a historic part of Fort Worth. It is one of the most desirable properties for potential development in North Texas,” Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Kent Scribner said. “As a result, there are many entities interested in engaging in discussion with Fort Worth ISD regarding the field.”
Fort Worth ISD will not sell without gathering input from the community, district spokesperson Claudia Garibay said.
A presentation from the Urban Land Institute in February recommended that the city become the single point of contact for decision-making in the future of the site.
Farrington Field falls into District 9, represented by council member Elizabeth Beck, who said she’s keeping an open mind on the future of the stadium. The Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit that bills itself as the oldest and largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts in the world, is putting together recommendations for the city and school district.
The next presentation will be about six months after the first, likely sometime in August, Beck said.
A decision will not be made in the near future, though, it could take years, Beck said.
The city is looking at the best options for Farrington Field but cannot unilaterally make a decision because it is not the property owner, City Manager David Cooke said.
Farrington rests on two parcels of land. The stadium and parcel of land on the west side is 100% owned by the district. The eastern parcel is a 50/50 split between the district and the city.
“It’s a key piece of property,” Cooke said. “And everybody wants to make sure the proper due diligence is done. But there’s a lot of different interests in that, too. And some people want to protect the history, some people want to make sure that it goes to the highest and best use – all kinds of things.”
If the land were sold, it could bring a big chunk of money to the city and the district. According to the historical landmark designation application, the appraisal district lists the property under three accounts, equaling $5.6 million. The land would likely sell for many millions more than that to a private developer.
The district appreciates the work the Urban Land Institute did for the city, but the district also is engaged in conversations with the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce about the land, Scribner said.
“We recognize that any decision regarding Farrington Field is bigger than Fort Worth ISD and, as a result, we’ll have to engage in a community process and have a community discussion to determine what’s the best path forward,” Scribner said. “The desire is that there is a strategic plan that is good for the school district.”
Keeping the Friday Night Lights on
TyQuandrik Conner, 23, a graduate student at Texas Wesleyan University, played football at Texas Wesleyan and O.D. Wyatt High School. Farrington Field is the home stadium for Texas Wesleyan, but not for O.D. Wyatt. Conner still played many games there in high school, though.
“If they demolish it, that’s taking away some of the history of Fort Worth high school football,” Conner said. “That’s also going to make it even more chaotic for scheduling football games. Only so many people can play at Dallas Cowboys Stadium.”
The school district wants to see the stadium continue to be used for football, but the cost for that is high. Farrington Field is an essential piece of the athletic program, according to a written district statement.
It would cost an estimated $26.5 million to update the field to honor the historic designation, update it for safety, security and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance. The stadium stairs are too steep, and there is not enough wheelchair access. Anyone walking the stadium can see it is not accessible for disabled people, Scribner said.
Funding those renovations could be difficult. The district said it would not seek a bond proposal for the work. This is because parents and students want smaller, more accessible stadiums embedded into neighborhoods to serve its 14 high schools, Scribner said. He consistently hears from students, parents and coaches that they want neighborhood-based stadiums for a true home field advantage versus a neutral site at Farrington Field.
Across the state, districts have built multimillion dollar stadiums used for multiple high schools, such as Legacy Stadium at Katy ISD. If high school football is a religion in Texas — as many believe it is — those stadiums are super churches. But Fort Worth ISD does not plan to commit to building similar structures.
In 2021, Proposition C of the bond proposal was $104.9 million for the construction, acquisition and equipment of smaller neighborhood-based stadiums throughout the district. However, that bond proposition failed.
Without a bond, the district would have to explore other options to fund renovations to the stadium.
Retired archivist and historian Carol Roark said Farrington Field, which broke ground in 1938, has two main levels of historical significance. First, it has a social significance because all student athletes in football or track and field have played on it at some type, even before schools integrated.
“Almost anybody who grew up in Fort Worth and went to school here had some interaction with Farrington Field, whether it’s playing games, leading cheers, being a parent taking their kids to the games,” she said. “It is a facility that is dear to the hearts of many people.”
Architecturally, it’s simply iconic, Roark said. Its art deco design and site at an intersection of four major streets in the cultural district makes it a highly visible and important landmark in the city.
“It is something that has good bones and can be adapted for contemporary use,” Roark said. “It has a good potential use as an outdoor facility.”
Roark presented other solutions for the field as well. With a better sound system it would make a good concert venue, she said, and it is suitable for multiple sports activities.
Pointing to Dallas, Roark said that city’s former parks and recreation director, Willis Winters, oversaw renovating the Cotton Bowl to make it a 21st century facility while maintaining historic integrity. Roark hopes the Urban Land Institute considers adding Winters to get his input, she said.
Currently, the nonprofit panel has 10 members who work in real estate and development.
Urban Land Institute members
Frank Bliss, Cooper and Company
Andrew Blake, Presidio Interests
Murphy Cheatham, MDC Commercial
Penny Diaz, DOMUS Studio Group
James Field, Cienda Partners
Yolanda Jackson, Communityscape, LLC
Jessica Miller, M2G Ventures
Brandon Palanker, 3BL Strategies
Gianna Pigford, Stantec
Robert Pilgrim, TBG Partners
Andre McEwing, Trojan Commercial Real Estate
Roark believes using the stadium for more than just football will make it a more viable option.
Although the community has not solidified what it wants to use the space for, Roark said, she thinks residents want to see Farrington Field remain standing and functional.
Changing or removing historic structures from cities to make way for something newer causes a loss of sense of place, Roark said.
“If you look at a commercial suburban development or commercial urban development these days, a lot of them look very much alike,” Roark said. “And the character is lost when a community doesn’t have a variety of resources from its history. I think they give context, culture and a sense of place.”
When more recommendations are presented, Beck said, she is hopeful there will be a solution that both respects the history of the field and is impactful for the city of Fort Worth. She does not want to take a special space like Farrington Field away from Fort Worth; she wants to add to the city.
The stadium definitely needs to be modernized, but Conner, who played linebacker at Texas Wesleyan, thinks demolishing it would be “messed up.”
“That’s just taking away somewhere people played at. Me and the people before me played at that stadium. I had high school coaches that played on Farrington Field,” he said. “Demolishing it is not the answer because you’re taking away something valuable to Fort Worth.”
This story has been updated.
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her 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.