For 18 years, Gary Brinkley was the general manager of Stockyards Station, the shopping and dining component of the famed Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District. In 1849, Fort Worth was established on a bluff overlooking the West Fork and Clear Fork of the Trinity River. It was the last civilized stop on the Chisholm Trail.
With the arrival of the Texas & Pacific Railroad in 1876, Fort Worth grew as a shipping point for livestock. Soon it became known as Cowtown. A million cattle a year were being sold there by 1907. Fort Worth was also the largest hog and sheep marketing center in the Southwest.
With the proliferation of livestock auctions in other places, the Fort Worth Stockyards declined in importance until the city's business leaders wisely decided to turn the neighborhood into a tourist attraction. Properties managed by Brinkley comprised 80 of the 125 acres there. There were retail establishments, office space, museums, stables, banquet facilities and parking lots to manage as the Fort Worth Stockyards became one of the region's leading tourist attractions. Brinkley, a 1985 graduate of Baylor University, even served for a time as chairman of the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau.
So what's a man who played a key leadership role in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex now doing as the city manager of Arkadelphia? Brinkley, who has been in Arkansas since May, smiles when I ask him that question during lunch at an Italian restaurant in Arkadelphia.
"A lot of my friends in Texas have asked the same question," he says.
Given the inherent inferiority complex that many of us who were born and raised in this state have, we're not surprised when our best and brightest move to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. What does it say when one of the best and brightest in Texas decides to come to Arkansas? It says we don't do a good enough job selling ourselves.
Brinkley first visited Arkadelphia more than a decade ago to bring his daughter to volleyball and basketball camps. He fell in love with the town--its historic homes and tree-lined streets, Ouachita Baptist University, Henderson State University, the Ouachita River, the Caddo River, nearby DeGray Lake. He liked the forests, the trails, the friendliness of the people.
Brinkley grew up at Saginaw, a town of almost 20,000 residents near Fort Worth. He continued to live in Saginaw while serving as general manager of Stockyards Station and spent almost 11 years as mayor. Brinkley and his wife had talked about retiring in the Hot Springs area. When he learned that Arkadelphia was looking for a city manager, Brinkley decided not to wait until retirement to make the move.
"I lived in two worlds, the world of real estate and the world of municipal government," Brinkley says. "I watched Saginaw double in size. I view this as an opportunity to take what I learned about managing growth and not repeat the mistakes we made in Saginaw."
With a $1.3 billion pulp mill planned for Clark County, Arkadelphia is poised for growth. As an Arkadelphia native who had a wonderful childhood there, I'm biased. I'm also tired of people asking me why a place with so many assets--two four-year universities, access to Interstate 30, Arkansas' only state park with both a lodge and a golf course, the Arkadelphia Promise Scholarship for high school seniors, the Ross Foundation, Southern Bancorp headquarters--has grown by fewer than 1,000 people since the 1970 census. With Dallas only four hours away, Brinkley views Arkadelphia as a draw for others who are looking to escape the Metroplex. His neighbors from Texas recently moved to Arkadelphia.
"The pieces are here for growth," Brinkley says. "When I was interviewing for the job, everything I learned affirmed that I was on the right track. Now we have to provide the right type of economic climate so that students who graduate from Ouachita and Henderson want to stay here and open businesses. And if young people grow up here and go somewhere else to college, we want them coming back to raise their children."
Brinkley thus visualizes a place that attracts residents from Texas while keeping a larger percentage of local college graduates. A first step for attracting Texans, he says, is to do a better job of capitalizing on the city's location along busy Interstate 30.
"This is the halfway point between Little Rock and the Texas border," he says. "We need to be viewed as the best place to stop for people going to and coming from Texas. I want people going back to Texas and talking about what a great time they had in Arkadelphia. To do that, we must attract more quality restaurants, hotels, unique retail experiences. People are creatures of habit. We want it to become a family tradition for those headed to Texas to stop in Arkadelphia. Some of those who stop might eventually move here. I plan to use my contacts in Texas to attract developers who will build things along the interstate. It's an untapped resource for us."
Arkadelphia residents love football as much or more than anyone in the state. With the Arkadelphia High School Badgers having won their first state football championship in three decades and with the pulp mill poised to be the largest private-sector investment in Arkansas history, I've never seen people in my hometown so optimistic and in such a good mood. Brinkley, a salesman at heart, hopes to ride that wave and help take the city to the next level.
Senior Editor Rex Nelson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He's also the author of the Southern Fried blog at rexnelsonsouthernfried.com.
Editorial on 01/10/2018
Print Headline: Cowtown to college town