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Fort Worth awaits General Conference delegates

Twice daily, the Fort Worth Herd drives through the middle of the historic Fort Worth Stockyards in Texas. It is the world’s only daily cattle drive.
UMNS photos courtesy of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau.

By Steve Smith*
Nov. 30, 2007 | FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS)

The Fort Worth Convention Center, site of the 2008 General Conference, spans 14 blocks in the heart of downtown.

Talk about irony: United Methodists will hold the 2008 General Conference in an area of town once known as Hell’s Half Acre, a brothel- and saloon-packed district where cowhands enjoyed their last bit of fun before riding herd on the dusty Chisholm Trail.

My, how times have changed.

Nearly 1,000 delegates and other United Methodists from throughout the world will gather next April 23-May 2 for the once-every-four-years conference — not in a hick town for cows and cowboys, but in a gleaming metropolis of 665,000 people.

Combining the past and present with the "cowboys and culture" slogan, Fort Worth is the fifth fastest growing city in the United States. It is also home to internationally known museums, a nationally recognized zoo, art galleries, a vibrant downtown and The United Methodist Church’s Central Texas Annual (regional) Conference.

A conference hosting committee has planned seven day tours. Delegates and others attending the meeting can check the tours stand at the Fort Worth Convention Center for specific information.

Convention hub

As the perfect symbol to the city’s progress, the convention center — site of the General Conference and fresh from a $75 million renovation — spans 14 city blocks in the heart of downtown Fort Worth, just off Interstate 30. It includes:

  • 253,226 square feet of exhibit space;
  • 41 breakout rooms, with 58,849 square feet of meeting space;
  • A 28,160-square-foot ballroom;
  • A 13,500-seat arena; and
  • An outdoor plaza that links with the Fort Worth Water Gardens, a perfect place for prayer and meditation.

Not exactly a brothel or a honky tonk, is it?

Fort Worth is affectionately known as "Cowtown" with the slogan "Where the West Begins." The city anchors the western part of the four-county "Metroplex" of 6.5 million people. Just a 40-minute drive east on Interstate 30 stands Dallas. Smack-dab in the middle is Arlington, home to the Six Flags Over Texas theme park, Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers, and in 2009, the Dallas Cowboys.

Things to do

In between and after conference business, delegates and other guests won't run out of places to visit in pedestrian-friendly downtown Fort Worth.

Among them is Sundance Square, a downtown revitalization project just five blocks from the convention center. Glittering skyscrapers, Bass Performance Hall, music clubs, specialty boutiques, restaurants, art galleries and a massive movie theater line the 20-block square.

Just five blocks from the convention center, Sundance Square brims with
music clubs, restaurants, boutiques, galleries and performance venues.

The district includes the Sid Richardson Collection of Western Art, a small museum showcasing 60 paintings and bronze sculptures by Western greats Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. There's also the nationally known Jubilee Theatre for plays and musicals reflecting African-American culture.

Tourists can scope out the area in a Clydesdale horse-drawn carriage. They'll also notice that Fort Worth police regularly patrol the area on horseback.

The Stockyards

Fort Worth lore is based on its reputed history as a rough-and-tumble frontier town, where cattle drives ended in what today is known as the Stockyards National Historic District.

Located in north Fort Worth, about four miles from the convention center, the Stockyards is a 125-acre, 15-block entertainment district of nightlife, rodeos, cattle drives and dozens of Texas-style shops and restaurants. The Fort Worth Herd, the world’s only daily cattle drive, makes its twice-daily run down Exchange Avenue.

Carrying visitors into Stockyards Station is the restored Grapevine Vintage Railroad. The former hog and sheep pens have been turned into a shopping and dining marketplace, with everything from barbecue restaurants and kitschy Western clothing boutiques to the Ernest Tubb Record Shop.

Check out the rodeo and Wild West shows at the Cowtown Coliseum, home of the world’s original indoor rodeo, first held in 1918. The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, located in the Stockyards’ original mule barns, features authentic lifestyle wagons and honors the top cowboys and cowgirls in Texas.

For cowboy wannabes or others wanting to mix with the boot and belt-buckle crowd, check out Billy Bob’s Texas — the world’s largest honky tonk — where folks can dance a little Texas two-step, listen to live performances by top country music artists or watch live bull riding in an indoor arena. For teetotalers, Billy Bob’s also serves non-alcoholic beverages.

World-class museums

A defining aspect of 21st century Fort Worth is the Cultural District, which includes five museums in a park-like setting about three miles from the convention center. The major drawing card is the Kimbell Art Museum, recognized as "America’s best small museum." Its masterpieces include works by El Greco, Cezanne, Rembrandt, Picasso and Matisse, and the museum regularly hosts major traveling exhibitions.

Next door, the Amon Carter Museum is renowned for Western and American masterpieces.

The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth maintains one of the foremost collections of post-war art in the central United States. It is ranked the second-largest museum of modern art in the country, behind New York City’s famed Museum of Modern Art.

Kimball Art Museum anchors the city's cultural district, which includes five museums in a park-like setting.

While the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History is closed this spring for renovations, other local museums are open for history buffs to enjoy.

To keep with the area’s cultural heritage and Western lore, the National Cowgirl Museum honors women who embody the spirit of the American West such as painter Georgia O’Keeffe, Western sharpshooter Annie Oakley, author Laura Ingalls Wilder and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

What’s more, the National Cowboys of Color Museum, located about four miles from the convention center, honors black, Hispanic and Asian pioneers who also helped forge the West.

Sports—and more sports

Once in Fort Worth, visitors quickly realize they are in one of the country’s most sports-crazed areas. By the time General Conference opens, pro baseball’s Texas Rangers will be in full swing and will play the Minnesota Twins April 25-27 and the Kansas City Royals April 29-May 1. Check out the games at Ameriquest Field in Arlington, about 25 minutes from the convention center.

On the basketball court, everybody in these parts expect the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks to be in the playoffs for the third straight year. Dirk Nowitski and the boys will wrap up their regular season in early April, but the first round of the playoffs should hit full stride when the opening gavel falls at General Conference. Home games are at the American Airlines Center in downtown Dallas on Interstate 35E, just off Interstate 30.

For those bent on taking in an NBA playoff game, get your tickets early. They go fast, and tickets sold near game time usually cost a king’s ransom. Under any circumstances, don’t buy tickets from scalpers, who are notorious for selling bogus tickets.

Lions and tigers and Methodists, oh my!

An ideal venue for kids and animal lovers alike is the Fort Worth Zoo, ranked the top attraction in Dallas-Fort Worth and No. 19 in the United States by the Zagat Survey U.S. Family Guide. The zoo is renowned for its collection of thousands of exotic creatures in their natural habitat. Its popular Texas Wild! exhibit covers eight acres and features 200 native animals and a replica of an 1890s Texas town.

Tree-shaded, winding paths lead to large, lush exhibits for an up-close look at a menagerie of creatures—from primates to parrots, rhinos to raptors.

For the academically inclined, Fort Worth is home to United Methodist-related Texas Wesleyan University. Within a 45-minute drive east on Interstate 30 in Dallas stand Southern Methodist University and United Methodist-related Perkins School of Theology on Mockingbird Lane, just off U.S. 75. Highland Park United Methodist Church—the country’s second largest United Methodist church—anchors the South end of the SMU campus.

For kids of all ages, there's Six Flags Over Texas on Interstate 30 in Arlington. Tourists may want to combine the rides and cotton candy at Six Flags with a Rangers baseball game next door at Ameriquest Field. And just across the interstate sits Six Flags’ Hurricane Harbor, the largest water park in the southwestern United States.

For those seeking an serene environment of beauty and meditation, the 114-acre Botanic Garden bills itself as a "sanctuary of the senses," with more than 2,500 species of native and exotic plants in 21 specialty gardens—all located just six minutes from the convention center. Check out the 10,000-square-foot conservatory, the rose garden and the Japanese Garden.

The Trinity Trails, 30 miles of paved trails along the Trinity River, offer a perfect retreat from the stresses of long meetings. Pick up the trails practically anywhere along the river, but the most convenient spot is two blocks north of the Renaissance Worthington Hotel and the Tarrant County Courthouse.

Airport access

Fort Worth is almost 18 miles from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, the world’s third busiest airport. Located between the two cities in Grapevine, the airport is headquarters to American Airlines.

Airport arrivals who don't want to rent a car can take the Trinity Railway Express to Fort Worth for $2.50. A cab ride will cost $52. The Yellow Checker Shuttle to downtown is $15, while the Super Shuttle runs about $25.

For those wanting access to a vehicle, Interstate 30 runs east-west straight into downtown, while Interstate 20 also runs east-west but south of downtown. Interstate 35W ferries traffic north and south.

*Smith is a freelance writer in Dallas.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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