Fred Slabach never intended to get into economic development. Texas Wesleyan University, though, needed it. 

The perception of the surrounding neighborhood — and the university itself — was negative. People thought the area was unsafe. Storefronts along Rosedale Street were boarded up. Business was non-existent. 

Slabach saw it differently. The university and neighborhood were safe. Businesses would come with changes. Reshaping the neighborhood could improve its perception.

In the 12 years Slabach led Texas Wesleyan as its president, the university transformed from a hidden gem in the Polytechnic neighborhood to one of the most visible landmarks along East Rosedale Street. More businesses have set up shop near the university of more than 2,600 students. 

Fred Slabach

Age: 66

Current occupation: Texas Wesleyan University president

Next occupation: Dean of the University of Mississippi School of Law

Education: Bachelor’s from Mississippi College; law degree from University of Mississippi School of Law; and master of law degree from Columbia University School of Law.

Relevant experience: CEO of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation; dean of the Texas Wesleyan University School of Law; assistant secretary to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for congressional relations and counsel to the secretary; legislative counsel to the president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate; and a senior assistant to the governor of Mississippi.

Family: Married to Melany Neilson, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated author. They have three children: twin sons and a daughter.

Texas Wesleyan has invested more than $50 million into new buildings and renovations on campus, as well as buying and improving buildings near the college during Slabach’s tenure, which officially ends July 1 as he leaves to become the dean of the University of Mississippi School of Law, his alma mater.

Slabach sees Texas Wesleyan as the spark that has helped ignite the redevelopment of the area about 4 miles southeast of downtown. However, the university didn’t do it alone. The combined effort of entrepreneurs, the city of Fort Worth, state government, philanthropic leaders and the university have helped spur the Rosedale Renaissance, he said.

“It’s been really gratifying to see as we prime the pump, then more things start coming, developing on their own without our input, which is great,” Slabach said.

‘Leverage that wonderful investment’

Don Boren remembers the Polytechnic neighborhood bustling with activity in the 1950s and 1960s. Rosedale had restaurants, a department store and even a movie theater. 

“One by one, they just couldn’t survive,” said Boren, past president of the East Fort Worth Business Association. “Eventually, it was nothing but empty buildings, empty storefronts and nobody wanted to go there.”

Rosedale would remain that way for decades — and it could have been worse. 

In the 1980s, Texas Wesleyan’s board of trustees considered relocating the university to west Fort Worth. Trustees decided against the idea.

Texas Wesleyan added buildings on campus and started — and later sold — a law school in downtown Fort Worth. Rosedale, though, remained mostly unchanged.

Then came a spark

The North Central Texas Council of Governments, city of Fort Worth, Tarrant County and the Texas Department of Transportation decided to expand Rosedale Street from two to four lanes, adding lighting and sidewalks — a project that Glenn Lewis, current chairman of Wesleyan’s board, kick-started when he was in the Texas Legislature in the early 2000s.

Slabach, who had been tapped to be the university’s president in 2011, talked to the board and other top administrators. 

“We decided that we ought to explore what we could do to leverage that wonderful investment that the city was doing,” Slabach said.

Storefronts along Rosedale Street were boarded up before the road was widened as part of a city of Fort Worth-led beatification project. (Courtesy | Texas Wesleyan University)
Storefronts along Rosedale Street were improved after Texas Wesleyan University bought them. (Courtesy | Texas Wesleyan University)

Starting the Rosedale Renaissance

Texas Wesleyan didn’t have a front door. 

Enhancing Texas Wesleyan

Texas Wesleyan University spent more than $50 million to improve its campus and surrounding area. Here’s how that money was spent:

  • The original Rosedale Renaissance project that saw the construction of the campus entry’s clock tower, reflection pool and parking as well as the Central Texas Conference Bishop’s office and Bernice  Coulter Templeton Art Studio.
  • Nick and Lou Martin Center
  • Renovations to OC Hall and Elizabeth Armstrong Hall
  • Rebuilding Dora Roberts Dining Hall
  • Overhaul of campus aesthetic with outdoor furnishing, signage and improved landscaping
  • Classroom renovations
  • Technology upgrades
  • Energy sustainability plans
  • East Rosedale Street storefronts
  • The Rosedale Apartments
  • Karen Cramer Stadium and Moritz Field House

Slabach was determined to change that. He saw the changes happening to Rosedale and knew the university needed a presence on the street.

The Rosedale Renaissance was born. The term comes from a fundraising effort to build the 83-foot tall Canafax Clock Tower, reflecting pool and visitor park — all of which are now part of the university’s front door.

The campaign name has stayed far longer than the fundraising effort. 

“It stuck. It did,” Slabach said. “It encapsulates all of the economic revitalization efforts that we’re trying to do.”

Mia Moss grew up around Rosedale. She remembers how the area was bare and how few businesses stayed and sustained themselves. The Poly Grill was one, but had to close as Rosedale was rebuilt, she said.

In 2019, Moss bought the building, about a block south of Rosedale, that housed the Poly Grill and transformed it into Black Coffee, 1417 Vaughn Blvd.

“I wanted to bring some new life on this side just by adding a coffee shop,” Moss said. “We know that when you see a coffee shop in a neighborhood that’s a safe space for everyone to meet, to hang out, to study, and that’s what I wanted to do.”

In 2022, a pizza restaurant — Joe’s Hangout — set up shop on East Rosedale and more recently, the Fort Worth Report opened its newsroom in a building leased from Texas Wesleyan.

Success of Texas Wesleyan, Poly connected 

Boren, of the East Fort Worth Business Association, sees Texas Wesleyan as an entirely different school now because of Slabach. 

“It’s hard to imagine that the Rosedale Renaissance would have happened the way it happened without him,” Boren said.

The Rosedale Renaissance is not stopping because Slabach is leaving. In fact, Slabach sees it accelerating.

Texas Wesleyan is nearing the completion of its new football field. Before too long, a field house and stadium will be constructed around the field. 

Shifting demographics

Polytechnic Heights has experienced several shifts in demographics since the 1960s. 

The area was once a majority white, blue-collar neighborhood. In the 1960s, more Black residents started to move in.

In the 2000s, another shift happened. This time, more Latinos started to call Polytechnic home.

Now, more than six in 10 Poly residents are Latino and nearly three in 10 are Black.

The estimated $20 million stadium will be the home of the Texas Wesleyan football and soccer teams, but Slabach sees it as a draw for people who don’t visit east Fort Worth — or haven’t in years. Fort Worth ISD and other groups are interested in using the athletic field, too.

“We really think that’s going to be an economic draw for the neighborhood,” Slabach said. “It’ll bring more people to the neighborhood, which drives retail. It’ll help the restaurants that we already have here and bring more.”

Moss agreed. The Poly area will see new attention, something the neighborhood hasn’t had in decades, she said. Still, she has concerns.

“The fear is residents being forgotten — being forced out — based on development, growth and the rising cost of everything,” Moss said.

Moss is hopeful the Polytechnic Heights Main Street America Program can strike the right balance of development for her neighborhood. Texas Wesleyan and Slabach have taken that approach through their revitalization efforts, she said.

“With President Slabach, they just really dug into not just their campus, but the surrounding area,” Moss said.

Passing the baton

The revitalization of Texas Wesleyan and the Polytechnic neighborhood didn’t happen overnight. Bringing new life and energy into this part of east Fort Worth has taken more than a decade. 

Slabach, though, knows he has run his leg of the marathon that is the Rosedale Renaissance. He’s passing the baton to his successor.

“The new person is going to be able to come in and survey the landscape and say now that we have this foundation, here are some opportunities and there’ll be a burst of energy and enthusiasm built around that new vision,” Slabach said. “That’s a really beneficial aspect of leadership transition.”

The board of trustees’ presidential search committee received 104 applications for Slabach’s position, Lewis, the board chairman, told the Fort Worth Report. The field was winnowed to four finalists who trustees interviewed in mid-May, he said.

The board is aiming to have Slabach’s successor in place before July 1, his last day.

Regardless of who the next president is, Lewis expects that person to start the next era of the Rosedale Renaissance.

“There’s still work to be done — a lot of it,” Lewis said. “He has laid the groundwork for what needs to follow.”

When Slabach leaves Texas Wesleyan for the last time, he will drive on a road that looks nothing like it did on his first day as president in 2011. He will pass storefronts that are ready for businesses. He’ll also see those that already exist.

And soon the Rosedale Renaissance he ignited will be in his rearview mirror.

What are some of Slabach’s other accomplishments?

Texas Wesleyan University President Fred Slabach has led the east Fort Worth-based higher education institution for 12 years. Here’s a look at some of his other accomplishments:

  • Increased student enrollment. Texas Wesleyan had 178 students enroll during Slabach’s first semester as president, he said. In fall 2022, the university had around 450 students.
  • Started “Smaller. Smarter.” campaign to attract more students.
  • Turned around Texas Wesleyan’s financial situation.
  • Sold the Texas Wesleyan School of Law to Texas A&M University. Now, the law school is set to be transformed into Texas A&M-Fort Worth, a Tier One research campus.
  • Texas Wesleyan earned distinctions as a Hispanic Serving Institution and Minority Serving Institution.
  • The university’s endowment doubled under Slabach’s leadership.
  • Restarted Wesleyan’s football team in 2016 after nearly 75 years.

Disclosure: Texas Wesleyan University is a financial supporter of the Fort Worth Report. 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.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at 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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Jacob SanchezEnterprise Reporter

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University....