Cindy Boling was taken aback when she picked up a brochure to Fort Worth at a visitor center on the way back from Oklahoma. The map of Fort Worth advertised the Stockyards, Sundance Square, TCU and the surrounding neighborhoods.
The map shows a long and wide void of east Fort Worth – the area she calls home.
“Fort Worth stops at I-35, then the next mention is Arlington, then Grand Prairie, then Dallas,” said Boling, who is president of the Central Meadowbrook Neighborhood Association. “So apparently east Fort Worth is the Twilight Zone … truly doesn’t exist as far as the primary visitor bureau the city contracts with.”
Some of the attractions Boling sees in east Fort Worth are Tandy Hills Natural Area, Gateway Park and Meadowbrook Golf Course, which will soon be renovated as it enters its 100th year.
At a Fort Worth City Council meeting on April 25, Boling and two other presidents of neighborhood associations in east Fort Worth spoke about the exclusion of the area. They want East Fort Worth represented on the tourism landscape. This comes as the city unanimously voted to renew Visit Fort Worth’s $21.4 million contract.
Residents of east Fort Worth might point out that it is home to several museums and cultural organizations. They include Kinfolk House, the Lenora Butler Rolla Museum and the future site of the National Juneteenth Museum in the 900 block of East Rosedale Street.
If you ask Judy Taylor, president of the Historic Handley Neighborhood Association, she’ll point to historic homes and places such as Gateway Park and the Handley Wedding District.
Torchy White, president of the Historic Carver Heights Neighborhood Association, points to public art. At the end of the day though, it comes to a matter of inclusion, she said.
“The east side is already underserved and treated like red-headed stepchildren on the internet,” White said. “Therefore, if the east side and south side are not good enough to be on the map, then maybe the convention and visitors bureau does not deserve our portion of those funds.”
‘Somewhat of an inferiority complex here’
Don Boren, chair of the City Plan Commission and longtime east Fort Worth resident, said the conversation about east Fort Worth’s exclusion has gone on for decades. He acknowledges the area lacks resources.
The area has struggled with the decline of businesses along East Lancaster Avenue over time, he said. The area has no major employer and new services to residents. At the same time, east Fort Worth is home to Texas Wesleyan University and an abundant amount of parks.
“I will be the first to admit there’s somewhat of an inferiority complex here,” Boren said. “We are perceived as being crime-ridden, we are perceived as being less than ideal, which is very, very far from the truth. We have some of the safest neighborhoods anywhere in east Fort Worth.”
A lot goes into making a place a destination for tourists, Aaron Farmer, president of The Retail Coach, said. The company is a national consulting and market research firm that works with cities across Texas to attract retail. People have to make it a destination, he said. For example: the Market at the Silos in Waco owned by HGTV “Fixer Upper” stars Chip and Joanna Gaines.
Farmer, who is from Fort Worth, said east Fort Worth does have a lot of history. Sometimes it’s not enough.
“That area in itself is lacking in … retail, restaurants, services as well,” he said. “And until we are able to create that destination or create that unique sense of place, I think it’s going to take some time for that to happen.”
The National Juneteenth Museum could be a game changer if it’s marketed right, Farmer said.
“People will travel for that,” Farmer said. “But … we’ve got to build up that area around it, especially if you want to turn it into a larger destination.”
‘We just need people to know who we are’
At the meeting, several council members acknowledged the concerns of residents. District 8 Councilmember Chris Nettles said one of the reasons he ran for council is to mend the gap between resources in east and west Fort Worth.
Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker, District 7 Leonard Firestone and District 9 Elizabeth Beck also acknowledged the concerns of White, Taylor and Boling about east Fort Worth’s inclusion.
District 5 council member Gyna Bivens mentioned east Fort Worth is also the gravesite of Lee Harvey Oswald, Confederate soldiers and freedmen. East Fort Worth needs to be included, she said. She also pointed to the Handley Wedding District as a destination.
“People come from all around to Handley,” she said. “We just need people to know who we are and where we are.”
Bob Jameson, president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth, said he promises to share progress on including east Fort Worth by May 7.
The reason why east Fort Worth hasn’t been on the visitor map? That’s a good question. Jameson, who has been involved with tourism in Fort Worth for 38 years, said early on, conversations were mostly focused on Downtown, the Stockyards and the Cultural District.
“One of the things that has been so great for me, in the 10 years that I’ve been in this role, and focused on the entire city, is this continuing education that I get about the different parts of our community,” Jameson said. “You’ve seen over that time, this map that we use with visitor-focused … places of interest, continues to grow and continues to expand. This is just another extension of our learning about the very marvelous neighborhoods that exist.”
The tourism maps do not include every destination in the city, Jameson said, but he feels confident that conversations will lead to new additions.
“We’ll see what comes from the conversation,” Jameson said.
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.
Disclosure: Mitch Whitten, chief operating officer of Visit Fort Worth, is on the board of directors at Fort Worth Report.
This story has been updated to reflect Mitch Whitten and Bob Jameson’s titles with Visit Fort Worth.