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FORT WORTH - Investors Tom Blanton and Ed Casebier have asked the city to create a special redevelopment authority to help finance a $50 million conversion of the historical Texas & Pacific Terminal for use as a 330-room, railroad-themed hotel.

The South Downtown Redevelopment Authority would own the 1931 art deco train depot and its 12-story tower and could issue debt, similar to municipal bonds, to pay for the project. Restoration of the T&P Terminal is considered a key element in the proposed redevelopment of Lancaster Avenue and the south end of downtown.

"The T&P is kind of the crown jewel of Lancaster. It has to happen," Casebier said in an interview Thursday. "There's literally no private financing available for a high-rise downtown hotel."

Blanton, president of vegetable oil exporter Mesa Processing of Fort Worth, and Casebier, a commercial real estate broker and developer, said they are risking their own money in the project. Blanton said they would purchase up to $10 million of debt issued by the city-created authority and would pay the authority $750,000 a year to finance street, water, sewer or other improvements to Lancaster.

Blanton, a Fort Worth resident, formerly owned an interest in Houston-based U.S. Liquids, a waste disposal company. The company went public in 1997. Casebier lives in Hurst.

City Hall reception to the proposal has been lukewarm. The city is expected to award a $200,000 contract next month to a hotel consultant who will determine whether a 500-room hotel adjacent to the Fort Worth Convention Center is still feasible and what site would be best for such a hotel.

The consultant will also evaluate whether southern downtown can support the hotel proposed by Blanton and Casebier and a hotel adjacent to the convention center, which is undergoing a $70 million renovation and expansion.

"I think within six months we will have a real good idea on the total impact of a convention center hotel and any other hotel on the area," said Kirk Slaughter, city public events director.

City Councilman Jeff Wentworth questioned the plan pitched last month by Blanton and Casebier to the city's Economic Development Committee, which he leads.

"They wanted us to set up some kind of authority, and they wanted it that day. We told them no," Wentworth said. "We told them until we got proposals from other hotel operators in, we couldn't make that commitment."

But Councilwoman Wendy Davis, whose district includes the downtown stretch of Lancaster, called their proposal to finance the hotel project "fairly innovative."

"The hotel has the potential of bringing in a concentration of people," Davis said. "And we learned from Sundance Square. When they put in the theaters and brought the people in, that's what made it work."

Blanton said net operating income from the hotel would be used to pay the debt, in addition to other expenses.

Blanton and Casebier estimate that the T&P conversion will cost up to $150,000 per room, or $50 million. Feasibility studies show that room rates should average $135 per night, they said.

The men said they want to open their hotel in early 2002 to time it with the completion of the first phase of convention center renovations - which include 57,000 square feet of new exhibit space, a 30,000-square-foot ballroom and new meeting rooms. A new southern entrance is being added that will open onto the Water Gardens.

Their hotel would complement, not compete with, a convention center hotel, Blanton and Casebier said.

Staff writer Bob Mahlburg contributed to this report.

Kristin Sullivan, (817) 390-7610 [email protected]

The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Kristin Sullivan