Friends keep asking me why I’m so excited about the Hickman family partnership with Majestic Realty on Stockyards Heritage. Some of them have read and even believed negative comments regarding the project, many of which were sensationalized speculation with no truth or fact.
I’ve been in and around the Fort Worth Stockyards nearly every day of the last 33 years. I first came here at the invitation of Steve Murrin to announce an All-Girl Rodeo at Cowtown Coliseum in 1982. Billy Bob’s Texas had just been open a year. There was no Maverick Fine Western Wear clothing store… no Lonesome Dove restaurant… no Cadillac Cantina… the Livestock Exchange Building was in poor repair… and no one walked East on E. Exchange Avenue.
Why? There was nothing but vacant, deteriorating buildings like the Mule Barns. The Sheep and Hog Pens were vacant and filthy. At the top of the hill was the Spaghetti Warehouse, but folks didn’t feel safe to walk between the Coliseum and that area. On the west side of Exchange was the still popular Star Café … there was a restaurant where Pearl’s is now… and lots of bars. In front of Billy Bob’s was a parking lot and to the north – where Cooper’s Barbecue is now – was dimly-lit parking.
The cattle pens were deteriorating. There were homeless people that lived in two metal shacks near Billy Bob’s, who often used the decaying wood from the pens to build fires to keep warm in the winter.
In 1985, Billy Bob’s Texas owner Billy Bob Barnett began to turn the entire Stockyards area into a western-themed entertainment facility. Long-time local property owners were thrilled with the thought of more business. Unfortunately, Barnett’s vision was not realized because he was unable to raise the millions of dollars necessary for development. The honkytonk closed in 1988 – and the dream of more business in the Stockyards appeared to be dying.
Later that year, Holt Hickman provided the major funding to reopen Billy Bob’s Texas – and that’s where I went to work alongside my husband, Billy. I spent the next 23 years working day and night in our Stockyards. In addition to my role at Billy Bob’s, I volunteered on committees, helped raise money for the Fort Worth Police Mounted Patrol barns and became president of Friends of the Fort Worth Herd.
During this time, I learned from Holt Hickman of his fond memories of the Stockyards and watched how he purposefully began his quest to preserve the area. His first acquisition was the Livestock Exchange Building, where he began expensive restoration. The Hog and Sheep Pens came next, turning what was a stale, smelly and dangerous assembly of deteriorating pens into Stockyards Station. Small shops and local restaurants were added, while the charm of the building was preserved for all to enjoy.
Next, Holt recognized that the Horse and Mule Barns needed major attention, so he brought the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame from Hico and the Sterquell Wagon Collection from Amarillo to the Stockyards. Millions of dollars were spent just to bring their building up to code with structural changes, fire prevention sprinklers, new electrical and water supply.
Holt knew the other Mule Barn was also in dire need of repair, but sadly, his health began to fail. Throughout his decline, he remained passionate about his work on for preservation and restoration of the Stockyards, always sharing his vision with his wife Jo, son Brad, and daughter Brenda, as well as several close friends and neighboring business owners.
Billy and I reminded the Hickman family that Holt’s vision for the future of the Stockyards could be realized through our friends at Majestic Realty, who had expressed a deep interest in the Stockyards for nearly two decades. While Majestic is a California-based company, owner and founder Ed Roski is from Oklahoma and is truly a country boy at heart. Like Holt, Ed is a man whose handshake is his bond – the cowboy way.
In honor of Holt and his faith in Majestic being able to help realize his vision, Billy and I are proud to support Stockyards Heritage for the following reasons.
PRESERVE – Stockyards Heritage will continue the dream that Holt had to preserve the Stockyards. Some say “leave the Stockyards alone.” Have you seen what has happened to the charming buildings in the Stockyards that have been left alone? They crumble. Anyone who has a wooden fence knows that 10 to 20 years is about the lifespan of wood left the rain, wind and sun. Preservation takes money, and Majestic-Hickman is willing to make that investment.
PROTECT – The change of zoning from K1 (heavy industrial) to MU2 (mixed use) will keep more warehouses from being built in the area. I still cringe when I’m at the back of Stockyards Station and you can only hear the sound of heavy machinery at the nearby warehouse. The strict guidelines set by the Historic Stockyards Design Standard Task Force will ensure that area structures keep their original charm.
ENHANCE – As a board member of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau for eight years, I’ve seen how much visitors love the western heritage and charm they find in the Stockyards. But I’ve also learned is that visitors often check the Stockyards off their “bucket list” and don’t find enough reasons to return. To sustain businesses in the Stockyards, we must give visitors more shopping, more dining and more family-friendly activities.
ENGAGE – The Stockyards Heritage vision includes more open spaces that are people-friendly, more educational activities and a horse arena with demonstrations and displays, where locals and visitors alike can become educated, entertained and engaged.
I ask you to please look at the facts. Before you believe and spread sensationalized statements or rumors, ask some questions. If you truly want the history of the Stockyards to be preserved for generations, there has to be a significant investment.
Billy and I strongly believe that the Hickman family partnership with their Majestic friends are the answer for the future of the Stockyards. Many have fond memories of what the Stockyards once was…we know the heart of what it can be.