Less is proving to be much more at the Petroleum Club of Fort Worth, where a new lease has led to an exciting new stage of life.
When you’ve run a club for 40 years, you get pretty good at recognizing and anticipating when a reality check is needed—and then moving quickly to identify and implement the best response.
Patrick Hebrard-Bopp, who has been the General Manager of the Petroleum Club of Fort Worth (PCFW) for two-thirds of the club’s existence, started to sense that his club was approaching another critical crossroads well before it was scheduled to renew its lease in the Carter-Burgess Tower in downtown Fort Worth. PCFW had occupied the top two (39th and 40th) floors of that Texas skyscraper (Fort Worth’s third-tallest building) for nearly 30 years. But Hebrard-Bopp knew that much had changed in the club world and that the end of the current lease would signal a time for a serious reassessment of PCFW’s spacial requirements and how it could best serve the needs of its members.
“When we started in the building in 1982, we had 3,000 members and had a great lease, and having 40,000 sq. ft. on two floors was perfect,” Hebrard-Bopp says. “But now we were down to 1,200 members, and were looking at a drastic cost increase for when the lease would be renewed.
“I went to our Board and said we needed to look at all of our options,” he continues. “We had been in other buildings before, and we could look at moving again. But it was important for us as a city club, and as one that’s tied to the oil industry that’s a big part of this city’s business, to not only be downtown, but to be in one of the city’s most prominent buildings.
“We liked the parking arrangement we had here, and we liked the views we could offer from here. Everything about the space we had was comfortable—except there was too much of it, and it was going to get much more expensive.”
That’s when Hebrard-Bopp and the PCFW Board had an “aha” moment. Why not find a way to keep the club where it was, but only use—and pay for—the space it really needed?
This thought inspired Hebrard-Bopp to take a hard, objective look at how the club was currently configured. The more he looked, the more he realized that spreading out an operation over two floors, when it was now only about a third as large as when PCFW moved into the building, was really just wasting a lot of space. What’s more, most of that waste resided on the lower level, now largely devoted to storage, function rooms that weren’t fully used, and administrative areas.
We can stay here, he realized, and even keep our best floor, by just figuring out how to fit the club into half the space.
Putting It All in One Place
To help put that idea on paper, Hebrard-Bopp turned to a friendly and familiar source: CCI Club Design of Irving, Texas, which had designed the original layout over two floors when the club first moved to the Carter-Burgess Tower, and had later helped PCFW complete a major, $1.5 million refurbishing of selected portions in 1997.
In addition to comfortably and attractively accommodating what was still a sizable club operation in half the square footage, Hebrard-Bopp also told CCI he would want the change to include another major upgrade of decor and amenities, to ensure the club would appeal to the next generation of members. The new design would also have to be creative and flexible enough to still properly solicit and serve all the functions PCFW was used to having—some of which involved as many as 500 people.
“I told [CCI] that I wanted to keep the club aspect in how the space looked and felt, with rich woods and other touches and tones,” says Hebrard-Bopp. “But this was also a chance to transition to something completely different from what we’ve ever had, for a more contemporary look that wouldn’t have any suggestion of a drab place with your grandmother’s drapes.”
CCI helped to draw up plans for how all of these goals could be accomplished. But as the idea took shape, another reality hit home: Keeping PCFW in its present location, and positioning it to make an important transition to the next generation of membership, would not come cheaply, even for a project that would leave it with half as much space. The project priced out at $6 million, including new furnishings. “We had $3 million in the bank, but didn’t want to assess members or take on debt,” says Hebrard-Bopp. “Fortunately, the plans generated enough excitement that another $3 million was raised through voluntary contributions.”
Going Out with a Bang
With assurance that the needed funds would be available, the next challenge was to funnel the club operation upwards and into half the space, with minimal disruption. “We always strive to keep clubs open and advise they never be shut down completely during renovations, so members are never fully deprived of club amenities,” says Patrick Hazard, AIA, CCI’s VP Architect who served as Project Manager.
In this case, however, the club’s kitchen was on the upper floor, which would have to be completely demolished before it could be redone. As a result, some important final purposes were conceived for the lower floor, before it and PCFW would go their separate ways. During the rebuilding of the “new” 40th floor, the 39th floor was kept open, and a temporary kitchen was constructed out of storage space.
“This actually worked out well because it gave us a chance to bring in, test out and get experience with some of the new kitchen equipment that was being ordered, by putting it to use in the temporary kitchen first,” says Hazard.
Construction at PCFW—which in this case involved equal amounts of deconstruction—began in September 2010. Seven months later, the streamlined, one-floor version of the club was unveiled. And for an organization that was pushing 60 years old, it was now looking pretty youthful and up with the times.
Keeping Everyone Connected
New spaces that were created for the club through the renovation included a main dining room with an arched ceiling that seats 120; a bar lounge with a unique oval ceiling and glowing, backlit amber back bar; two smaller dining/function rooms, the Permian and Derrick rooms, that seat 36 and 30; a wine room, surrounded by conditioned wine cabinets and an adjacent cellar, with seating for 12; and the Wildcatters Room, with banquet space for up to 300.
While the new Wildcatters Room does not have enough capacity by itself to always accommodate groups wanting to use PCFW for their functions, the club is now equipped to handle even larger meetings, thanks to “virtual banquet” capabilities. Made possible by state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment, including telephones, cameras, projectors and drop-down screens, speakers’ programs in the Wildcatters Room (or other parts of the club) can now be transmitted to the main dining room and other dining/function spaces.
Other new features that came with the renovation included a dance floor with a DJ station, and a large built-in buffet that can be accessed from every dining room on the floor.
The fact that the club is 400 feet above the ground also didn’t keep the PCFW renovation from getting in on the “indoor/outdoor connectivity” trend that marks many of today’s country club and golf course design and redesign projects.
Upon returning to their re-imagined club, PCFW members found the delightful surprise of a new open-air patio off the main dining room, with a glass and steel guardrail where windows once were. The exterior space is less than 200 sq. ft., but includes an outdoor fireplace, flat-screen TV and inviting exterior lounge furnishings, and can accommodate “a dozen or so” people comfortably, according to John Herron, FIIDA, CCI’s Senior VP, Interior Design.
Creating the patio was “quite the engineering feat,” Herron adds. The exterior space literally had to be carved out of the building and a “curtain wall” was erected to create a non-structural, independent exterior that provides weather protection. This aspect of the project needed special permitting and was subjected to extra scrutiny during the design review—but all of the effort proved well worth it, as soon as members discovered and enjoyed even more spectacular views of the Fort Worth skyline and surrounding area than can be seen through the abundance of floor-to-ceiling picture windows in the rest of the club.
“We keep the patio open every day,” says Hebrard-Bopp. “It’s not for parties, it’s just for people and small groups to be able to go out and use whenever they’d like. We’ll serve breakfast and lunch out there if requested. When it gets to be 100 degrees in the summer, it doesn’t get used that much, but all of the rest of the time, it’s been very popular.”
Winning Everyone’s Vote of Approval
In the year and a half since the Petroleum Club of Fort Worth started its new lease on life, “popular” has been the operative word for how a one-floor operation has been received by existing members, prospective ones, and the club’s staff.
“We’ve had an increase in membership and [the new look] is really helping to attract younger members,” says Sandy Drake, the club’s Membership and Private Events Director. The ability to spread functions through a variety of rooms and connect them via the new A/V system is proving to be another plus, she adds. “Many of our [function] clients like the flexibility of not having to put everyone in one big banquet room, and the intimacy this can offer for all or part of their group,” she says. “Some companies are now having many more regular functions with us than they did before, because of what we can now offer.”
From an operations standpoint, Hebrard-Bopp says, service is now “infinitely more efficient” with everything concentrated on one floor. “Something is ready in the kitchen and zoom, we take it to the right dining room,” he says. “No more carts up and down between the floors.”
Adding the dance floor and hiring a DJ to make full use of the new sound system, instead of bringing in live bands as the club used to do three nights a week, has proved to be another win-win example of the benefits of taking the club to a (single) new level, Hebrard-Bopp adds. “It’s way less expensive, much easier to set up, and most importantly, gives the members and guests exactly what they want for their entertainment,” he says. “If you want cha-cha or Lady Gaga, the DJ can provide it.”
There are some things about the way the Petroleum Club of Fort Worth used to be structured, Hebrard-Bopp admits, that he, and members, still miss. “We did have a beautiful staircase that connected the two floors that of course had to go,” he says. “But it was clear that we just couldn’t keep that much space; we would have had to raise dues too much.
“It’s a different time in the club industry; we can see that from how some of the clubs we have reciprocity with have been struggling,” he says. “If you don’t stay up with the times, you can’t survive.
“We’ve kept 95% of the business we had before while now being on one floor, with a smaller staff and less operating expense, and while offering better service and amenities to our members,” Hebrard-Bopp says. “I think it’s clear this was what we needed to do to keep our status and tradition, while also positioning ourselves properly for the future.”