The Tarrant Regional Water District board of directors voted to ask voters to approve adding another $250 million to the tab for the long-planned Panther Island project north of downtown Fort Worth during its monthly meeting on Feb. 15. The bond election is set for May 5.
Officials promised that presentations would be given to homeowners and community groups about the bond package. They also committed to no further bond issues for this project.
“We have to be transparent and simple and clear about what we are doing here,” said board member Jim Lane.
If voters agree, the cost of the project is expected to increase to $1.16 billion up from $909 million, according to TRWD documents. TRWD officials said the bond would not require a tax rate increase.
In a document about the proposed bond issue, TRWD officials said the agency had been relying on natural gas revenues to pay its portion of the formidable project but the drop in natural gas prices has wiped out that revenue stream.
“After thoroughly examining different options that respect the existing caps and maintained an expected zero tax rate increase, it was determined that this lost funding could be replaced with the issuance of an expected zero-tax rate increase improvement bond package,” the document states.
Along with the lost natural revenue, the cost of the project has increased due to new federal rules for levee construction following Hurricane Katrina, additional costs for modifications and a higher obligation for matching federal funds, officials said.
The $250 million in bonds would be repaid through a proposed 10-year extension of Tax Increment Financing District or possibly with matching federal or state funds, according to the document. The TIF was established to capture increased revenue from rising property values within to development to repay the debt. The original funding caps agreed to by the City of Fort Worth and Tarrant County will be maintained, according to the documents.
Panther Island is envisioned as an 800-acre mixed-used development surrounded by more than 12 miles of canals and a continuous river walk. Residential units, restaurants, shops and entertainment venues are planned as part of the mix.
The development hinges on rechanneling a 1.5-mile stretch of the Trinity River north of the Tarrant County Courthouse to carve out Panther Island. Started in 2004 and expanded in 2009, the project aims to improve flood control, environmental clean up of the Trinity River corridor and create recreation opportunities on more than 3,000 acres.
The joint endeavor of the water district, city of Fort Worth, Tarrant County and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers originally was estimated to cost $435 million in 2005, then grew to $909.9 million in 2009 with the addition of improvements in Gateway Park.
The project is expected to be complete in 2028.
For more details on the proposal: