Phillip and Mary Nell Poole honored by Cultural District Alliance

Phillip Poole accepts the award named in his honor while Mary Nell Poole holds the trophy. Credit: Cultural District Alliance/YouTube Screen Capture

The Fort Worth Cultural District Alliance renamed the Cultural District Award of Excellence given to recipients for significant contributions to the Cultural District as the Phillip Poole Award – and then gave it to Phillip and Mary Nell Poole.

Poole is an architect and co-owner of the real estate development consulting TownSite Company.

The award is a miniature copy of the distinctive bent wide-flange beams that supported a billboard for Al’s Trim Shop on West 7th Street until the 2000 tornado hit Fort Worth and, with some artistic help, created a new city icon.

The award was presented to the Pooles at First Flight Park on Nov. 18.

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Dustin Van Orne, Manager of Strategic Marketing and Visitor Services at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the current chair of the Cultural District Alliance, said the organization had originally planned to present the award at its annual banquet in March but that was scrubbed because of COVID-19.

“We felt like this was a perfect year to give this award a namesake,” Orne said.

The award is appropriate.

“Phillip Poole was instrumental in saving that billboard,” Orne said. “It really signifies a turning point in the cultural district.”

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Reagan Ferguson, vice president of sales at Pressman Printing Inc. and a former board member of the Cultural District Alliance, said that Poole, with the leadership of JG Holdings and others, “saw creativity through the chaos and convinced Ruth Carter Stevenson and architect Robert Venturi to incorporate the found art into the design of a new post office in an adjacent park on 7th and University.”

Poole, in accepting the award, spoke of the responsibility of residents to recognize and protect the city and its legacy.

“We don’t understand sometimes how blessed we are to live in a collection of great places, not just the museums, but our parks, the river. We truly are. We’re going to have to stay vigilant. We have to protect the values of our cultural district,” Poole said.

Ferguson said that Poole is one of his heroes.

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“He and Mary Nel have been visionaries who have imagined a better, more livable Fort Worth and have been extraordinarily effective instruments for change. Their influence can be seen in our active and diverse lifestyle and prosperous urban village that encourages development alongside adaptive reuse that provides walkable green streetscapes, that honor important events of our past and ways that integrate us and art into environment, Ferguson said.

The Pooles, he said, have been amazing advocates and champions of the cultural district, working tirelessly from the time the key corridor consisted of just a few cultural gems and small retailers bordered by a band of aging and underutilized warehouses.

Poole conceived the Museum Place Project, played a role in post-tornado development of Linwood following the tornado and was involved in negotiating the site plan for Montgomery Plaza.

Ferguson said Poole also helped guide the efforts to overturn the Van Zandt deed restriction, which forbade alcohol sales on all land formerly owned by Maj. Khleber Miller Van Zandt. Among other accomplishments, Zandt organized Tidball, Van Zandt and Company, forerunner of the Fort Worth National Bank.

“Phillip had the vision for First Flight Park, where we stand today in this green space facing Carroll St. and worked with the Fort Worth Aviation Museum to secure donation for an exact replica of the Bleriot aircraft memorializing Fort Worth’s first flight in 1911 (Jan. 12, 1911),” Ferguson said.

“Phillip has been the voice and the conscience of the Cultural District for years. He has been passionate about its place in Fort Worth’s history and forward-thinking about its role in Fort Worth’s future,” said Margaret DeMoss, immediate past chair, West 7th Neighborhood Alliance “Mary Nell has been his support team and both have served on city advisory committees dealing with urban re-development. In recent years, she has been personally engaged with established residents in the Cultural District helping them negotiate the urbanization of their neighborhoods,” DeMoss said.

In accepting the award, Poole looked back over some of the projects he worked on.

“The Near Southside started at about $280 million in value in year 1995. It’s worth a billion dollars right now in private investment. This side of town, the West Side of Fort Worth is worth a billion dollars. It started at $181 million,” he said.

That proves, he said, that there are a lot of folks who like the idea of walkable, sustainable places.

Poole gave credit to his wife.

“I couldn’t have done it without Mary Nel. We have just been blessed to have a good partnership,” he said. “Mary Nel has been a great partner, executes some of the things that I don’t have the ability or the skills to do.”

And he praised the Fort Worth Cultural District Alliance, which represents more than 100 business and tourism leaders committed to the vision.

But Poole also played a role in the development of Near Southside.

“I really am appreciative of how this organization has stepped up and has focused on how we can make this part of our city really special. I think Fort Worth has made it through a lot. I don’t know how we’re going to come out of the pandemic. My observation is that the universe hit the reset button and how we come back from this reboot is going to be incredibly important,” Poole said.

“Some of the deals we’re working on now, we see people leaving the Midwest and the upper new England states and they’re coming to Fort Worth for a good reason. They believe in our size. They believe in the opportunities that are here and they’re finding it’s a great place to live,” he said.

That came with a lot of hard work by a lot of different people.

“I’ve just had a great opportunity to work on some of the very best parts of our city, and it is rewarding to know that where we live – in the Cultural District – has blossomed as well as it has. I can’t thank you all enough for recognizing that this is important and the work that has to still go on. We can’t just sit back and not be engaged and not focus on the future for our city,” Poole said.

“One day the big dig will get finished. We’ll see the waterfront open up. There’s a lot of things still in front of us that we still have to do,” he said.

“His goal has always been to leave the Cultural District better than he found it, which is a tall order, but he and Mary Nel have been amazing advocates and champions of the district and their attitude of stewardship carries through to our goals today to leave it better than we found it,” Ferguson said.