Jason Escobedo first heard about Panther Island after a professor explained the project. One thing stood out to him — developers seemingly forgot about the impact on his home, Fort Worth’s historic Northside community.
Escobedo drew up a blueprint to ensure the predominantly Latino neighborhood is meaningfully included and represented in the $1.16 billion project.
“It gives us a new opportunity to do something good before the city changes its character,” Escobedo said.
Panther Island will be the product of Fort Worth’s two-decades-old plan to re-route the Trinity River. The Central City flood control project, which received $403 million in federal funding last year, will build a 1.5-mile bypass channel between downtown Fort Worth and the Northside in an effort to prevent disastrous flooding. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects to finish construction of the channel in 2032.
During visits to the Northside in college, Escobedo often pointed out new sidewalks and buildings to his parents. As an architecture student, he was excited to see the new development around his childhood neighborhood.
“It shows the city is going to grow,” Escobedo said.
Escobedo didn’t know the development going on around his neighborhood was a part of Fort Worth’s plans for Panther Island until he took UT-Arlington architecture professor Dennis Antonio Chiessa’s studio class last year.
Chiessa’s course focuses on the “North of the Island” Initiative, a project examining the relationship between Northside, Trinity River and Marine Creek.
The professor asked students to review Panther Island, its surrounding development and how it will affect the community that is 78% Latino. Students gave feedback on changes to existing plans that consider all social classes.
Oasis at La Corte project
Escobedo and Andrea Diaz Ramirez, his project partner, looked at the proposed layout for Panther Island, which includes a houseboat district, riverwalk, town lake, marina and several parks. That development plan, originally drawn up in 2003, is being updated by consulting firm HR&A Advisors at the request of the city of Fort Worth, the Tarrant Regional Water District and other partners involved in Panther Island.
The town lake and marina stood out to Escobedo because of how much space is planned for boats. For him, the waterfront focus revealed the developers’ priorities.
“It seems to have energy that is catered to the wealthy and affluent. You can do so much more to be more inclusive with this sort of waterfront space,” he said.
So Escobedo and Ramirez created “Oasis at La Corte,” a proposal that would change the town lake and marina portion so the western part of the island is built with public access in mind, featuring amenities like a plaza and sports fields.
The project’s name comes from the downtown lost neighborhood of La Corte, where the downtown Hispanic community lived a century ago, according to former journalist Mike Nichols’ Hometown By Handlebar blog.
Oasis at La Corte includes a visitor center in front of the Tarrant County College-owned former TXU North Main power plant, as well as a memorial for the lost neighborhood near the Tarrant County Courthouse.
Escobedo and Ramirez chose the western part of the island as the place to bring the Northside, Panther Island and downtown Fort Worth together. If looked at from a bird’s-eye view, the western part of the island is angled in a way that directly points toward the Northside.
‘A much more meaningful and poetic project’
The project is a statement to those in power and a chance to acknowledge the people who already live there and have for generations, Escobedo said.
During a recent Fort Worth Report conversation on Panther Island, Chiessa brought up “Oasis at La Corte” as a student project developers need to look at seriously so the Northside is included.
The project includes real concerns about the development, such as who the intended audience for Panther Island is, Chiessa said.
“He and Ramirez tie all of these things together, and it makes it a much more meaningful and poetic project,” Chiessa said.
Chiessa plans to present Oasis at La Corte and other student projects to Michael Bennett, architect and CEO of Bennett Partners, and others involved in Panther Island in the coming weeks.
Bennett is the chairman of Downtown Fort Worth Inc. and on the founders council of the Greater Real Estate Council of Fort Worth, both of which are helping to fund HR&A’s study of future development on the island. The consulting firm completed interviews with several project partners earlier this year.
Escobedo hopes people in charge of shaping development on Panther Island listen.
“It gives out a message to the people in power, saying we need to create public space in Panther Island whether it’s green space, whether it’s public space, it just needs to be more inclusive of the people around it,” Escobedo said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 3, 2023, to use the correct title for Michael Bennett, chairman of Downtown Fort Worth Inc.
Juan Salinas II is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 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. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.