Dallas Mavericks President Donnie Nelson says he is willing to make a bid to buy out the other investors in Billy Bob’s Texas if they are unable to break a deadlock over how to run the iconic honky-tonk in the Fort Worth Stockyards.
Nelson and the other partners have been ordered into mediation on Friday to try and resolve their bitter dispute over the 127,000-square-foot entertainment venue. Nelson, who owns slightly less than 10 percent of Billy Bob’s, has previously complained that the bar is a “pawn” in the bigger fight over redevelopment in the Stockyards.
Preferably, the partners will be able to settle their differences over whether Concho Minick should stay on as manager, Nelson said. But if they can’t, one option is to buy one another out. And if it comes to that, he said he’s open to buying Billy Bob’s with a group of “like-minded people,” including some of the current investors.
“I’m comfortable with where I’m at, but I also know that this Hatfield-McCoy situation can’t continue,” Nelson said. “In the best interest of our patrons and the Stockyards, I think it is probably best that we either come to a middle ground or someone buys the other out.”
I’m comfortable with where I'm at, but I also know that this Hatfield-McCoy situation can’t continue,
Donnie Nelson, minority owner in Billy Bob’s Texas
“If it comes to the latter, I would absolutely be interested. … If we can’t get on the same page, my 10 percent will be up for sale,” he said.
Brad Hickman, whose family owns about 40 percent of the iconic watering hole, has said they are not interested in selling. An attorney representing Hickman has described Billy Bob’s as the “crown jewel of the Stockyards and the Hickmans’ redevelopment plans.”
“We’re not sellers. … It is a Hickman family legacy investment,” Hickman said. “We believe Billy Bob’s is an important part of the long-term plans for the Stockyards, but I can’t say that the development plan won’t work if someone else owns Billy Bob’s.”
We’re not sellers. ... It (Billy Bob’s Texas) is a Hickman family legacy investment,
Brad Hickman, leader of the majority ownership
The owners of Billy Bob’s have been feuding over the operation of the bar and Stockyards development plans for years, but their split became public in May when a majority of the owners tried to fire Concho Minick. His firing was opposed by Nelson and the Murrin family, which owns about 22 percent of Billy Bob’s.
Minick and the Murrins joined forces to sue Hickman, who is leading a $175 million redevelopment, and the other owners. They have asked state District Judge Michael Wallach to appoint a receiver to help work out differences and, if necessary, negotiate a sale of the business.
Wednesday, Nelson filed documents with the court seeking to either intervene or join Minick and the Murrins in their lawsuit against the majority owners. Previously, Nelson’s firm had been listed as a defendant, but had never been served with legal documents. He testified in support of their lawsuit at a hearing last week.
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Wallach is scheduled to rule on their request Monday, but in the meantime, he has ordered the warring parties into a mediation session Friday.
Philip Murrin, who represents his family’s interest in Billy Bob’s and the Stockyards, said Nelson’s “heart is in the right place.” He would not say if the Murrins would join forces with Nelson to buy out the others.
I’m willing to be on either side of ledger for whatever is best for the company, my family and the Stockyards,
Philip Murrin, who represents his family’s interest in Billy Bob’s
“I’m willing to be on either side of the ledger for whatever is best for the company, my family and the Stockyards,” Murrin said. “And what is good for Billy Bob’s is good for the Stockyards.”
Nelson said the buyout has been discussed before, so his suggestion should “come as no surprise to anyone.”
Many of the families involved with Billy Bob’s have been partners — and drinking buddies — since the 1980s. Concho Minick’s father, Billy, ran the bar for years. Former Fort Worth City Councilman Steve Murrin was one of the original investors, along with the late Holt Hickman, a businessman, philanthropist and early investor in the Stockyards.
Nelson, the son of former Mavericks coach Don Nelson, bought his stake in Billy Bob’s in 2013 from a long-time investor, Don Jury. He said he paid $1.1 million for slightly less than 10 percent, which means that the company was valued at about $10.5 million at the time.
In previous sessions among the partners to work out their differences, the suggested value of Billy Bob’s was set at $16 million to $20 million, Nelson said. And Minick, in a deposition taken as part of the court case, said Billy Bob’s is valued at $20 million, according to court records.
Nelson also owns a minority interest in Gilley’s Dallas and the Lava Cantina in The Colony.
Nelson has claimed previously that Billy Bob’s is being used as a pawn in the development of the historic Stockyards and he blamed people who are “real estate crazy” with creating the discord. Hickman is partnering with Majestic Realty Group, a California developer, on the Stockyards redevelopment. Their master plan includes bringing in restaurants, shopping and office space as well as festival and event areas.
But Hickman said the dispute is really “an employee-employer issue” and “not a land development issue.” Hickman and his attorneys have criticized Minick for his lack of communication with the owners and have questioned his hiring and spending practices. He also criticized Minick for speaking out at a Fort Worth City Council meeting against rezoning in the Stockyards related to the Hickman development project.
In court proceedings, the majority ownership also has argued mostly over governance issues. Hickman says a certificate of formation that grants control to a smaller governing board is ultimately responsible for running Billy Bob’s. Minick, Nelson and the minority owners believe Billy Bob’s is governed by a corporate agreement that states that it takes a unanimous board agreement to approve all major operating decisions.
“We think Billy Bob’s will be very successful with the development, but that is not what is driving the issue with Concho,” Hickman said.
But Nelson has said that when he bought his stake he was told he would have an equal voice in how the bar was being run. As a result, he found it “deeply disturbing” that he was not consulted about terminating Minick, a move he didn’t support because the business has recorded record-setting revenue growth.
He said if Minick did stumble in management, those actions were “misdemeanors” that didn’t warrant him being fired.
“This is not a dictatorship. You cannot make your business partners disappear just because they have questions about your development plans,” Nelson said concerning his decision to join the lawsuit. “That’s no way to build support and consensus behind any Stockyards redevelopment.”
Donnie Nelson talks to reporters after testifying in the Billy Bob's Texas case on July 24, 2017. Nelson, who owns slightly less than 10 percent of Billy Bob’s, has previously complained that the bar is a “pawn” in the bigger fight over redevelopm