Heating up: West Lancaster corridor projects moving forward

🕐 5 min read

Scott Nishimura snishimura@bizpress.net

West Lancaster Avenue through downtown Fort Worth is heating up, with planners envisioning a lively mixed-use corridor that extends the central business district further south. Among the ideas are tearing down the south wall of the Water Gardens to open up the area. 

More Money Raising the roof: Fort Worth’s Lancaster tax increment finance district board in December voted to expand eligibility for projects and remove the TIF’s lifetime cap. City Council members will vote to approve both Jan. 6. New properties covered: The TIF’s project and finance plan previously covered only specific buildings and required votes on proposed projects not part of the plan. The new rules cover anything within the TIF boundary. That draws in, among noteworthy properties, 13 city-owned parcels created by the relocation years ago of the Interstate 30 overhead, and a potential site – the Tarrant County College May Owen District Center – for the future expansion of the Omni Fort Worth Hotel that the city wants to encourage. Total money: The TIF board also voted to remove the lifetime cap, but reduce the percentage participation levels of the city and other governmental entities. The TIF had been bumping up against a $23 million lifetime cap, all spent or allocated. Under the rule change, it’s now expected to generate a total $40 million through its expiration in 2025, generating an extra $16 or $17 million for new projects not currently allocated, says Jay Chapa, the city’s housing and economic development director.

Tear Down This Wall: Water Gardens Back on the burner: Mayor Betsy Price wants to explore removing the south wall of the Fort Worth Water Gardens, opening it up to West Lancaster. The Water Gardens “is just such a terribly underutilized asset,” says Price, who envisions events like concerts if the enclosure were opened up. The idea: It came up 7-8 years ago in planning discussions for Lancaster; Price asked the city staff on Dec. 9 to resume exploring it. What’s next: Fort Worth Housing and Economic Development Director Jay Chapa said he expects the Lancaster TIF board will discuss the idea at its January meeting, and the mayor and council will hear options during a broader February staff briefing on Lancaster.

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Downtown Post Office The history: Lancaster TIF board members were in the middle of a meeting in June to vote on $7 million offer for the historic structure at 251 W. Lancaster, when the Postal Service sent a letter to the city yanking the building from the market. What’s up: The city, as it had indicated it would do after the property was pulled, has sent a letter to the Postal Service asking for first right of refusal if the facility comes back on the market, District 6 City Councilman Jungus Jordan disclosed at the TIF’s December meeting. Why the city’s interested: “When you get into the highest and best use, the potential for that facility is significantly higher than as a small post office,” Jordan, the TIF board chairman, said. One idea would be to turn the Post Office into a new City Hall. “I was really intrigued with the idea if the economics work,” Jordan said. But converting the building into a city installation in itself wouldn’t add any taxable value to the rolls. “At the 30,000-foot level, the only reason you do TIFs is to decrease the burden on individual taxpayers.”

Lamar-Hemphill Connector What’s new: The long-awaited construction of a traffic tunnel and road connecting Lamar Street downtown to Hemphill Street on the Near Southside is about to get underway in January. The details: The $12 million project includes a road and pedestrian pathway tunnel under Interstate 30 and a new rail bridge to support four existing Union Pacific lines. The tunnel will be to the west of the T&P Warehouse on West Lancaster Avenue. The road will be four lanes, with street lights, traffic signals, wide sidewalks, bike lanes, drainage improvements, irrigation and landscaping. Construction is expected to be complete by July 2016. The road will be another direct link between downtown and the Near Southside and is designed to improve “community cohesion.”

Pinnacle Bank Place What’s new: The city is closing out financing for the 160,000-square-foot Pinnacle Bank Place, a new office, retail and apartment building to be built in the 200 block of West Lancaster (on the north side of the street) and owned by the Fort Worth Local Development Corp. The Central City Local Government Corp. will own a new, adjacent 450-space parking garage to be built. Construction: If the financing closes before Christmas, construction could begin in January or February, Chapa said. Completion would be in summer 2017. What’ll be in the building: Pinnacle Bank earlier this year agreed to pay $1.38 million for about 9,000 square feet of the 25,000-square-foot ground floor, space the bank would use for a branch and local back office. The building will have 130 mixed-income apartments. The city has been attracting interest in potential ground-floor retail tenants; the U.S. Postal Service was to take a portion of the ground floor and move from its big building across the street, but that plan was scuttled when the service decided to remain in its old building. Prospective tenants that have expressed interest include small restaurants and services, Chapa said. “We’re not sure they’re what we want,” he said. Interest should pick up after construction starts, he said.

Odd Lots What’s up: The city is continuing negotiations with a developer that’s interested in developing odd lots created by the I-30 relocation. The city opened as many as 13 parcels totaling 249,460 square feet of area to requests for quotation. All are on the north side of Lancaster, between Jones Street and the I-30 entrance ramp. Entering the process, the city’s expectations were for mixed-use buildings of three to eight stories that could include retail, residential, office and hotel. “We’re in a quiet period right now,” Chapa said. “The developer is doing due diligence.” One complicating factor, he said: the cost of connecting to Oncor Electric Delivery’s “triple-redundant” downtown system engineered for high reliability.

Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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