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Bob Bolen Remembered As The 'People's Mayor' Who Helped Build Fort Worth

Carl J. Licari Photography

Fort Worth is remembering former mayor Bob Bolen as a visionary who created the framework for what the city has become today.

Bolen, 87, died at his home Monday morning, leaving behind a long list of achievements that earned him the title of “people’s mayor.”

Just north of the central business district, at Alliance Airport, stands a life-sized, bronze statue of Bolen, who is credited with spearheading the creation of the world's first completely industrial airport.

Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce President Bill Thornton says it was the always optimistic Bolen who encouraged the City Council in the early 1980s to establish procedures for annexing unincorporated areas, including the vast track of land that became Alliance.

“This paved the way for the future partnership between the city of Fort Worth and Ross Perot Jr. that resulted in the establishment of a development we all know as Alliance Texas today,” said Thornton, noting the economic importance of the 17,000-acre development where more than 30,000 are employed. 

Helped create a vibrant downtown

But the opening of Alliance Airport was just one of many accomplishments marking the nine- year administration of Fort Worth’s longest serving mayor, a businessman who owned a string of Hallmark gift card stores and a bicycle shop.

Pat Svachina was the city’s communications director from 1982 to 1991 when Bolen was mayor.  He remembers how Bolen brought in the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. He also led the effort to revitalize a deteriorating city center by working with Charles Tandy, the Bass Family and the Hunt Family of Dallas. The result was the Tandy Center, Sundance Square and General Worth Square in downtown.

“Fort Worth was transformed into a vibrant downtown and it’s because Bob Bolen listened to the private sector,” Svachina said. “He used his professional staff like City Manager Robert Herchert and the planning staff to develop what were viable plans for the city."

Built consensus during tough times

Then Bolen brought together the private investors who built the center city projects.

Current mayor Betsy Price says Bolen earned the title “people’s mayor” because he spent countless hours meeting with citizens.  He could build consensus even when tensions ran high.

“He could pull together a diverse group of people as well as anybody I’ve seen -- get them all in a room and hammer out solutions and more than likely people would walk out and think it was their own idea," Price said. "He just had that unique talent for bringing people together."

Selling others on Fort Worth

While mayor, Bolen was elected president of the Texas Municipal League and president of the National League of Cities.

Even after stepping down in 1991, he stopped by City Hall to pitch in, consulted with cities around the country and worked with an entrepreneur program at Texas Christian University.

Svachina says Bolen remained what he always claimed to be -- a peddler, selling others on investing in his beloved city.

“That was his motto in life: 'Leave this place a little better than you found it.' He saw that opportunity as mayor,” Svachina said.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.