Cattle still graze along the rolling hills of what used to be the Historic Veale Ranch. They won’t be there forever.
Taylor Baird, a partner at PMB Capital Investments, considers the 1,500 acres of remaining vacant land as a development gold mine. His company already developed a 492-acre master-planned community known as Ventana adjacent to the vacant property.
As Baird drives along the dirt roads his company now owns, he shows a map of what the land could become. Homes. Mixed-use developments. Parks and open space. And enough room for industrial megasites that could employ hundreds.
“Very rarely do you have this much land that is so close to a city center. And that has been a key selling point to the users that are coming in,” Baird said. “The other thing is just how fast and big this place is and how much growth you can really accommodate here.”
The space also has the city of Fort Worth’s attention. The economic development department sees it as a prime opportunity to attract a large employer that wants to expand. There’s just one problem: The land isn’t ready to build on.
The U.S. government is offering incentives for companies to produce their products domestically, but manufacturers are also facing a problem. There’s not enough land with roads, water, sewer and utilities ready to accommodate large plants.
The city sees areas such as Walsh and Veale ranches as prime real estate for a manufacturing mega-site, according to Robert Sturns, the city’s economic development director. Much of the land does not have the infrastructure like roads and water capacity to sustain such a facility. That’s why the city is investing $88 million to make these sites “shovel-ready.”
The importance of ‘shovel-ready’ land
About 30% of Tarrant County’s land is vacant, according to 2020 data from the North Central Council of Governments. Most land is used for housing in Tarrant County – about 30% for single-family and a little over 2% for multifamily. A relatively small percentage of land – 7% – is used for industrial purposes such as manufacturing plants.
The loss of a huge economic development deal with electric carmaker Rivian in 2021 forced the city to realize the importance of having infrastructure and land ready for manufacturers to start construction immediately.
Rivian eyed an area around Walsh Ranch for a new plant, but ultimately the company landed in Georgia, where the company has faced stiff opposition from residents.
Sturns cited water requirements as a reason behind Rivian’s decision. The city was already constructing water and sewer lines, but Rivian needed a certain amount of gallons per day for the site, which Fort Worth was unable to provide within the tight deadlines the company set, Sturns said.
“Part of their big concern (was) were we going to be able to supply the necessary water utilities needed for the project?” Sturns said.
Despite the loss of that deal, the city is moving forward and investing millions of dollars out west to ensure adequate infrastructure is there to meet the needs of future clients.
The city, county and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) are investing about $162 million toward infrastructure work over the next two to three years. The goal is to add water and sewer lines by early 2024 while TxDOT works with the county to complete interchanges and roads that allow people to access the sites by 2025 or 2026.
The demand for megasites like Rivian’s — a large plot of land, usually between 500 and 2,000 acres — has exponentially increased in the last few years, said Larry Gigerich, chair of the Site Selectors Guild, an association of professional site selection consultants.
Three years ago, megasites made up 5% of their projects. Now, Gigerich estimates about one in four projects are megasites.
“The last two years is the busiest time of our careers as site selectors,” he said.
Vacant sites in the Midwest and Southwest are among the country’s hotspots for manufacturers right now. The sites have a lot more requirements to build on: gas, electricity, roads, sewer, water. For manufacturing sites, electricity and water are critically important, Gigerich said. Water is the No. 1 issue, he said.
About 75% of the guild’s clients prefer to move into existing buildings rather than build new ones because it’s faster to get them operational.
“You get to a point in any deal, whether it’s a megasite deal or not, whether it’s new construction or going to an existing building, where our confidence levels are at a point where we can move forward,” Gigerich said. “You’re still not going to see companies take unnecessary risks that really put them at the spot.”
As the demand for vacant land continues to grow alongside the many federal incentives boosting a “Made in America” approach, the Dallas-Fort Worth area is poised to receive a lot of momentum as a top location.
“I think Fort Worth, because of that land being available (and) if the infrastructure piece can be figured out correctly, will take advantage of the fact that that land is there, and there’s an opportunity for more development,” Gigerich said.
Planning for long-term growth
While the city is working to accommodate potential projects in the near future, it is also working with property developers like Veale Ranch on long-term planning as the area continues to rapidly grow.
The City Council approved an agreement between Fort Worth and PMB Capital Investments on Dec. 13, 2022. Some key points in the agreement include the annexation of more than 5,000 acres during the next 40 to 50 years.
The agreement also creates a public improvement district and tax increment financing on the Veale property to help fund infrastructure improvements in the area over time.
PMG’s Baird, which oversees Veale Ranch, said the agreement between the city and the company plays a critical role in delivering on promises.
“Before we had that agreement with the city of Fort Worth, somebody could say, ‘I’m really interested in that 100 acres, let’s build this,’ and we didn’t have an answer to say, ‘How are you going to get water, how are you going to get sewer? How do we finance the construction of the roadways?’” Baird said.
While the city has yet to see the ultimate payoff from its long-term planning efforts, Sturns said, Fort Worth’s investments out west prove the city has learned lessons from Rivian’s decision and is ready to take on the next big project.
“We really took (the loss of Rivian) as, ‘Let’s not let up on the gas, let’s continue to push forward, let’s get stuff as ready as we can,’” Sturns said, “so we can put ourselves in the optimal position to attract some of these large users.”
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ssadek19.
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.
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