Texas A&M Fort Worth
Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Texas, and Texas A&M see opportunity to thrive together as plans move forward for a new law school to anchor the redevelopment of a neglected downtown district.
In a state defined by big personalities, big ambitions, and big cities, Fort Worth, Texas, has long occupied a unique role relative to some of its Lone Star peers. With a population of nearly 1,000,000, Fort Worth is the 12th largest city in the United States – but is frequently defined by comparison to its larger Metroplex neighbor, Dallas.
Nevertheless, Fort Worth and Tarrant County Texas boasts plenty of assets of its own, namely a high concentration of higher education institutions, including the Texas A&M University School of Law. Over the last five years, the law school has grown in enrollment and ranking to become one of the Top 50 law schools in the country, according to US News & World Report. A&M owns four square city blocks – primarily composed of surface parking lots – near Fort Worth’s downtown in a former red-light district sometimes known locally as “hell’s half acre.” Despite the city’s rapid population increase, this underperforming area of downtown was missing opportunities for economic growth.
Through an initiative called Fort Worth Now, law school and municipal leaders alike saw an opportunity to address both challenges at once: leverage the institution’s growth in a way that could catalyze downtown’s transformation. As one of its most important land-grant universities, A&M carries a strong mandate from the State of Texas to utilize its assets in ways that support the higher education and upward mobility of Texas’ citizens. Realizing its potential as a talent magnet and economic catalyst is fully in keeping with this mission and university leadership consider it a strategic imperative. A&M and their local partners – including industry leaders – engaged U3 Advisors to advance this vision for a redevelopment scenario that would benefit the law school today and tomorrow while supporting the continued growth of Fort Worth and the entire A&M system.
U3’s vision document, presented in November 2020, during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, painted a compelling portrait of how the district around the law school could evolve, given the right investment and partnerships. Simply put, aligning the research and mission of A&M with Fort Worth’s industry strengths could create a win-win for both North Texas and the University System. At the core of the plan: a newly expanded, state-of-the-art law school facility, anchoring a new A&M campus district designed around innovation, research, technology, industry partnerships, and economic energy.
The next phase of U3’s work was a comprehensive Economic Needs Assessment to determine exactly what assets may exist in the area covered by the vision document, what kinds of resources may need to be brought to the table, and what kinds of new partnerships and collaborations could be fostered to support future development. The firm conducted more than fifty interviews with local stakeholders, including City and County leadership, local business leaders, community representatives, and A&M stakeholders as part of this assessment.
The results of this work informed the third phase of U3’s engagement for the City of Fort Worth and Tarrant County – the preparation of a request for proposals (RFP) to identify a campus development partner for the university with the capabilities and resources to move the vision into implementation.
U3 Advisors’ ongoing involvement in Fort Worth incorporates a broad set of the firm’s skills and involves multiple practice areas simultaneously: the firm’s expertise in urban planning, anchor strategy, real estate analysis, community partnerships, and innovation & commercialization have all been used at various stages of this engagement. While Texas A&M has led this process throughout and remains the biggest champion for the burgeoning law school campus, a coalition of partners, including Downtown Fort Worth, Inc., local government, and strongly committed private funders have been essential to moving the plans forward.
At the core of this work is a clear vision for how institutions and communities can inspire each other, combine their efforts to compete for talent and economic activity, and reinvent themselves while staying true to their missions.