Fort Worth Housing Authority begins $29 million redevelopment of the old Hunter Plaza

Scott Nishimura

The Fort Worth Housing Authority officially “broke wall” on Nov. 5 on a $29 million redevelopment of the old Hunter Plaza public housing tower downtown into a mixed-income apartment building that officials said will be “swanky.”

The new Hunter Plaza Apartments at 605 W. First St. will increase the inventory of workforce housing downtown – a long-held community goal – and push it out farther from the core and toward the oncoming Panther Island, the vast planned infill redevelopment, officials said.

“It’s going to be modern, it’s going to be urban, it’s going to be swanky,” Fort Worth Housing Authority CEO Naomi Byrne said.

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“This will change the way we think of public housing” in Fort Worth, Regenia Hawkins, director of the Fort Worth regional office of the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, said.

The 11-story redevelopment, expected to be completed in December 2015, will include 114 one-bedroom units and 50 two-bedroom units ranging between 550 and 850 square feet.

The apartments will be loft-style. Seventy percent will be available to renters making 80 percent of area median income or less and 30 percent will be market-rate. No specific floor plans or floor levels will be set aside for affordable housing, and there won’t be any rent variations for the top floors.

“It’ll all be blended,” Brian Dennison, the Housing Authority’s vice president for development and asset management, said. “If you lease here, you won’t know if your next-door neighbor is market or affordable.”

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The project will include about 10,000 square feet of ground floor retail and commercial space, which could be broken into as many as four or five spaces depending on demand, said Russ Garrison, executive vice president of Sedalco Construction Services, the project contractor.

Potential commercial tenants include sandwich shops, coffee bars, tenant-driven services and law offices that are convenient to the nearby courthouses, Dennison said.

The Housing Authority will build a 160-space parking garage as part of the project.

A line of dignitaries wielding small sledge hammers on Nov. 5 broke holes in an interior wall to signify the project launch. The celebrants included Mayor Betsy Price, City Councilmembers Ann Zadeh and W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman, U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, County Commissioner Roy C. Brooks and representatives from project partners and service firms.

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The building, constructed in 1954, had various uses. It was originally the Fortune Arms Hotel, and the Housing Authority purchased it in 1971. It most recently served as public housing for the elderly and disabled between 1996 and 2010. A major bedbug infestation forced its closure, fumigation and sealing in 2010; 219 residents were relocated.

The Housing Authority will retain the exterior of the historic structure, gutting the interior and keeping the old corridors. The building’s windows were installed new after the Fort Worth tornado struck in 2000, and the contractor will keep those, said Robby Reid, of BOKA Powell, the project architect.

Renderings of the planned apartments show amenities such as wood floors, exposed ceilings and ceiling fans, stainless fixtures, modern cabinets, appliance packages and kitchens with breakfast bars.

“It’s going to feel like an uptown-type establishment,” Reid said.

The development’s public partners include the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, city of Fort Worth and Downtown tax increment finance district.

Private partners include PNC Bank, Stonehenge Capital, Community Bank of Texas and Bank of Texas, and Carleton Development LTD. BOKA Powell is the architect, and SEDALCO Construction the contractor.

The FWHA develops, owns and operates quality affordable and accessible housing. Today, it owns 1,003 public housing units, 2,821 affordable housing units and 525 market-rate units; administers more than 6,300 housing vouchers; and operates two homeownership programs.