The 2019 Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo is winding down.
When it ends Saturday night, another chapter in its 100-plus year history will close, too. The Will Rogers Coliseum, the home of the "World's Original Indoor Rodeo" will host its last rodeo Saturday night.
Competitors and fans have gathered there for years, making memories in the dirt and in the stands.
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This time next year, the rodeo moves to the city's $540 million Dickies Arena. It's still under construction, just steps from Will Rogers, but it already brings big promises.
"The finish outs in this arena will be some of the nicest you've seen. It's gonna be Bass Performance Hall in an arena setting," Dickies Arena President and General Manager Matt Homan said.
Homan knows every inch of this place as if it was one of his children. He came to Fort Worth from Philadelphia to oversee the 34-month, multi-million dollar project and manage the venue.
The construction crew broke ground Feb. 8, 2017. Since then, more than 2 million man hours have been spent turning what was a piece of dirt into "the next level of arenas."
In nine months, Homan and Dickies Arena will welcome the first visitors. "I'm excited to see people's faces as they walk into the building," Homan said.
For now, construction workers are tasked with shaping the space into the palace promised in models and mock-up rodeo boxes and suites.
"This is the time to turn the page. And you're gonna have a new facility, newer amenities, and it's gonna lift the rodeo and lift all the events we can do in Fort Worth to a new level," Homan said.
Voters wanted the new development. In 2014, they approved a public-private partnership.
"Public funding is capped at $225 million with no increase in property, sales or hotel occupancy tax rates and no impact to the city’s operating funds and debt capacity. The arena will be financially self-sufficient, with no public money going toward operations or maintenance," the city said in a July 2018 news release.
"This is really that gift back to the citizens of Fort Worth, and what a gift it's gonna be," Homan said.
Homan praised voters for their willingness to support a new multipurpose arena that can host rodeos, sporting events, concerts and graduations. And, he said, it will happen with no threat to the city's other event spaces.
"We actually have a trilateral non-compete with the Fort Worth Convention Center, meaning I'm not going after their business. And the trilateral includes the Will Rogers campus because I'm not trying to bring those equestrian events over here," Homan explained.
Likewise, the convention center will step out of the arena business. And, Homan said, the deal to build Dickies Arena will ultimately lead to an improved convention center.
"The bond dollars the city is using for their part of the project, that $225 million that they're capped at, once that debt starts being paid back, they can use those same bond dollars and go back and start revitalizing the convention center. So this arena's success is vital to revitalizing the convention center," Homan said.
And, the 14,000-seat arena is mission critical as the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
"It gives us a chance to take, by then,102 years of professional rodeo history and tradition and authenticity, and take it to a new level in a 21st century complex that has all those bells and whistles that will truly give that fan an enhanced and new experience that'll be second to none," said Matt Brockman, Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo spokesman.
Mixed in with the new bells and whistles will be links to the post.
"It might smell a little different at the beginning, but hey, a rodeo arena is a rodeo arena, and it won't be long until the popcorn, that arena smell, everything that people are used to will be replicated in Dickies Arena."
Just like at Will Rogers, you'll still see the bunting hanging from the ceiling and on the arena walls.
The red diamonds on the bucking chutes will be there; the configuration of the arena will be the same. And, at every rodeo, that beautiful grand entry parade will still snake its way through the arena.
Preserving parts of history matters in a city that prides itself on its cowboy culture, yet so does providing a first-class facility with more seats — 14,000 versus 6,000 in Will Rogers — and more opportunity.
"Every little detail's been looked at to make sure this arena is something Fort Worth citizens can be proud of. And that's the piece people don't understand yet that I want them to continue to get," Homan said.
Many seem eager to get a place in the arena. Three of four premium levels are sold out: 40 suites, 214 rodeo boxes — 62 more than in Will Rogers — and 32 loge boxes have been bought. The goal now is to sell out the seats in the lower bowl of the arena in time for the 2020 Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
"We have 2,600 club seats to sell. It includes all rodeos in the year, a parking place during the rodeo and first right of refusal to buy those seats for other event in the arena," Homan said.
Dickies Arena debuts in November with a two nights of concerts from country music legend George Strait. The Nov. 22 date sold out in minutes, so the Texas Troubadour added a second show. Tickets to the Saturday, Nov. 23 concert go on sale Friday, Feb. 8 on Ticketmaster.
The arena will host the first indoor rodeo on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. And, year-round equestrian events will still find a home at the Will Rogers Coliseum.