Fort Worth’s Butler Place, 42 acres of land just east of downtown, is already receiving interest from developers, but several legal hurdles must be cleared before the area sees a rebirth.
The historic public housing project was once home to more than 400 families and became increasingly isolated as highways surrounded the land. Despite that isolation, Fort Worth Housing Solutions, which owns the property, already has received unsolicited proposals for the site, according to Mary-Margaret Lemons, president of the agency.
“People have come in completely on their own and expressed interest or had some proposals,” she said. “We inform the board, but we have not taken any action.”
Lemons said there will be a process to consider proposals once current restrictions on the property have been removed.
“A lot of people are interested, obviously,” she said.
The redevelopment of the site presents the city with great opportunity, but also presents some challenges to preserve some historic aspects of the area, Fernado Costa, assistant city manager, told the Fort Worth City Council during its work session Sept. 6.
Among the more specific proposals are an amphitheater seating about 1,000 on 6.5 acres of greenspace in the southeastern portion of the property.
The proposal, presented by Fort Worth Housing Solutions at the meeting, includes increasing accessibility to the area, providing areas for mixed-use development for residential, commercial, office and educational uses and providing both market rate and affordable housing options.
The historic preservation efforts in the area include the creation of a Fort Worth African American Museum and cultural center, saving 1,000 of the bricks from the site for use as part of an art installation, and maintaining a collection of historic photographs and videos related to the area.
The plans are the result of meeting with the public by the Butler Advisory Committee from 2019 to 2022. Costa said the end result of the project should be a “win-win proposition.”
“The city will benefit by preserving the best of our past at Butler Place and yet creating opportunities for new development that will allow our city to continue our remarkable growth,” he said.
The city of Fort Worth and Fort Worth Housing Solutions have negotiated a memorandum of agreement with the Texas State Historic Preservation Office, which is now under review by the U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, to receive a federal clearance to proceed with the redevelopment of Butler Place, he said. The plans include some historic preservation components.
The property, located east of Fort Worth’s downtown and bordered by U.S. Highway 287, Interstate 35W and Interstate 30, has served as a public housing community since it opened in 1942. It is now vacant after residents were relocated to new apartments and residences in the area through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rental Assistance Demonstration program.
During a Zoom meeting on Aug. 31, Sonya Barnette, deputy director and senior vice president, housing and client services with Fort Worth Housing Solutions, said the organization began conducting workshops in September 2019 to discuss redevelopment plans.
Barnette said the organization wants to both preserve Butler Place’s history while providing a location for additional expansion.
Butler Place was named for Henry H. Butler, a Civil War veteran and the first African American teacher in the Fort Worth school system. Butler Place was one of the 52 Public Works Administration projects as part of President Franklin D.Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Before these plans move forward, a federal restriction needs to be removed.
HUD has in place a declaration of trust for Butler Place. The declaration is a legal obligation that binds HUD’s interest in the property, according to Lemons.
Until the property receives a release from HUD, Butler Place can operate only as a public housing entity, she said. As soon as Fort Worth Housing Solutions finalizes the memorandum of understanding with the state and other parties, Lemons said, the organization will apply to HUD for a Section 22 Streamlined Voluntary Conversion.
Once agency officials apply for the conversion, they should receive a response from HUD in 60 days, Lemons said. She is hoping Housing Solutions can apply by the end of the year.
For now, Lemons said, she is focused on more immediate concerns rather than speculating about possibilities.
“We’re still working through the processes with HUD to have the property be able to be disposed of,” Lemons said. “And we’re still working with our local committee here to finalize what their thoughts and wishes are, and present those to our board so they can make all the decisions.”
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com. 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.