Ross Perot Jr. shares details of the early days of founding the country’s first industrial airport, which began Hillwood’s flagship 27,000-acre AllianceTexas development.
At a Venture Dallas reception at Ross Perot Jr.’s picturesque Circle T Ranch in Westlake, the visionary real estate leader and founder of development company Hillwood discussed the founding of the Fort Worth Alliance Airport and the development that would eventually become his flagship development: AllianceTexas.
Here’s the story behind the 27,000-acre master-planned project in north Fort Worth, which was named AllianceTexas because it was a true public-private partnership. Read on:
“Some 35 years ago, if you looked at a map of Dallas-Fort Worth, the last big piece in North Texas to be built out was the region northwest of DFW Airport. Like other developers, we started out buying land in North Dallas and up and down the Tollway. It was the classic Dallas play. Well, the land prices got too expensive. So, we moved over to north Fort Worth where the land was cheap. That’s where we started investing.
“We had one piece of land—about 2,500 acres—and the FAA came to us and said they want to build another airport in North Texas. It was part of the DFW Master Plan, and they built four new airports in the region. We were the second of the four.
“We were young. [AllianceTexas co-founder] Mike Berry and I were 26 or 27 years old at the time. What’s great about being young is that you don’t know what you don’t know. All of the established developers at the time told us it would take decades to build an airport. So, in 1986 the idea was brought to us. We broke ground in the summer of 1988, and we were open by the fall of 1989.
“Public-private partnerships are important. We literally formed a partnership with the Federal Aviation Administration. They had to get a budget approved; they had to do the environmental study that had to get approved, and then they had to do engineering. We said ‘No. Let’s use private money. Let’s fast-track it, and we’ll do it all at once.’ We met with the FAA every Friday to show them our progress and obtain approvals. When we gave them the final plans, they were essentially pre-approved because we were at the table with them every step of the way. So that’s how we fast-forwarded the whole development.
“We ended up developing a new generation of airport, called an industrial airport. At the time, the designation didn’t exist with the FAA. So, I went to see the Speaker of the House at the time, Jim Wright (D-Texas). He told me, ‘Don’t worry, Ross, we’ll have a new category in a couple of weeks.’ He wrote it into the budget. And that’s how it got done.”