Long overlooked on the banks of the Trinity River, Gateway Park could soon find itself awash in investment.
The park, which is described by city leaders as the region’s Central Park, is already set to receive $8 million for park improvements this year. Now, Frost Brothers Resources, which owns about 230 acres adjacent to the park, is seeking a master developer to build something that is complementary to the park and its surrounding communities.
The two most likely uses of the land adjacent to the park: Retail and multifamily housing, or a sports complex with additional soccer fields, a hotel and businesses like retail and restaurants.
While the property owners seek a master developer to buy and build on the land, the city is preparing to re-do its master plan for Gateway Park, which will guide improvements in the park for the next 10 years.
Kenneth Nguyen and his dog, Sumo, use Gateway Park for Fort Woof Dog Park. Nguyen is an Arlington resident, he drives about 15 minutes a couple times a month to use the dog park. He likes the size and diversity of the park, but while driving to the entrance of the park he noticed there aren’t a lot of stores or restaurants nearby.
“It’s quite barren. It’s all highways and roads,” Nguyen said.
The city dedicated the park in 1979. It is one of Fort Worth’s largest parks located just north of Interstate 30, east of Beach Street.
“It’s a destination park for the entire city,” District 4 City Councilman Alan Blaylock, who represents the park and its surrounding neighborhoods, said.
The city adopted the park’s master plan in 2002. Since then, the park has grown by about 250 acres, bringing it to its current size of 791 acres. The city is working on acquiring more land from Tarrant Regional Water District, which would bring the size of the park to 867 acres and make it the largest in the city.
The city council approved the current master plan for Gateway Park in 2009. A lot has changed within Gateway Park and around the entire city since then, Joel McElhany, assistant director with the Parks and Recreation department, said.
“We have aging infrastructure out there. We have changing needs,” McElhany said. “So we think it’s a good time to revisit that master plan and get public input.”
Directly adjacent to the dog park stands a large sign, depicting the future of Gateway Park. The sign was installed by the Trinity River Vision Authority and includes the land adjacent to the park owned by Frost Brothers Resources. The sign is a remnant of a master plan for the park produced in 2009 when the city was considering buying the land adjacent to the park.
The city likely will not pursue purchasing the land, McElhany said. As the parks and recreation department works to develop a new master plan, officials will take that sign down to reflect the new path for the park.
While purely expanding the park is no longer on the table, several residential, commercial and entertainment development options remain.
Expert group charts path for development near Gateway Park
The land adjacent to Gateway Park is the site of former and active gas wells and industrial development. In early 2022, there was renewed interest in the land after the property owners contemplated selling 56 acres to a developer who planned to build a warehouse and distribution center.
The proposed development met strong opposition from surrounding neighborhoods and did not move forward. The process prompted the land owners, who have maintained a significant philanthropic presence in Fort Worth, to engage the community and identify the most appropriate use for the land.
A technical assistance panel, made up of expert panelists who tour the property, was formed to interview surrounding communities and produce a diverse set of recommendations for possible use of the property. The panel was co-sponsored by the land owners and the city. David Leininger, chair of the Urban Land Institute, Dallas-Fort Worth, presented the panel’s findings to the City Council.
The panel’s goal was to come up with realistic options that the market could support over time and then provide a report.
The Frost family’s goal is to sell the land at a fair market value while preserving the family’s philanthropic legacy in the city, Leininger said. The panel process allows municipalities to work to solve a problem that does not have a clear path forward. This particular panel was unique, because both the city and the landowner sponsored it, said Karl Zavitkovsky, chair of the technical assistance panel initiative with the Urban Land Institute.
“In this case, I think they found a lot of common interests and felt like maybe we can help them sort of set the table and help with next steps,” Zavitkovsky said.
Of the 230 acres owned by the Frosts, about half fall into a floodplain, making just 105 acres actually developable.
The 11 panelists produced five options for the property owners to consider and present to potential developers. Of those five options, two were picked as the most likely to be pursued for the land — multifamily mixed use and a sports complex.
What were the five options presented?
- Development using existing zoning – a mix of industrial and single family housing
- Multifamily mixed use – multifamily housing, retail and industrial
- Ownership oriented residential – townhomes, some open space conservation
- Conservation/open space – set aside the land for open space, zero development required
- Sports complex and conservation – soccer fields, stadium will be built alongside retail and entertainment options
The mixed-use option would bring about 1,000 housing units adjacent to the park, 140,000 square feet of industrial space and 15,000 square feet of retail space. This option would also require the city to invest in new walking tails on the southern end of the property, in an effort to better integrate the park into the surrounding community.
Investment from the city would also be key to building the sports complex, possibly requiring a public-private partnership between the city and the Frost family. Finding a developer up to the task of building the sports complex as it is envisioned by the panel would be challenging, Leininger said.
“You need someone that really understands the nuances, understands the whole public-private partnership,” Leininger said. A developer with that expertise may be difficult to find, he said.
The city is currently working to update a sports tourism study that will identify four possible sites of a tournament level sports facility to be built in Fort Worth. Those four locations likely will be Gateway Park, Walsh Ranch, the Basswood property near Keller, and city-owned land north of Lake Worth, Blaylock said.
Now, when Fort Worth residents want to play sports competitively, they’re often driving to suburbs on the east side of DFW, Blaylock said, resulting in lost tax revenue for the city and additional money spent on gas for residents.
“There’s just a need for fields of all sports, and that’s something that the parks department has been studying for quite a while and they’ve got a separate study coming forward on that,” Blaylock said.
Both of these options will require improvements to Beach Street, which runs alongside the entrance to Gateway Park and the bulk of the Frost property. The street is a major arterial with heavy traffic, especially during peak commuting times, Leininger said. Currently, Beach Street has no sidewalks or bike lanes that would allow surrounding communities to safely walk or bike to the park.
“It’s well past its useful life; it needs to be brought to contemporary thoroughfare standards,” Leininger said. “The community certainly deserves at this point, they’ve been waiting for a long time.”
Now that the panel has completed its work, a developer must be brought on to the project. That developer will have to work closely with the city and surrounding neighborhoods about appropriate zoning and development strategies, Leininger said.
“They’ll guide conversations,” Blaylock said. “The study will be presented to master developers that might be interested in those opportunities to see if we can gather interest. So those discussions will be ongoing.”
“There’s a lot of good news,” Leininger said. “In this instance, there really is funding available, there really are market options and there are clear areas of agreement among all the parties. So it’s a real opportunity for a win.”
Public investment in Gateway Park
Gateway Park has been shaped by the people who use it most. In 2009, volunteers from the Fort Worth Mountain Bike Association extended existing mountain bike trails.
Trent Dougherty and North Texas Mountain Biking, a local chapter of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, use the trails all the time.
“It’s good because it’s got a lot of diversity,” Doughrety said of the terrain in Gateway. “It’s got a really super easy side and a little harder side.”
He hopes whatever improvements the city may make to the park results in positive changes.
Before embarking on producing the new master plan, the parks and recreation department plans to meet with user groups, like North Texas Mountain Biking, to learn what they would like to see improved and what should stay the same, McElhany said.
“It’ll be a public process to find out what the needs are and establish a new updated master plan to bring back to the City Council,” McElhany said.
Now is a good time to revisit and reinvest in Gateway Park, Blaylock said. Along with the possible development of land adjacent to the park, the area will likely see even more investment resulting from the Central City Flood Project, better known as the Panther Island Project.
“Both of these projects have an opportunity to be a huge catalyst for revitalization and growth in the area, and I’m really excited about that,” Blaylock said.
On Feb. 28, City Council approved a $475,000 contract with Kimley Horn for the design and development of a master plan for Gateway Park. Parks and Recreation expects to seek final approval from the council in early 2024.
Voters already approved $8 million to be used for park improvements through the 2022 bond program, but the master plan likely will lay out improvements that require more money through future bond programs, McElhany said.
Dougherty reflected on the park’s future as he paused to ready his bike for a ride. The city has a duty to provide the best possible opportunities to its residents for recreation.
“The No. 1 thing they need is any possible additional green space,” Dougherty said.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her 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.