Left Bank: Developer adds residential component, reduces retail

Scott Nishimura snishimura@bizpress.net

Plans for the 34-acre, mixed-use Left Bank development along West Seventh Street and the Trinity River are firming up, and talks between the developer, the Trinity River Vision Authority and the city on a potential public-private partnership that would cover infrastructure costs have picked up at the same time.

In discussions with the TRVA and the city, which want to increase the number of residents living in the hot West Seventh corridor, Centergy Retail – the Dallas developer that bought the infill site between Montgomery Plaza and the river last year – has reshaped its original plan to include much less retail and much more residential.

Centergy also has estimated a cost of $25 million to move old water lines, rebuild streets, bury overhead utility lines and complete other necessary infrastructure, West Miller, Centergy’s president, said in an interview.

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Centergy has been in talks with the TRVA for nearly a year on its plan, and it is stepping up its conversations with city officials. Miller said he is looking for an agreement that would reimburse Centergy for its infrastructure costs over several years if – as is typical for such partnerships – the development significantly adds value to the tax rolls.

“There’s a huge risk on our part,” Miller said. “We only get reimbursed for what we create in value.”

J.D. Granger, a director of the Tarrant Regional Water District and executive director of its Trinity River Vision Authority unit, said he likes Centergy’s changes and its timetable that brings development to the site significantly faster than expected. Depending on when he reaches agreements, Miller said, he could begin construction in June.

“If you present more opportunities for us, we have something to talk about,” Granger said in an interview. “He brings greater opportunity than we expected, so we’ve got something to talk about.”

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Centergy, which has been talking to Fort Worth officials in various departments, is on the verge of presenting its plan to the city’s Housing and Economic Development department for determination of whether it qualifies for incentives.

Jay Chapa, the department director, said he expects to see the plan soon. He declined to discuss the project because he hadn’t seen the plan yet, but he noted that the city favors higher residential density in the interior city.

“Long-term, it’s cheaper on the city and the citizens to be able to serve a denser city,” he said in an interview.

Potential funding sources include the TRVA Tax Increment Financing district; the city’s “Chapter 380” gap financing tool, which is enabled by state law and designed to bring projects up to lending standards or acceptable investment criteria; and money for Fort Worth’s “urban villages” that’s in the 2014 city bond package that will go before voters in May. West Seventh is one of the city’s 16 urban villages.

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A TIF deal, depending on its structure, would require at least a vote by the TIF board. A 380 agreement, which stretches out reimbursement over years, with the highest percentages for investment done early on, would require City Council approval.

Miller said the development should add $300 million in value to the tax rolls, and he’s touting the attractiveness of a corridor stretching from the mature Cultural District, across the river and to downtown Between 2004 and 2013, property values in the West Seventh corridor jumped to $515.4 million from $112.4 million, according to the Tarrant Appraisal District and the city.

Private investment in the West Seventh urban village was $513.1 million between 2001 and 2013, which was 35 percent of the private investment in all of the city’s urban villages combined during that period, according to city estimates.

“We think this will be one of the most valuable pieces of property in Fort Worth,” Miller said.

A 30-year real estate executive and retail specialist, Miller once worked for Lincoln Property Co. and was involved in the development of Dallas’ popular Knox Street area that brought retailers such as Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn.

Centergy’s plan calls for about 1.5 million square feet of construction, 1,500-1,700 residential units, 100,000-120,000 square feet of retail space including a 50,000-square-foot grocer, and a 150-200 room hotel on the river levee, Miller said.

The proposed retail piece is down from more than 250,000 square feet originally contemplated. The 1,700 residential units are about 300 more than originally envisioned. To bump up residential density, Miller will have to remove one street from the current layout and move a major water line, Granger said.

Current plans for the 10-block site call for several mid-rise residential buildings of five to six stories apiece. Plans are still fluid, Miller said.

“We are in the master-planning phase right now,” he said.

The project has drawn significant interest from potential partners in retail, residential, office, hotel and independent senior living, Miller said, adding that “we are in the process” of choosing a multifamily partner.

Buildout could occur over five to seven years, “if the market stayed consistent as it is today,” Miller said.

The plan would have retail space fronting West Seventh and also facing a 30,000-square-foot public gathering spot.

Besides the grocer, Miller said he envisions a mix of other specialty retailers and restaurants, at least some of which would be new to the city.

About 90,000 square feet in the original plan would have been taken up by a Neiman Marcus store that Centergy was pursuing. But those talks fell out last year, Miller said. Neiman Marcus’ lone Tarrant County store is at Ridgmar Mall in West Fort Worth.

Miller didn’t elaborate on what happened to the talks, except to say “it takes a long time to make a Neiman’s deal work” and Centergy didn’t have the time. Neiman Marcus and Ridgmar both were sold to new owners in the fall; Ridgmar is committed to aggressively seeking new retailers.

Granger said the TRVA had urged Miller to add more residential and reduce retail from its initial plan. The West Seventh corridor already has a significant amount of new retail, Granger said. Several restaurants have come and gone from the corridor as it’s developed in the last decade.

Centergy’s original retail plan “was going to make the [West Seventh] model even more fragile,” Granger said. “We’d love to have very nice retail, but we need more residential density. [For retail] to really do well, you need more density.”

Higher residential density in turn will make mass transit more attractive in the corridor, he said. TexRail’s long-term plan calls for a light rail station on the line between the Centergy site and Montgomery Plaza to the west.

Miller said his plan calls for a 55,000-60,000-square-foot grocer.

“We have been working very closely with one grocery,” he said. “We’re very close to making a deal.”

Several grocers have been entering Fort Worth and Tarrant County, and speculation has abounded on where they’ll land. Left Bank’s will be a “traditional grocer with an urban format,” Miller said.

He didn’t identify the grocer he’s negotiating with. Centergy has pursued Whole Foods, but “it’s not Whole Foods,” Miller said. Whole Foods is widely believed in real estate circles to be committing to a site in the Bryant Irvin Road corridor off the soon-to-open Chisholm Trail Parkway in southwest Fort Worth.

The way Left Bank interacts with the riverfront is a subject of Centergy’s talks with the TRVA.

Centergy plans to raise the level of streets in the development by two to three feet, Miller said.

Buildings fronting the levee that separates the development from the Trinity will most likely include two levels of garage, Miller said. On top of that, the ground floor would be level with the levee’s top.

The planned hotel, for one, could have uses such as a swimming pool, patio and deck overlooking the top of the levee, the riverfront and downtown, Granger said. TRVA and water district employees would still have easy access to the levee for inspection, he said.

“We can do some neat stuff with it,” Granger said.

The hotel site has drawn significant interest from potential partners, Miller said, and it will go to a high-end, full-service name new to Fort Worth.