By June Naylor
Photos by Ralph Lauer
Dickies Arena is a multipurpose venue, but the horse and cattle crowd is looking forward to filling the new digs with dirt.
January and its infamous “stock show weather” might feel like a long way away but gearing up for the 2020 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo season is top of mind for many right now. As the $540 million Dickies Arena nears its public unveiling this month, FWSSR officials are taking stock of its first new rodeo venue since 1944. Celebrating 101 years of its reign as the oldest indoor rodeo, the event’s fresh face is wowing stock show veterans.
“I’ve never been to any kind of rodeo that has everything this new arena offers. It’s far exceeding all my expectations,” says Mary Margaret Richter, FWSSR board member and new appointee to the executive committee (among other official titles), who visited twice recently. “It’s hard to wrap your head around it.”
The differences in how the rodeo audience and participants will experience this new 14,000-seat facility over that of its smaller predecessor, the beloved Will Rogers Coliseum just a short walk to the north, are many-faceted. The spectator view from the plaza level, situated above the suites and loge boxes, is the best in the house, Richter thinks. “Watching will be incredible. You’re right over the action; it’s going to have an intimate feel.”
The enormous video board, measuring just over 25 feet high and nearly 38 feet wide, with rounded corners to wrap the display in seamless fashion, pulls you into the action, too, whether you’re watching rodeo events, college basketball, music concerts or monster truck pulls. But as someone whose interests also weigh heavily as a host, Richter says the rodeo — and other sports and entertainment participants — will be given unprecedented comforts and amenities. She points to backstage areas that include lockers with electric charging stations, live TV feeds from the arena action, showers, workout facilities and high-end catering capabilities. These are a serious upgrade from warehouses with temporary walls, little climate control and chili dogs as the best food option.
Not that George Strait would turn up his nose at a hot dog, but he and his band will have all the luxuries they’d enjoy at Dallas’ American Airlines Center or other top-level venues when they play in November at Dickies Arena. Same goes for the inaugural NCAA men’s basketball competitors when TCU hosts USC in December. The floor is even equipped for Disney on Ice, an event under consideration.
When the public gets to tour the arena on ribbon-cutting day, Oct. 26 — the first official event is a Nov. 8 concert — visitors are likely to be as agog as the rodeo veterans; there’s a lot to take in. While pale terra-cotta brick (1.3 million Acme bricks were used) dominates the exterior and walkways, the building is surrounded by native grasses and trees, granite seating areas and Brazilian walnut decking on the 4.8-acre plaza (where festivals can be held). An Italian-inspired curved staircase next to the outdoor elevator provides its own grand entry from the street-level parking lots. Large mosaic murals break up the expanses of brick over the north and south entrances and also on the 2,200-space parking garage. Framing the north entrance, two art deco towers stand in homage to the iconic Will Rogers Coliseum tower nearby. Other details to note on the exterior include bas-relief panels with themes such as horses and guitars.
That deco theme continues inside on all three levels, accessible via stairs, elevators and escalators, with spectacular terrazzo flooring, silver and white chandeliers and sconces, and a stunning spiral staircase. The abundance of windows helps the public areas feel light and even more spacious.
While we’ll miss the Backstage Club seats overlooking the old arena, new options include table-seating dining during events at the exclusive North Club, with its rich woods, dark granite counters and finely crafted metal detail. The Reliant Club, also accessible to specific ticket holders, on the south end of the arena, features a stunning backlit onyx panel. Signature menu offerings range from duck poutine and Texas cheesesteak to smoked brisket-mashed potato parfait. All food in the arena, from restaurants to concession stands, comes from a culinary team guided by executive chef David Wetli, whose corporate work includes stops in Las Vegas, Denver and Dallas. Healthy options include hummus and crudites, kale chips and a quinoa and dried fruit salad from a stand sponsored by Texas Health Resources.
“What impresses you most is the level of detail here. You get the same sense as when you’re walking into Bass Hall. Every small detail is exact,” says Richter. “I looked around and said, ‘When can I move in?’ It’s really a game-changer.”
For his part, Edward P. Bass, Dickies Arena champion and chairman of the Fine Line Group, is happy with his realized dream: “In Fort Worth, we have three of the finest art museums in America and other institutions of unmistakable quality. Shouldn’t Dickies Arena be the finest multipurpose arena? We aimed to make it just that. Its size and quality will be a magnet for booking entertainment and events.”