Fort Worth’s Heritage Park was commissioned in 1976 to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial and was met with much acclaim when it opened in 1979.
But over the years, increasing crime rates in the city turned away people. The plaza and the surrounding park fell into disarray. It was eventually closed off in 2007 for safety concerns after the death of four visitors at the nearby Fort Worth Water Gardens.
“Heritage Plaza is on the National Register of Historic Places. And so having a city park with a fence around it is clearly not what anybody wants,” said Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc.
Fifteen years after it closed, the historic park will soon have a second chance as it enters a $34.2 million renovation that will connect the downtown area to the Trinity River.
This updated park will be an icon of Fort Worth, Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa said.
“This is a project that could become an important symbol of Fort Worth and an important entryway into downtown from the north. And in a major destination for Fort Worth residents and visitors alike,” he said.
The park is expected to reopen in November 2026.
Discussions about redeveloping Heritage Park and its nearby Paddock Park began as far back as 2008, with designs for the project completed in 2015.
The fast-moving traffic surrounding Heritage and Paddock parks made them not easily accessible, deterring people from going to those parks, Costa said.
The modifications will include the creation of a canopy walk down toward the river, with river stairs at the bottom. Nearby Paddock Park will also be redesigned from a two-acre traffic island into a larger park space at the foot of the Tarrant County Courthouse.
There will also be pedestrian improvements along Weatherford and Belknap streets.
“This will make downtown a more appealing place to live and visit,” said Taft. “And we’ll add another series of things to do in downtown that will attract people who are going to eat and stay overnight and shop in downtown, as well as Panther Island. This is about quality of life.”
Travis Liska, principal transportation planner with the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said improvements along Belknap and West Weatherford streets will extend out the curb for pedestrians and focus on traffic calming — physical design measures put in place to slow down vehicle speeds.
The redevelopment of Heritage and Paddock Parks is part of a greater city initiative to connect downtown to the Trinity River – a goal solidified after the Trinity River Strategic Master Plan was completed in 2018.
“The idea emerged, ‘Let’s not just do Heritage Park in isolation. Let’s make it part of a bigger vision,’” said Costa. “Let’s relate it back to what folks have been contemplating for many years: to relate downtown more effectively to the river. Because right now, you could be standing in Sundance Square and have no idea that there’s a big river a short distance away. Historically, we’ve had a kind of disconnect between the city and the Trinity River. And so this project aims to correct that historical oversight.”
The project construction cost is estimated at $34.2 million with about $4 million for annual maintenance and $5 million for long-term maintenance costs.
The city of Fort Worth will provide $15 million toward the project, which includes $13.5 million from the 2022 city bond and $1 million from the downtown tax increment financing district. Tarrant County will contribute $2 million.
State and federal grants will add another $8.4 million with the Council of Governments providing $6 million. About $2.8 million has been raised from individuals and foundations.
However, cost estimates may change as design documents are underway and inflation continues to affect the project.
“It’s a moving target,” said Taft. “We are not letting any grass grow under our feet, moving this process forward and fundraising.”
Another $10 million from the private sector is needed, Taft said.
Jerre Tracy, executive director of Historic Fort Worth, who is a member of the Heritage Park committee and has long been involved in the project, said Heritage Park presented challenges, but sees the current plan as a “dream come true.”
She noted that Heritage Park is the only significant Texas park designed by renowned landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, who designed landmarks such as Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco and the United Nations Plaza in New York. According to a Historic Fort Worth, the Heritage Park work he did in 1980, is thought to have been influenced by Halprin’s work on the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“Heritage Park is exceptional in every way,” she said.
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @ssadek19.
Bob Francis is the 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.