The pressure is mounting on the owner of Texas & Pacific Warehouse to redevelop the historic property after years of neglect and false starts.
The T&P Warehouse, an enormous landmark at the Lancaster corridor in downtown Fort Worth, has sat dormant since the late 1970s. Revitalization plans for the decaying 90-year-old building are in place but lack any initiation.
Now, rapid urbanization, an urgent need to deliver public outcomes and changing economic conditions might force the hand of Dallas-based Cleopatra Investments to move forward on the long-delayed project.
“The progress of Lancaster is being held back by the lack of progress on this project,” Andy Taft, Downtown Fort Worth Inc. president, said in an interview.
The area south of downtown has experienced a real estate and tourism boom in recent years. Several new residential and commercial projects are in the pipeline.
In 2014, when Cleopatra Investments presented its T&P Warehouse redevelopment design plans to the city via the Lancaster Tax Increment Funding District, the owner cited external factors contributing to the project’s delay. The main issue raised was the “challenges in engineering and construction scheduling” due to the ongoing construction of the Lamar-Hemphill Connector project on the building’s western edge.
“Based on continuing coordination, the warehouse construction will be scheduled to commence once the Lamar-Hemphill street project is approaching completion and the warehouse site has been cleared from related encumbrances,” Cleopatra President Ola Assem’s son, Nadeem Shoukry, had said in a statement issued in 2014.
The $53 million tunnel project that connects downtown to Near Southside was completed and opened to traffic in April 2020.
Shoukry and Assem declined to speak to the Fort Worth Report or provide updates on their redevelopment plans.
Taft said the opening of the Lancaster connector and two other market conditions make a strong case for development.
“We are coming out of a pandemic. And, residential is a very hot market in downtown,” Taft said. “Those three things are a great reason for that building to be redeveloped, starting now.”
Taft said the city officials, administrators and the downtown community have given “firm commitments” on their part to help the project succeed.
The T&P Warehouse was constructed in 1931. Wyatt C. Hedrick, a premier Fort Worth architect, designed the Art Deco building, which was a part of a three-building complex that includes the Texas & Pacific Railway Terminal and the United States Post Office.
The warehouse offered space for the storage and distribution of produce and merchandise transported by the railroad. Office and salesrooms were also available within the 500,000-square-foot structure. In 1976, Texas and Pacific Railway merged with the Missouri Pacific, currently a Union Pacific company.
Assem of Cleopatra Investment bought the building in 1997.
“I just hoped it would have been redeveloped by now,” said John Roberts, former chairman of Historic Fort Worth, Inc. “It’s a key piece in the Lancaster corridor. I feel that it really should be redeveloped as soon as possible.”
Roberts, an architect by profession, last visited the T&P Warehouse about 20 years ago. Cleopatra Investment had invited Roberts and his architecture firm to the building to inspect and possibly work on a restoration plan. But Aseem and Cleopatra did not select the firm for the project.
“(Redevelopment) would be very challenging,” said Roberts, “in the fact that you’re dealing with the existing structure and the existing confines of that building. And then you have to bring it up to modern codes. But I would think any owner could redevelop that building, providing they have enough money, of course.”
In 2019, Fort Worth City Council adopted an ordinance that canceled a historic site tax exemption the building had been receiving since 1995. The Lancaster TIF also pulled out about $11 million in incentives Cleopatra Investment was to receive depending on the progress it made on redeveloping the property.
A decade ago, Cleopatra Investments had brought forward an adaptive reuse plan to convert the eight-story warehouse building into 260 loft-style apartments. A hotel would be built on the east wing and spaces available for restaurants at street-level, according to previous design plans.
However, the plan never materialized.
“It would be very beneficial for (Cleopatra Investments) to go ahead and redevelop the building and the property,” Roberts said. “But, they’ve been sitting on it for 20 years or more, and they still haven’t done anything.”
Both the Texas and Pacific Railway Terminal and the United States Post Office underwent a significant revitalization process. The railway terminal was restored and turned into Texas + Pacific Lofts, a 230-unit luxury condos development. The post office still functions in its federal agency capacity.
Roberts said something similar could be done with the warehouse building, which spans 611 feet long and 100 feet wide.
Cleopatra Investments contracted Boothe Architects to conduct stabilization and mothballing work on the building in 2017. Other works included concrete and masonry repair, drainage installation and roof replacement.
“The bones of the building are still good. The exterior is still in pretty good shape, too,” Roberts said. “I think it’s certainly a viable project to do even now, and even with a building sitting like it has for so long.”
Housing is one of the key focus areas for Downtown Fort Worth, as laid out on its 10-year strategic action plan.
Downtown Fort Worth wants to increase the number of residential units available downtown. The goal is to add an additional 7,500 units of housing to the greater downtown area, according to Downtown Fort Worth, Inc.’s 2019 annual report.
“We’re going to see an expansion of the residential population, the pedestrian nature of downtown and the 24-hour livable city where people can live, work, play and shop and dine. And that includes Lancaster,” Taft said. “Lancaster right now is a little quiet on the south side (of downtown). Over the next few years, we’re going to see a lot more activity there as well.”
Catalyst Urban Development is constructing the 330-unit Burnett Lofts across the street from T&P Warehouse. The developer also owns several other parcels of land in Lancaster where it intends to build additional urban housing, ground-level restaurants, office spaces, loft office and hotels.
“The T&P Warehouse is the largest and most memorable building in the area,” said Catalyst Principal Paris Rutherford. “For the Lancaster corridor to thrive, it is important that the largest and most iconic building along its way becomes activated. This will create synergy as a vibrant urban street requires both sides to be pleasant and activated both during the daytime and into the evening.”
The Burnett Lofts is scheduled to open in 2022.
Also in the works nearby is the 248-unit multifamily project, Kent Lofts. A little farther north, the high-rise 1000 Weatherford is taking shape to add 310 residential units to downtown.
As new residents come into Fort Worth with new developments going online, the inactivity of T&P Warehouse could provide the wrong impression about downtown and constrain the city from achieving its larger potential, Rutherford said.
“This is a large building and a large project. We can see how there may have been challenges along the way,” he said. “But, there exists today a great opportunity for the financing, design, development, and implementation of the type of change this building needs to achieve, and we believe the potential exists now to do so.”