When Annie Redowl, 46, first opened her Filipino grocery store off of McCart Avenue almost five years ago, the first question customers asked her was, “Do you have a gun?”
“I said, ‘What for?’” said Redowl, who owns Pinoy’s Best Oriental Market, now located on Altamesa Boulevard.
“Well, there’s a lot of crazy people around in this area,” people told her.
“I said ‘No, I’m not carrying guns. I’m just trusting God.’ So you don’t need to be scared as long as you just make sure that you need to pay attention to anybody.”
For Redowl, safety precautions also mean keeping her door shop locked — even during open hours — and passing safety concerns to her property manager.
Better infrastructure and increased safety are among the concerns of local business owners who have seen a decrease in commercial growth along the Altamesa and McCart corridor. In response, Fort Worth city staff and District 6 council member Jared Williams, who represents the area, have begun having conversations about creating incentive zones that will use public dollars to fund improvements and re-ignite business in the area.
Specifically, Williams is working with staff to propose a tax increment financing district and a public improvement district as potential tools to attract investments and address concerns from residents and businesses.
The two proposals from the city are not new ideas. Fort Worth currently has 13 improvement districts and 11 increment financing zones.
What is a tax increment financing district?
A tax increment financing district freezes the property tax value in an area and, as more investment and development come to the area, property value increases. As property value rises, the difference between the base value and the new value is set aside to fund infrastructure projects.
It is usually run by a board of directors, who are appointed by the city, county or other taxing entity. They approve all policies, projects and investments financed by the fund.
What is a public improvement district?
In a public improvement district, local businesses and residents in the area choose to impose an additional tax on themselves, collected from commercial and residential property taxes, for improvements like security and maintenance.
These districts are created via a petition and are controlled by the property owners within the district’s area.
Vacancies and turnover
Victoria Gomez has seen many local businesses “close as fast as they opened” in the 10 years since she first started her hair salon and adjacent tax office in the Lone Star Shopping Center on McCart Avenue.
“They can’t afford to pay,” the 57-year-old owner of Sisters Beauty Salon and Gomez Tax Services said. “Rent prices are too high.”
Even council member Williams, who grew up in southwest Fort Worth and is familiar with the Altamesa and McCart area, recalls a different landscape of businesses than the ones most know and see today.
He grew up with a bowling alley, movie theater, skating rink and two grocery stores all at the intersection of Altamesa Boulevard and Westcreek Drive.
Today, those are gone.
“Many talk about the early days of the Altamesa and McCart corridor and the different services that were provided,” Williams said. “Over time, we’ve seen some patterns and challenges that necessitate reinvestment in the corridor and ensure that the Altamesa and McCart area is vibrant for another 20-plus years and beyond.”
The sentiment calling for reinvestment in the area isn’t new, he said.
The Altamesa and McCart corridor was one of the many areas the city of Fort Worth targeted in 2022 for revitalization.
Some infrastructure improvements have already begun in the corridor with a $2 million intersection improvement at the corner of Altamesa Boulevard and McCart Avenue. The design stage is complete and construction is expected to start in January 2023, according to the city’s website.
Williams said this approach to reinvestment, coupled with the internal work the city is doing will accelerate economic development there.
The city’s 2017 Economic Development Strategic Plan noted that only 18% of the land in the Altamesa and McCart corridor remains undeveloped, but “there are large areas with redevelopment potential.”
“Most of the area’s employment is commercial, and the community has expressed interest in seeing a focus on retail, commercial, and service development, as well as improvements to public spaces,” the plan reads. “The primary challenges for improvement in Altamesa and McCart area are the number of private-landowners that divide the area, the level of build-out, and the presence of older ‘stable but struggling’ businesses.”
Bringing in the dollars
To attract investments to this portion of Southwest Fort Worth, council member Williams and city staff will first have to get residents and business owners on board. A series of public meetings whose dates have not yet been released are expected to be held throughout the first half of 2023.
Ideally, the goal is to have an improvement district and tax increment financing approved by summer 2023, Williams said.
What can tax increment financing money be used for?
Funding from a TIF is usually used on larger projects that improve infrastructure like roads and utilities, environmental remediation, preservation and rehabilitation of historic properties, improved sidewalks and more.
What can public improvement district money be used for?
Funding from a PID can be used to beautify streetscapes through upkeep, adding medians, benches, trash cans to combat litter and more. It can also be used to improve safety like paying for additional security officers, additional streetlights or improving community areas.
Mark Greene, president of the Wedgwood East Neighborhood Association in Southwest Fort Worth, sat on the Benbrook City Council years ago when Benbrook passed an improvement district and tax increment financing.
He has seen the impact the financial tools can have, as he referred to other parts of the city, like Near Southside and the Medical District, and the Stockyards, which have benefited from these special zones.
“The notion is to bring in more businesses and to bring in higher-scale businesses,” he said. “It was successful. I mean, it was a slow go. But it did end up ultimately achieving a lot of its intent.”
For Greene, implementing incentive zones means diversifying the economic opportunities to bring in people from outside the neighborhood as well — to spend their money.
“If you have nothing but fast food — there’s nothing out here office wise, for instance, for like professional services, other than, I think the Frost Bank building, and then a handful of little small things. There’s not a lot of office-type activity and there are just underutilized strip centers,” he said.
However, some business owners don’t believe having people already cost-burdened pay an additional tax for beautification will help shops stay afloat. That is the case of Hussein Hassan, owner of Sara’s Halal Food on McCart Avenue.
Instead, the 50-year-old believes a streamlined citywide permit system would better encourage business growth. Hassan wants to expand his store and needs to break down the wall connecting the two sides.
He has yet to obtain the permits, although he is still paying rent for the second site.
“I pay rent every month. I pay power every month. The bills — a lot of things. They make easy the paperwork for us. I want right now to do (renovations) inside. Why does it take five, six months to give me proof? Why? It is too much. I lost a lot of money,” he said.
It costs an average of $4,250 to start a restaurant in Fort Worth just for fees and licenses, one of the most expensive places to start a business, according to previous Fort Worth Report coverage.
The city released a plan in June 2022 in a first step to streamlining the permit process.
With diverse interests along the Altamesa and McCart corridor, Fort Worth city staff and council member Williams know they have a difficult task ahead of them to make this a long-term success.
“We need to engage our neighborhoods and our businesses and that commercial corridor, as well as city staff to ensure that we’re doing additional work that reflects kind of the opportunity and the values that our community sees in that corridor, and also making sure that we implement these tools with fidelity, efficiently and also in a way that’s a success long term,” Williams 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.
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