AC Hotel developer has eye on history

March 2, 2020

Slated for an early fall 2020 opening, AC Hotel Fort Worth will celebrate the beauty of classic modern design with its European soul and Spanish roots. Guests can experience a European-style breakfast, signature drinks, small bites and shareable plates from the curated menu. Adjacent to the historic Art-Deco Kress Building, the 16-story hotel will have 242-rooms and 165,722-square-feet of space. Jackson-Shaw recently added Crescent Hotels & Resorts as AC Hotel Fort Worth’s management company, industry veteran Aaron R. Oquendo as general manager and Jillian Lehmann as director of sales and marketing.

Jackson-Shaw development partners for AC Hotel Fort Worth include:

• Financing: Simmons Bank

• Design: Merriman Anderson Architects

• General Contractor: Austin Commercial

• Project Management: Epperson Company

For many, the final year in college meant constantly worrying about grades and the prospect of a job. But Ron Welborn, not your typical college kid, had a different plan.

During his senior year at Baylor University in 1998, Fort Worth-native Welborn was putting together pro forma and budgets to acquire a 100-year-old, 2,100-acre ranch surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and Gunnison National Forest in Colorado.

The pristine property, now called Wilder on the Taylor, was rumored to be turned into a golf course by some "dreaded developer," as Welborn puts it. He, on the other hand, acquired the property to preserve and sustain it, while still making a profitable real estate deal out of it.

A little over a decade ago the property was bought by Dallas-based real-estate developer Jackson-Shaw, where Welborn currently serves as the vice president.

Wilder on the Taylor presently has 32 mountainside homesteads, half of which are on the market at more than $1.7 million. A conservation easement protects all the land, about two miles of Taylor River flowing through it and all the fauna and flora from future development.

Welborn is now steering a project on a completely different landscape.

Jackson-Shaw is exactly one year into developing an AC Hotel by Marriott in Downtown Fort Worth. The hotel stands adjacent to the historic art deco Kress Building on the southwest corner of Fifth and Main Street. It will be only the third AC brand hotel in Texas.

Although a new construction, Welborn still sees the AC Hotel as a conservation and preservation project.

The new AC Hotel, Welborn says, will nurture the culture, heritage and sensibilities of Fort Worth while its stylish design and a focus on technology enables Fort Worth to continue to compete with other modern cities of the country.

The new 252-room, 16-story AC Hotel is scheduled to open this fall.

Welborn recently sat down with Fort Worth Business Press to discuss the projects, his role and real estate in Fort Worth.

FWBP: How did plans for the AC Hotel first originate?

Welborn: Jackson-Shaw has had a long history in the hospitality business. When we saw an opportunity here in Fort Worth, especially being my home, to build a hotel, we stepped back and said, "This is a wonderful site." If there's any place we want to be in Downtown Fort Worth, it'll be as close as we can get to Sundance Square. Then, we started on the quest to determine what the right brand is, what is different and what we can bring to Fort Worth that is forward-looking, innovative and has some roots and a reason for people to come to. So, we settled on the AC brand.

We, as a company, look at special pieces of property. This special property, this close to Sundance, was a 10,000 square-foot parking lot. When it was presented to us, we thought what's a better use for this property. A lot of people would say, “You're not going to fit 16-story, 252-room hotel on 10,000 square-feet.” We said, “We're up for the challenge.”

FWBP: How do you plan to showcase Fort Worth culture in the new hotel?

Welborn: It's cowboy town. It's going to always stay true to its roots. However, it's looking to the future. We saw AC as contemporary. However, we've partnered with the Arts Council of Fort Worth. Art is an important part of, we believe, Fort Worth, with all the museums.

The Arts Council is helping us narrow down the right artist for the hotel. We're going to commission a piece of art that will be open to the public to enjoy whatever that art is. We don't know yet. It's only in the artist's mind.

FWBP: Why are you putting so much effort in preserving Wilder on the Taylor?

Welborn: Of course, being a real estate developer seems odd to say we're preserving it. But this was such a historical, iconic piece of property that we had to. We can develop it in a responsible way and preserve the majority of the property. There's a way to do that.

So, there are 32 sites. Outside of the 1-acre building envelope, it's common with the other owners. We decided to take the hospitality experience, management and combined that with the development. It's been a great endeavor. People are buying into the ranch. They're buying into that way of living. We consider it really a generational retreat because it really is an excuse for the families to come in and visit. We're all spread out across the United States. When you have a special place, hopefully, your children and grandchildren will have a reason to come visit. They can come to fish, ride horses, or hike, mountain bike. It's surrounded by two million acres of national forest.

What kind of interest are you seeing at Wilder on the Taylor?

Welborn: A strong interest from Texans, of course. That being from Midland to Dallas-Fort Worth. But we have families from California, from North East, pretty much all over. In terms of industry, we have winemakers and we have financial advisors to attorneys to cowboys. It runs the gamut of interest. I think it, again, comes down to having a place to host their friends and family.

What other new projects in Fort Worth is Jackson-Shaw working on?

Welborn: On the south side of Fort Worth, we're doing some industrial buildings. It's a fairly sizable project that we're doing. We are also looking at other potential opportunities on the west side of Fort Worth for another hotel.

What can Fort Worth expect from Jackson-Shaw and its growing presence here?

Welborn: We always had a presence here. I don't want anybody to think that we're coming from Dallas to take over Fort Worth. That's not the case. I'm from Fort Worth and plan to remain in Fort Worth. We want to and are part of the community.

What is a trend you are seeing in real estate right now?

Welborn: The trend, I think it's the right trend, is trying to open it up to more diversity. Hospitality is taking a leading role in diversity. I think diversity in all real estate is a wonderful thing and that is a trend. It's a trend that's needed.

The growth is in real estate in all markets, especially in Texas. From Fort Worth to Austin to San Antonio to Houston, which are all markets we are in and planning on growing in. The No. 1 trend I'm seeing in hospitality and in Texas, in a micro level, is that the growth is going to continue and continue strong.