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Boiled Owl Tavern co-owner Autumn Brackeen worries that gentrification may one day price out some residents and business owners. Photo by Kayla Stigall.

The Near Southside’s newfound appeal to investors like Churchill and Watson is largely the result of many years of work by Near Southside Inc., formerly known as Fort Worth South Inc.

The largest economic driver for the Near Southside is the Medical District, a network of five major hospitals and dozens of smaller clinics and medical centers. Today, the Near Southside employs 35,000 people and contributes more than $4.2 billion to the local economy, according to Near Southside Inc. Those statistics put the area’s economic impact just behind downtown and ahead of the Alliance area in North Fort Worth.

When Paine began directing the group in 2005, he was tasked with turning around a blighted neighborhood.

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“My first two years on the job, we had 2.5 to 3 percent negative growth,” he said. “We had disinvestment. People were leaving the area.”

Part of the Near Southside’s appeal is its blend of old and new buildings. Photo by Kayla Stigall.

What the district did have was a lot of potential. Not only did the Near Southside house the city’s Medical District, but there were many underutilized historic buildings along Magnolia Avenue and South Main. In 2007, Near Southside Inc. planning director Mike Brennan and Paine put together a plan.

At Brennan and Paine’s request, Fort Worth Police Department opened a station at the corner of Hemphill Street and Magnolia in 2007. The new police presence, Paine said, improved public perception of the area. Some early projects required hiring workers to clean streets and alleys. More costly ventures (paid largely through a TIF or special financing district) added bike lanes, streetside parking, and lane reductions designed to slow traffic and create a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.

Churchill and Watson reached out to Near Southside Inc. early on, Paine said.

“They are exactly the kind of business owners we want in this area,” he said. “They’re bringing local restaurants and not national chains. We want people to come in here and embrace what we are doing. [Churchill and Watson] are not here to change that. They are here to build on that in a way the community wants.”

Keeping independent, locally owned businesses as the face of West Magnolia Avenue is a delicate balancing act, Paine added. There are no rules forbidding chain restaurants from opening in the neighborhood, but Near Southside Inc. directors do their best to explain to developers what has worked well in the past and what Fairmount residents prefer. The form-based code now enforced throughout the area he oversees restricts certain building parameters. Chains like McDonald’s have tried twice to set up shop in the neighborhood, Paine said, but the corporate chain’s execs were unwilling to compromise on design elements. Small business owners, he added, are much more willing to be flexible.

Boiled Owl Tavern co-owner Autumn Brackeen agrees that a large part of Magnolia’s appeal and success is due to its lack of chains. She loves her stretch of avenue for being community-oriented and providing a space for artists and musicians to congregate and collaborate.

“I’ve only been to Kent & Co. [Wines] once,” Brackeen said. “It’s always a positive to bring service industry employment to the area.”

Kent & Co. Wines waitstaff who frequent her bar seem to enjoy working there, she added.

“I love it here,” said Jessica Knott, who’s been tending bar at Kent & Co. Wines for two years. “I love the fact that customers from all walks of life come here. It’s not just about selling wine. We want to make sure you find the glass you want. I love our staff.”

Located near Kent & Co. Wines, The Space provides extra room for private events and wine tastings. Photo by Kayla Stigall.

Brackeen’s biggest worry is the effect gentrification plays in raising rent for businesses and residents.

Paine said that during his 10-year tenure he has seen apartment rent increase from $1 to $1.70 per-square-foot near West Magnolia Avenue.

“Working 20-, 30-, and 40-year-olds should be able to afford living here,” Brackeen said. “A lot of our clients don’t have cars. Most of the businesses here have made it over the first-year hurdle. We’re a family at this point.”

Brackeen doesn’t see any immediate cause for concern, but at some point, she knows the area’s economic growth may push out smaller businesses.

Near Southside Inc. president Paul Paine said the area is now thriving, but when he joined in 2005 he was tasked with turning around a blighted neighborhood. Photo by Kayla Stigall.

“It would be depressing to see people and businesses priced out,” she said.

Her thoughts echo the feelings of many who frequent the Near Southside. While the Kent & Co. owners continue to parry anecdotal hand grenades from Facebook commenters, the bulk of their time is now spent serving a growing customer base through several stores and restaurants.

Kent & Co. is “done buying properties for now,” Churchill said. “We’ve consumed a lot, and now we need to” finish construction.

“That’s not to say we won’t look at other projects in the future,” Watson added. “But it would take a pretty special project with all we have on our plate right now. We want to make sure we stay true to the neighborhood.”

8 COMMENTS

  1. Worse thing in the world for Magnolia, someone needs to take these shiny-eyed, high-dollar brats fishing … way out in the middle of Benbrook lake. The locals should be throwing rocks at these sneering, Westover Hills yahoos. Magnolia is not, has never been, & doesn’t want to be North Side nor West Side. Wise up, leave it the hell alone. Cowtown, our North Side, is now Disney World! Why in pluperfect hell ruin the South Side ? Fairmount needs to rise up and drop the hammer on these greed-head, rich brat, snot-rags. Sweet Fairmount does not deserve to become Six-Flags. This is all about the money, my bird-dog is smart enough to figure this stinking deal out. Don’t go for it. Please. Frank Kent my stinking ass!

  2. I think this article is a bit skewed toward Kent & Co. It doesn’t mention Will’s reluctance to reach out to the neighbors. He honestly thinks every decision he makes is for the community and whines when someone does not agree with him; he is not one for compromise. I’ve personally seen him in action in the Near Southside planning meetings. He refused to even discuss the detailed plans for ‘The Space’ with the community.

    He also wanted to put a multi-story garage behind Carten’s Shoes.

    Also, ask the real estate agent who manages the property for sale just south of The Space. With an asking price that Kent & Co.(Will) felt was unreasonable; he made it perfectly clear how he felt about it.

    I’d be curious to better understand the terms of the sale of Kent Honda as I think that is driving why the pursuit of buying up properties and offering leases under market value. All while the neighborhood is asked to pay more in property taxes.

  3. I was in Dallas last weekend. The southside is coming along nicely, but I wouldn’t worry about it becoming “Dallas”.. It ain’t even close density and crowd wise…sadly, none of fort worth is.

  4. Worse thing in the world for Magnolia, craziest thing imaginable, We locals in sweet Fairmount should be throwing rocks at these sneering, Westover Hills flakes. Magnolia is not, has never been, & no way in the world wants to be West Side nor North Side…Good Grief! Get away from Fairmount you knuckle-head Yuppies. Give it up, leave us alone. Our Cowtown, the Northside is now Disney World. Why in pluperfect Hades ruin sweet Fairmount…this is all about the money, go away, far away. My bird-dog Roxy is smart enough to figure this rotten deal out. You shiney-eyed flakes neither deserve, require, nor merit more money. I’m pretty sure ya’ll are going to find your selves having a bunch of trouble getting into Heaven if you continue this stinking trick. My bird-dog Roxy is smart enough to know you kids are dead wrong. What’s up with you, pull up now, don’t go for it. Please, please.

  5. As a long time resident of Fairmount (as in, someone who lived here when, according to Fort Worth South President states the area was “blighted”) I would just like to interject… They are NOT Kentrifying Fairmount. Magnolia maybe, but not Fairmount. We were a strong united neighborhood (even if our neighborhood FB page does not always reflect this) long before the Kent’s began blessing us with their improvements on Magnolia. I think the “rub” of many “old timer” residents simply lies in the fact that we did not move here to be closer to a wine bar or BBQ joint. (Benito’s maybe though!) We liked the neighborhood, the historic homes, and frankly the houses were CHEAP. Yes, the growth is fantastic, but with growth comes inconveniences such as parking, noise and insane property taxes. Those of us who have made our homes here, and not purchased for investment purposes, aren’t real thrilled that our houses have quadrupled in value, as we chose to make this our home and not an investment. This is just my opinion of course. The manager of Kent has some sort of martyr complex – he frequently interjects the greatness of Kent in facebook conversations – We should be so grateful to them for buying up all these properties to ease parking issues in neighborhood and for improving that “awful Able Office Machines building”. Besides now, we have those big beautiful Caddilacs to gaze upon, how can we not love them?? Although, the turkeys they blessed some neighbors with during the holidays were truly a class act. (sarcasm font)

  6. PS, We would love to see a Kentrification of Marshall Grain Feed Store!!!!!! Maybe it can be moved to the ghastly atrocity they (not Kent) are considering building in the empty lot across from Benito’s!

  7. Gus;s Fried Chicken is not based in Austin. It is from Memphis. There are three owners of the upcoming Gus’s franchise on Magnolia. Two of us live here in Fort Worth.

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