While the May 7 bond election may lack the entertainment value of a cattle drive or stock show, the biggest names in Fort Worth’s economic development community say the vote is just as essential to maintaining Cowtown’s character. 

If residents want the city to build greener pastures — a new library, fire stations, aquatic centers and improved streets — business leaders say they need to get out and vote.

“We all have the common goal of wanting Fort Worth to be its best,” said Anette Landeros, president and CEO of Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

On May 7, voters will head to the polls to weigh in on five propositions for a bond package totalling $560 million. With early voting set to begin April 24, multiple economic development organizations are working together to support the bond, including the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce; Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce; Downtown Fort Worth Inc.; Fort Worth Real Estate Council; and Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

“This is the first time we’ve worked collaboratively to help champion a bond package,” Landeros said.

A political action committee tied to the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce is throwing its support behind the package. Money from the PAC is going toward mailers, social media advertisements and other outreach efforts, all aimed at educating residents and encouraging them to hit the polls. 

“Sometimes voting is intimidating,” Karen Fox, executive director of the Fort Worth Real Estate Council, said. “It’s busy, you don’t feel smart. But you don’t have to vote on everything. It’s OK.”

While city officials can provide information about bond proposals, they aren’t allowed by law to advocate for them. As a result, private entities, like the chambers of commerce, often step in to push for a bond’s passage. 

“We have supported over the years bonds for the county, Fort Worth ISD, and the city,” Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce CEO Brandom Gengelbach said. “The idea is that for these bonds to pass, there has to be a real effort to promote what the bond represents and entails, and why it’s important to vote for it.”

“The blocking and tackling of community development”

Support from the business community partially depended on assurances that the bond wouldn’t raise the tax rate, Gengelbach said. However, that doesn’t mean residents will receive lower tax bills. 

As property appraisals rise, they often outpace any reduction in property tax rates. In turn, Fort Worth ends up receiving more in property taxes than the city did the previous year. The city could also choose to retire its existing debt rather than replace it with new projects. Gengelbach, and the rest of the business community, argue this money is essential to keep pace with growth. 

“This is what I would consider the blocking and tackling of community development,” Gengelbach said. “If we don’t have the right roads and enough sewers, that is going to negatively impact our city.”

What is the city’s current tax rate?

The city set its tax rate at 73.25 cents per $100 of valuation. The city pays its debt, which includes bonds and tax notes, with a debt service tax rate of 14.75 cents per $100. The rest of the tax revenue is used for daily operations and maintenance. 

Among the largest asks is proposition A, which seeks to secure $360 million for streets and mobility-related projects. Fort Worth officials prioritized roads after input from residents, but business leaders said the improvements are vital for robust economic development, too.

“People are adding more and more cars to the streets and new developments to the land and we have to keep up with mobility demands,” Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., said. “And that includes transit and mass transit. So we have to keep investing in our transportation systems as we grow.”

The program also devotes over $123 million to parks. Devoting land and resources to parks is essential as the city continues to expand, Taft said.

“Downtown is everyone’s neighborhood,” he said. “There are some needed improvements at the water gardens which would be funded by the bond, and Heritage Park. I think that we’ve been successful in raising about half of the money needed for Heritage Park and the other half would be funded through the bond program.”

Engaging minority-owned contractors

While setting the bond’s priorities, Fort Worth considered equity for the first time. City staff want to address historic inequalities by investing heavily in minority-majority areas. 

A minority-majority area is a census block with a minority population of 50% or greater and a super minority-majority area is a census block with a minority population of 75% or greater. The prioritization committee also considered whether the project would improve racial and cultural disparities in the city as a whole. 

“When you look at what our mission is here at the Metropolitan Black Chamber, that mission is for economic development, and for our members to obtain contracts,” Michelle Green-Ford, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce, said. 

“So the contracting possibilities that can come from a project that is a part of this package will greatly benefit our business equity firms … These firms will have a greater opportunity to compete and win projects which is a win-win on both sides.”

By joining forces with the Hispanic and Black chambers, the city’s business interests are presenting a more united front, Genglebach explains. 

“To me it’s reflective of a new day in Fort Worth,” he said. “We along with the other chambers try to provide platforms for the city to come and deliver the message.”

Most of the park projects outlined in the 2022 bond fall into minority-majority areas, Venables said. All but three of the neighborhood street improvement projects are in minority-majority areas. 

“We know we’ve got this backlog of streets that are in poor condition where we need to catch up, and that’s what we’re attempting to do,” Roger Venables, aviation systems director and chair of the bond prioritization committee, said. 

For some business leaders, parks and recreation improvements are personal. Ford remembers her childhood in east Fort Worth’s Stop Six neighborhood, when she had to take a bus to another part of town in order to get to swimming lessons. If passed, Proposition B would fund the creation of a new aquatics center in the Stop Six community. 

“I can speak specifically to the fact that not having an aquatic center has been an issue for a long time,” she said. “So I think that’s going to be very, very much a very exciting part for Stop Six and a great win for the community.”

Melding open space and real estate

As the price for land skyrockets, setting aside land for greenspace is essential, Fox said. 

“We need open space planning,” Fox said. “We don’t want to end up being like a big city where we can only have, you know, 100-by-100-square-foot parks.”

If approved, the bond would send $15 million to Fort Worth’s Open Space Conservation Program. City staff presented a formal strategy for the initiative, which plans to purchase and preserve natural areas across Fort Worth, to council members April 19. 

The funding would be an investment in the future of Fort Worth real estate, Fox said. As developers purchase land, they want amenities like parks and trails around the neighborhood to raise its overall value, she added. 

“People that are developing around here, they want to sell a neighborhood,” Fox said. “A beautiful space you want to come and hang out in … That’s what developers want. They don’t want to just come in and build a big tall, ugly building with no green space. Nobody wants that.” 

The group plans to begin voter education as soon as possible, Genglebach said. The most important thing residents can do is cast an informed vote. 

“The biggest challenge for us is getting the word out,” Genglebach said. “This is not a traditional election that you’ll have a lot of people come out for, so it’s important that we encourage people to vote. We need to explain to people the importance of voting for the city’s bond referendum.”

Collaboration between the movers and shakers of economic development won’t stop after May 7. The organizations intend to build off of their work together on the bond package in future endeavors. 

“We have laid the groundwork for a more collaborative environment for business organizations,” Landeros said. “It needs to be all hands on deck.”

Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

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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Emily Wolf

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She grew up in Round Rock, Texas, and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in investigative...

Rachel Behrndt

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for fortworthreport.org. She can be reached at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.org