By June Naylor
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Dickies Arena will host everyone from bull riders to basketball players. It’s modern, but there’s more than a nod to its Western heritage. Join us on a sneak peek.
For nearly three years, we’ve watched the $540 million Dickies Arena take shape. The domed roof can be seen from miles away as you’re driving into Fort Worth on Interstates 30 and 35. It dwarfs its older sibling, the 1936-era Will Rogers Coliseum, and everything else around it. With a 14,000-seat capacity, it’s smaller than the 20,000-seat American Airlines Center in Dallas but is larger than the coliseum, with its 5,600-plus capacity. Traffic snarls created by endless utility and construction work along Montgomery Street have slowly begun to ease up as the arena nears its Oct. 26 opening. Landscaping — oaks, cottonwoods, grasses and, yes, even turf grass — softens all that brick. As construction vehicles and barriers disappear, architectural details come into focus, as does the detailed mosaic work on the facade. The facility that has been the bane of our existence (especially that of business owners along Montgomery, whose customers couldn’t access parking lots) is starting to look like a place we can welcome, whether it’s for the rodeo, a basketball game or a concert. We took a tour in late August to check out the progress.
Three kinds of native grasses figure into the landscaping, filling ground beds and raised granite beds. Built-in benches invite guests to linger outside the arena. Approaches to the 560,000-square-foot arena and its 4.8-acre plaza include a walkway from the Chevrolet parking garage; an Italy-inspired curved staircase on the southeast corner, next to a deluxe elevator; and wide steps on the north side leading to the formal entrance. There, the entry is framed by two grand structures that emulate the iconic Will Rogers Coliseum tower just a stone’s throw to the north. There are numerous examples, outside and in, of thoughtful architectural details that tie the Dickies Arena design to that of the nearby art deco structure.
High above the north entrance, a colorful tile mosaic is the work of New York-based EverGreene Architectural Arts. The scene depicts a cattle drive, oil derricks, men and women on horseback, cactuses and wildflowers. Over the southern entrance, a sweeping mosaic mural by Denver-based cowboy artist William Matthews is a reproduction of the artist’s original watercolor. Bronze relief sculptures of a cowboy and a Native American, each on horseback, flank the mural.
Other details to note on the exterior include scrolled grill work on inset panels with themes such as horses, guitars and a circus big top. The arena building and plaza feature 1.3 million bricks — in shades subtly ranging from sand to pale terra cotta. On the south and east plazas, Brazilian walnut decking is interspersed with trees and uplighting to soften the hardscape. Just outside the east entrance, a glass-and-steel pavilion allows patrons to peer in windows to see athletes or horses, depending on the event at hand, warming up on the floor below.
The six-story parking garage warrants its own noteworthy murals. Two 50-foot-tall tile mosaics created by Massachusetts artist Mike Mandel adorn the northeast and northwest corner towers of the garage. Facing east, the work called Pioneers of Texas Transportation honors the GM plant in Arlington, established in 1954; American civil aviator Bessie Coleman of Waxahachie, the first African-American pilot awarded an international pilot’s license; and Bell Aircraft Corporation’s 1951 opening in Fort Worth. Facing west, the mural called Stock Show Parades is an ode to philanthropist, oilman and cattle executive Sid Richardson, great-uncle to Dickies Arena champion and stock show chairman Ed Bass.
On the plaza level, terrazzo floors include images such as a star surrounded by a lasso. Star-shaped chandeliers and sleek wall sconces continue the art deco theme, and silver railings are punctuated with panels featuring native grass designs, which also are found in the carpet motif throughout private suites. The suites are simple and elegant, with smooth wood cabinetry, blonde granite countertops and barstool seating; each suite also offers 12 cushy gray leather seats in three rows, with small granite tabletops between seats.
Reached via a stunning spiral staircase, elevators and escalators, there’s seating on three levels — gallery up top, suite and loge seating in the middle and club seating closest to the floor. A big plus is more room between rows. Dominating your view, the imposing video board measures just over 25 feet high and nearly 38 feet wide, with rounded corners to wrap the display in seamless fashion. (Watching the action on the floor, and not the board, is sure to prove a challenge.)
At the north end of the suite level, a dining venue called the North Club (that name might change) is the upscale option, with white tablecloths and menus from arena executive chef David Wetli. At the opposite end, the South Club also features table service, with a more casual menu. Concession stands throughout the arena, all operated by Trail Drive Management Corp., the arena’s nonprofit operating entity, will offer hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels, beer and soft drinks. One arena sponsor, Texas Health Resources, is developing a healthy-options menu for a dedicated concession stand.
For concertgoers, the sound quality promises to be stellar. For basketball fans, the view puts you pretty close to the action, even in the cheap seats. Like all new things, the arena will be a bit of a shock to veteran rodeo fans. But the familiar voice of announcer Bob Tallman, the red dirt floor and aroma of sweet hay and horse manure should even things out come January.
Project cost is $540 million
Inside, there are 40 suites and 32 loge boxes with 14,000 seats for concerts, 13,000 seats for basketball games and 9,300 seats for rodeo performances
Plans are for 130 events a year
The outdoor plaza is 4.8 acres with room for 2,000 guests at outdoor festivals and events
1.3 million Acme bricks (the color is Golden Sunset Flash) are used in construction of facility
6,400 people worked on the project with 800 people on the job site at once on busiest days
4 million man hours needed to complete the construction
Design architect David M. Schwarz Architects
Architect of record HKS Architects
General contractor The Beck Group
The Chevrolet garage offers 2,200 spaces on six levels; parking fees vary according to event. There are 3,300 additional spaces in the surface lots just east of the arena. Other parking on the Will Rogers Memorial Center grounds is $10. Street parking in the immediate neighborhood is curtailed significantly with the AHNA residential Permit Parking Program. The city is finalizing Phase II of the program in September for all blocks closest to the arena. Using a ride program such as Uber or Lyft may be easiest for some patrons, and there is a designated drop-off spot for such services.
No one will miss the traffic issues imposed by the utility construction necessary on Montgomery Street. Vending Nut Company will welcome back the annual holiday business it missed last year because its parking lot couldn’t be reached by large trucks. The 70-year-old Montgomery Street Cafe will have its traditional long lines out the door again for breakfast, and owner Claudette Finley can stop answering questions about whether she wants to move her cafe (“I like the path of least resistance, and I’m too stubborn to move,” she says, adding, “My Employees and customers like us right here.”). Sarah Castillo, owner of Taco Heads (open since 2016), is eager to see business ramp up again. Sales were down when customers couldn’t access her parking lot, and tow trucks were forever pulling her guests’ cars out of construction ditches in front. “It was hard on everybody on the street, but we survived,” she says, adding that she’s ready to bring in new customers — her restaurant is open for three meals daily — visiting the arena with a new patio bar, more beer storage and an awning for added shade for outdoor seating. “I’m looking forward to not worrying about making payroll. I’m excited about the pretty days when everyone’s out walking down the street. That will be the reward for making it through this storm.”
Dickies Arena will host a wide-ranging selection of events. Bookings still in talks include attractions like Disney on Ice and Cirque du Soleil.
Oct. 26 Official ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house; the public will be able to tour the entire facility and purchase food from concession stands; free to public, time to be announced.
Nov. 8 Twenty One Pilots concert
Nov. 14 The Black Keys concert
Nov. 15-16 Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live
Nov. 17 Mercy Me concert
Nov. 22-23 George Strait concerts
Dec. 6 Men’s basketball, USC vs. TCU
Dec. 8 Men’s basketball, Texas A&M vs. University of Texas
Jan. 17-Feb. 8, 2020 Rodeo performances, Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo
(Note only the rodeo moves to Dickies Arena; all other stock show events and attractions remain in the original Will Rogers complex locations.)
March 12-15, 2020 American Athletic Conference men’s basketball championships
For all ticket information, visit dickiesarena.com/events.