Power plant: Proposals abound for next steps for former TXU facility

Scott Nishimura snishimura@bizpress.net

There’s no shortage of proposals for what Tarrant County College can do with the historic 100-year-old TXU power plant it owns on the Trinity River north of downtown.

The Downtown Fort Worth Inc. economic development nonprofit has sent groups interested in everything from office, to residential, hotel and entertainment to the college district in recent years, said Andy Taft, DFWI president.

“All kinds of people are thinking all kinds of different things,” he said.

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A group of Texas Tech University architecture graduate students in 2012 examined the site, and each proposed an adaptive reuse plan.

Proposals included an aquarium; multipurpose facility; beer brewery, gardens and restaurant; museum; Tarrant County College student union and activity center; multipurpose athletic and retail building with amenities such as a climbing wall and basketball court; restaurants and bars; culinary school and restaurant; and community arts center.

The proposals took advantage of the cavernous “vast cathedral-like” space, said Elizabeth Louden, the architecture professor whose students have examined five sites in Fort Worth and done public presentations on each.

“They don’t have to pay for (the rehab) financially,” Louden joked. “We realize we can dream big dreams.”

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Worldwide, there are numerous examples of the adaptive reuse of old power plants, usually all on waterfronts. Typically, the plans include the construction of substantial new spaces around the plants.

In Austin, for example, one plant on Lady Bird Lake is being made over and the power plant space itself leased almost entirely by a health care company for office space. The plant also will feature a bar and grill, coffee shop and viewing area, said Mary Alice Kaspar, a spokeswoman for the development group.

The site will feature a newly built condo tower and low-rise commercial building that will include a Trader Joe’s and office space.

J.D. Granger, executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority, said retail, restaurant and public spaces are among the likely uses for an adaptive reuse of the TXU plant, which the city and TRV view as a critical piece in the development of the Trinity River Vision plan. The TRV plan includes a town lake, which the TXU site would front.

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The TXU plant adaptive reuse “will be part of a much larger project,” Granger predicted.

“We expect there to be a lot of activity around the building,” he said. “I do expect it will be a huge catalyst.”

The Tarrant County College Board started the process in motion June 19, when it voted to explore the sale, lease or new use of the plant, which it obtained several years ago as it was developing its downtown campus.

The college board will soon issue “requests for qualification” that will seek ideas and qualifications from groups interested in the site, “but not necessarily a timeline or fiscal plan,” said Louise Appleman, the college board president.

Appleman said the college district has been pitched numerous ideas since it’s owned the property.

“We’ve had everything suggested except a filling station or an auto garage,” she said.

Appleman cautioned development groups that the project “won’t be an easy renovation.”

The college board had estimates of $3 million to mothball the plant, “just to protect it,” she said.

She did not rule out a potential partnership under which the college district is a partner, and said the “use” and “lease” wording was designed to leave open all possibilities.

But of a partnership, she said, “you have to be really careful with something like that. We’re very conscious of the fact that we’re dealing with taxpayer money here.”

Jerre Tracy, executive director of the Historic Fort Worth economic development nonprofit, said she’s encouraged by the college district’s signals that it intends to seek a highly qualified developer.

“They do have to have a qualified developer, and one who knows how to use the historic tax credits,” she said. “Sometimes, you inadvertently make mistakes that lose money for the project.”

Taft said the proposals he’s heard picked up in number after the state Legislature approved a new tax credit for historic rehab work during its last session.

“It’s a 25 percent historic credit that can be double with a federal 20 percent historic tax credit,” he said.

Taft said the interest demonstrates the confidence that the market has in the Trinity River Vision, downtown, West Seventh corridor and Near Southside.

“It’s another signal that the tide of investment is turning to the city center and people are starting to come back,” he said.

The college board’s vote coincided with the completion of lengthy talks over a land swap between the college district and Tarrant Regional Water District.

The swap went ahead without an 18-acre parcel adjacent to the TXU site that the college district has under option.

That tract is owned by Luminant, a subsidiary of Energy Futures Holdings, and it remains tied up in the Energy Futures Holdings ongoing bankruptcy proceedings.

As part of the land swap, TCC agreed to sign the option over to the Tarrant Regional Water District once TCC secures Luminant approval, said Granger, who also represents the TRWD.

The water district plans to use it for a marina and access canal.