Hazel Lewis Wiltz says God gave her the inspiration to head the unconventional project of bringing a marina, entertainment and event venue to the Fort Worth shore of Lake Arlington.
Lewis Wiltz, 65, plans to operate this establishment, Living Waters Park Organization, as a nonprofit.
The longtime real estate agent aims to generate enough revenue to provide services, jobs, social events and economic opportunities to the Fort Worth community.
Lewis Wiltz has received an outpouring of support from the community since she started the project in 2011, she said. The city has a need for an operation like this, she said, and she is determined to fulfill that need.
Normally, when you see a lake, it’s accompanied by a marina or other economic development contributing to the area. Lake Arlington lacks one, and it’s poorly underdeveloped.
Lewis Wiltz’s vision for developing the lakefront is big. The nonprofit organization will be unique from any other nonprofit in the U.S., she said. Some people might doubt whether an event venue with a marina, lodges, amphitheater and more can feasibly operate as a nonprofit, but Lewis Wiltz refuses to let doubt deter her.
About Hazel Lewis Wiltz
Education: Bachelor’s degree in real estate from the University of Texas at Arlington
Occupation: Realtor since 1978
“Where do you find something like (this) operating as a nonprofit? You don’t,” she said. “But there was a day when there weren’t windshield wipers for a car either, or when there wasn’t internet, either.”
The venue would be available for people to rent for weddings and other large events. The organization also would provide service learning projects in partnership with nearby universities such as TCU and UT-Arlington, she said.
The property has been owned by Lewis Wiltz’s family trust for about 30 years after she purchased it with a pension fund she established early in her career, she said. Before then, the property was privately owned by another individual. Much of the funding for the project has come straight out of Lewis Wiltz’s pocket, and the rest has come from corporate donations.
Stacy Marshall, president of Southeast Fort Worth Inc., said Lewis Wiltz will face a number of challenges regarding the project site. But the biggest challenge will simply be money.
Without sufficient funding, Lewis Wiltz won’t be able to pay workers and developers to develop the lakefront. She has had a number of volunteers come out to the property to clean up some of the landscape, but it’ll take more than volunteer work for construction to start, Marshall said.
Lewis Wiltz said her projected total budget for the project is about $10 million. In January, she plans to submit an application for tax credits, which could generate $1.5 million, and she’s planning to apply to various federal funding grants as well.
Marshall said the development of Lake Arlington would benefit the city of Fort Worth. If people come from out of town to have weddings at the location or use the other resources, they will likely stay long enough to need restaurants nearby and eventually hotels, he said.
“It’s a win-win for everybody financially to bring taxes to the area and particularly to the city and then make money for the nonprofit so that (Lewis Wiltz) can give back,” Marshall said.
The project site is located in District 5 of Fort Worth, which is Councilwoman Gyna Bivens’ district. As a council member, Bivens said she looks at proposed projects every day, but Lewis Wiltz’s stood out because it was “simply beautiful.”
She fully supports having such a venue and said it has the potential to uplift the community.
“I’m just glad there are people who want to build in this city and especially in my district,” Bivens said. “And anything that’s going to be built around Lake Arlington from the venue that I saw, I know it’s going to be breathtaking.”
Robert Sturns, economic development director for the city of Fort Worth, said Lewis Wiltz’s“visionary project sounds exciting, but there’s a number of development challenges that need to be addressed.
A large challenge is accessibility. Because the lakefront is so underdeveloped, actually reaching it in its current state would be challenging for many visitors, and parking would be an issue.
Drainage is also a concern. Building by the lake, Lewis Wiltz would need to ensure stable drainage to keep the area from becoming swampy, and the water along the property would need to be dredged and cleaned out.
Arlington City Manager Trey Yelverton said the area is of joint interest to the cities of Arlington and Fort Worth. Although the project site is on the south end of the lake in Fort Worth, both cities want to see the lake cleaned up and the water unpolluted.
Water is always an engaging natural feature, Yelverton said, and developing the lakefront and shore could positively impact the surrounding area and attract visitors.
Currently, the city of Arlington is involved mainly as an advocate for responsible development around the lake, Yelverton said.
“We’re certainly interested in cheerleading for the plan to become viable and work well from an economic perspective,” Yelverton said. “Since it’s actually in the city of Fort Worth, it’s really building the Fort Worth tax space and opportunity for resources. (Arlington) doesn’t have any specific financial amendments or anything with the project at this time, but we want to make sure we understand it and help the word get out.”
Currently, there’s not much potential for a significant financial impact to the city of Arlington, Yelverton said. Because the project site is located on the Fort Worth side of Lake Arlington, any potential property taxes would benefit that city.
However, Arlington isn’t without any positive benefit for this project, he said. The lake is a beautiful amenity that may be smaller than other lakes in the metroplex, but it’s still a valuable, underused resource.
“The way Arlington benefits is the west shore of the lake being developed in a way that fully recognizes the recreational value of the lake,” Yelverton said. “To the degree that there are people who park their boats there or launch their boats there, and we have more activity out on the lake, I think it just makes the lake feel vibrant and alive.”
Sturns said the city of Fort Worth has been wanting to get some activity around the Fort Worth shore of Lake Arlington for some time. If successful, this project would help the entire area become a great amenity, he said.
Lewis Wiltz said she’s glad to see the collaboration and support from both cities. The project has intentionally taken so long to develop because her plan was to bring various individuals and entities to the table to create a groundswell of participation and interest. That goal took longer because wrapping your head around the concept of a nonprofit entertainment venue is hard at first, Lewis Wiltz said.
Despite the obstacles, Lewis Wiltz projects the development will be finished and fully operational by spring 2023.
She’s experienced many “miraculous” events throughout her life, and this project is one of them. She couldn’t have done this without God’s help, she said.
“All through this process, the help was just constantly there,” she said.
Fort Worth Report fellow Cecilia Lenzen may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.