The Fort Worth Stockyards are at the heart of Cowtown history. It's a tradition people treasure and want to hold onto, but changes are coming.
For the first time Wednesday night, NBC 5 got a look at a major makeover turning 200,000 square feet of buildings from old livestock barns into restaurant, retail and entertainment space.
The developers’ biggest challenge is to balance the old with the new. Construction has just begun after four years of planning, and developers say they're taking their time to make sure their plans fit the old Fort Worth feel.
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Visitors like the Reilly family trekked here from Boston to watch the daily cattle drive and feel the old school vibe.
"You do feel like you're back in the 1800s," Jacqueline Reilly said.
"We really love the character of it all,” her mother Sharyn Reilly added. “That's what drew us here, to see some kind of nostalgia like this, that's definitely a draw here and I hope it keeps this."
Just up Exchange Avenue, signs of change are already here. A wall around the old horse and mule barns promises a new age of growth.
"A mixed-use project of hospitality, entertainment, live music," said Craig Cavileer, Executive Vice President of the Majestic Realty Company.
He and his partners at Hickman Investments unveiled their plans Wednesday night for phase one of a major stockyards makeover, turning those old barns into a strip of restaurants, retail and office space -- anchored by a $100 million 4-star boutique hotel.
They're moving into the future, with an eye toward the past.
"We know that it can't be too polished,” Cavileer said. “We know that it can't be too pretty. We know that it needs to be real, authentic, hand-forged, craftsman."
That pledge to preserve historic character was central to city council approving the project four years ago.
“The Stockyards would never be Disneyland,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price.
It's a public-private partnership, $175 million dollars in phase one and Mayor Price says they're already seeing a return on investment with new businesses signing on, all with a nod to western heritage.
"That feel, the dusty, the authentic is Fort Worth,” Mayor Price said. “We're probably the only major city, and we're number 15 now, that still has that feel, that real down home character."
A place to get your boots dirty, as you step into the past.
The project is just getting started. Developers will begin drawing up phase two on Monday. That will be on the north side of Exchange and will focus on livestock events like barrel racing and cattle sales, playing up the district’s western heritage even more.
Developers are planning to finish construction on the strip of shops and restaurants known as Mule Alley by fall of next year. Hotel Drover is set for completion in spring of 2020.