Will Rogers Memorial Center is the largest equestrian event facility in Texas — and it is not close.
It’s also in need of repair, said Andra Bennett, a spokesperson for Will Rogers Memorial Center.
Built in 1936, the facility rarely receives large-scale improvements. Now, the city of Fort Worth is prioritizing renovations, before the property ages itself any further. Approximately $89 million is projected to be poured into the property by 2028.
The city allocated $13.8 million from its 2022 budget for projects on the property, starting with basic maintenance like roof repairs and updating technology. Now, it’s preparing to spend an additional $27 million investment starting in 2023 through 2027.
The facility has already received new dishwashers, new fire alarms, and an updated roof, and an improved sound and lighting system is on the books for 2022.
“Anything that’s 86 years old needs immense care and maintenance,” said Michael Crum, Fort Worth Public Events Director.
Fort Worth proposed using $8 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act on improvements to the The Will Rogers Coliseum Concourse. The project would yield changes customers and visitors notice, Capital Projects Manager Keith Chisholm noted.
Breakout: What is the American Rescue Plan Act?
The American Rescue Plan Act is a trillion dollar stimulus bill meant to help state and local governments recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Fort Worth received $173 million in federal funding.
$6 million of that American Rescue Plan Act money would go to the Coliseum air handler replacement, replacing a system that’s been in place since the 1970s, according to Bennett.
Another $2 million in federal funds would be applied to the Coliseum Concourse renovations.
How much of that ARPA money, and when Will Rogers Memorial Center receives it, has yet to be determined.
The projects will also improve the facilities overall accessibility. The Memorial Center plans to invest $1.6 million in new escalators in the Amon G. Carter Jr. Exhibit Hall. The escalators are expected to be installed in 2023.
About 111 events roll through Will Rogers Memorial Center annually, and Crum oversees them all. Whether it be the Fort Worth Stock Show, the Cowtown Marathon, or the Steak Cookoff Association World Championship, this investment in the property will improve every single one of them, as visitors will be more comfortable, and those running the events won’t be subjected to outdated technology.
“We’re upgrading the quality of what we can offer as a complex,” Crum said, “Quality over quantity. We’re not getting bigger, we’re getting better at what we do.”
The $40.8 million investment over the next five years, 2022 included, comes out of Fort Worth’s Culture and Tourism Fund.
“We are not funded with property tax, like police, fire, library, et cetera,” said Bennett, “it is dedicated funds with hotel tax and other fees, parking fees, fees from the DFW Airport…,”
These fees are extensive, as a recent economic impact study performed by the Highland Group estimated that visitors to the Memorial Center spent a combined total of 800,000 visitor days in Fort Worth.
Not only are these visitors spending their money at the Memorial Center, they’re spending it throughout the city at hotels, restaurants, and other events, Michael Crum said.
The projected annual economic impact from Will Rogers Memorial Center visitors: $330 million in direct expenditures. $115 million of that comes from Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo visitors alone.
Memorial Center prepares to finalize $40 million partnership with The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo
The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo has recently approached the city to split a $40 million price tag on renovations to Will Rogers Memorial Center’s Sheep and Swine Barn, used extensively during the stock show.
The two organizations previously partnered to build the Tower Promenade and renovate Cattle Barns 1 and 2 on the Memorial Center’s property.
The livestock barns, dilapidated due to decades of wear, tear, and excrement, are a massive selling point for those who might enter the show, and new updates will keep those visitors coming back, Crum said.
The city expects to start the project after the 2024 Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo concludes, and finalize the barns before the 2025 event.
Venues on the property are busy nearly every day of the year, so scheduling projects into gaps within the schedule isn’t easy, Crum admitted.
“Nobody wants to not hold their event in order to see a project get done,” Crum said. “That does mean that we’ve gotta be creative with night work, weekend work, squeezing work in where we have dark days. It’s a real challenge.”
Many of the 24 projects scheduled are “back-of-the-house” investments, meaning customers and visitors won’t necessarily see the work being done, but will benefit from it once it’s completed, Crum added.
“It’s just part of the larger story about Fort Worth as a nationally recognized destination for tourism and events,” Bennett added.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the economic impact of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo and the frequency of repairs to Will Rogers Memorial Center. The article has also been updated to correct a quote regarding improvements not being ‘funded’ with property tax.