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The more we learn about Texas A&M-Fort Worth project, the better it sounds for downtown | Opinion

Did you hear the one about the Aggie who moved to Fort Worth instead of Dallas?

Even Aggies know that Fort Worth is the place to be.

That’s a joke (barely) told in a spirit of admiration for the Texas A&M University System’s commitment to Fort Worth. We already suspected that the system’s commitment to expand at the downtown site of its law school would be good for the city. The system and its partners recently revealed details about construction and financing plans, and the more we learn, the more there is to like.

Thanks to an innovative public-private partnership, the three-building campus should be operational within a few years. A&M’s commitment, pegged at about $255 million, is significant. And the arrangement calls for the city, county and businesses to collaborate.

The return should be exponential. Beyond the obvious advantages of adding a campus of a top research university, the deal has the potential to kickoff major growth and change to southern downtown that could benefit the whole area.

City cores are struggling with the after-effects of the pandemic, particularly the shift to remote work that makes premium office space unnecessary for some companies. Texas A&M-Fort Worth will draw faculty and students, of course, but also new kinds of businesses, especially in burgeoning technology fields.

A&M officials envision research and training facilities that support premium jobs in the economy of the future, noting in particular the fields of engineering and healthcare — along with, in the words of System Chancellor John Sharp, “technology workers whose jobs don’t even exist today.”

Chancellor John Sharp hosts an event to introduce the Texas A&M-Fort Worth campus on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, at Burnett Plaza. The downtown research campus will be a three-building complex, estimated to be finished in 2025.
Chancellor John Sharp hosts an event to introduce the Texas A&M-Fort Worth campus on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, at Burnett Plaza. The downtown research campus will be a three-building complex, estimated to be finished in 2025.

That’s the kind of innovation Fort Worth needs to continue its growth in a way that boosts more of our population. Leaders are confident that the A&M facilities will improve the odds of landing corporate relocations, boosting the young, educated workforce those companies require and even, ultimately, improving the business vs. residential property tax imbalance that puts the burden for funding government disproportionately upon homeowners.

Those are big, ambitious long-term goals. The potential is real, but getting there will require sustained work and commitment.

To speed construction of two of the three A&M buildings, a research facility and a building with a conference center and offices, the city will issue revenue bonds, backed by leases to A&M and other entities. These bonds, which will not require voter approval, cut about a decade off the timeline if A&M paid for the work alone, officials said.

The city and Tarrant County have each pledged $2 million toward the project. And there are other opportunities to make the most of the A&M development along Commerce and Calhoun streets. The nearby Fort Worth Central Station is an important connection to mass transit and, if it ever materializes, high-speed rail that links Fort Worth to other parts of Texas.

To maximize the potential, it’s important to make the entire area walkable, with safe and attractive sidewalks. Trinity Metro should consider expanding the Dash bus service, which currently connects downtown to the Cultural District and 7th Street, to the Stockyards and South Main, to maximize options for workers and visitors or tourists alike.

It’s astonishing to think that a city the size of Fort Worth doesn’t have an outlet of a major state university system. That’s not to diminish nearby UT-Arlington or Tarleton State’s local campus, which is part of the A&M System. And TCU remains an important part of the city’s growth and development, especially with the medical school now under construction.

But the A&M System is a game-changer. Right now, cooperation among A&M, Fort Worth, Tarrant County and the business community is at a peak. If each does its part and continues to collaborate rather than compete, all of Fort Worth — but especially downtown — is in for an incredible payoff.