Richard Perez, a homeowner in Fort Worth’s Northside community, has a simple message for developers interested in Panther Island, where a $1.16 billion flood control project will transform 800 acres along the Trinity River near downtown.
“Our houses are not for sale,” he said. “That’s it.”
Perez and his wife, Patricia, were among several Northside residents and business leaders who shared their anxiety and hope for Panther Island at a recent panel discussion hosted by Community Design Fort Worth and the American Institute of Architects Fort Worth.
Inside the Artes de la Rosa theater, attendees milled through models of the historically Hispanic Northside neighborhood and projects produced by the students of Dennis Chiessa, a University of Texas-Arlington architecture professor who moderated the panel.
Ann Zadeh, Community Design’s executive director, framed the event as continuing the conversation begun by a Fort Worth Report “Candid Conversation” in June. After speaking at the June panel, Chiessa sought to draw more attention to the lived experiences of the people who live, work and play in Northside — especially as the city and other project partners create a new roadmap for economic development around Panther Island.
Panther Island public meeting schedule
- 6 p.m. Sept. 7 at Artes de la Rosa, 1440 North Main St. Fort Worth, TX 76164 (Northside and Rock Island/Samuels Ave. Communities — Spanish translation)
- 6 p.m. Sept. 14 at Tarrant County College, Trinity River Campus, 300 Campus Circle, Fort Worth TX, 76102 (West 7th and Downtown Communities)
- 6 p.m. Sept. 19 at Tarrant County College, Trinity River Campus, 300 Campus Circle, Fort Worth TX, 76102 (Current Panther Island Residents, Landowners and Businesses)
- 6 p.m. Sept. 26, virtual meeting (open to the public)
- 6 p.m. Sept. 28 at Tarrant County College, Trinity River Campus, 300 Campus Circle, Fort Worth TX, 76102 (open to the public)
- 10 a.m. Sept. 30 at Artes de la Rosa, 1440 North Main St. Fort Worth, TX 76164 (Northside and Rock Island/Samuels Ave. Communities — Spanish translation)
The Central City flood control project, which received $403 million in federal funding last year, will pave the way for waterfront development by rerouting part of the Trinity River and create what will appear to be a natural island known as Panther Island.
With project construction beginning to take off, government agencies and other groups involved with Panther Island commissioned consultant HR&A Advisors to develop an updated economic strategy. HR&A released its initial findings in early August and plans to host a series of public meetings in September before wrapping up its report in December.
Chiessa noted that HR&A’s initial report didn’t mention the rich history of Douglass Park and McGar Park, two recreational areas near downtown that served as gathering places for African-Americans from the late 1800s through the 1920s. Crowds gathered to watch Black baseball teams and celebrate Juneteenth each year.
Little of that history, or the idea of preserving land for the public’s enjoyment, has been part of the conversation around Panther Island’s future, Chiessa said.
“I think we have to keep retelling the stories, so that some of these things are included and being told,” Chiessa said. “It’s critical that we remind ourselves that these things exist, and why they’re important, and that we need to provide spaces for that. Maybe it should be a baseball park. Maybe it should be public space.”
Concerns over future of local businesses, residents near Panther Island
Representatives from HR&A, the Tarrant Regional Water District and the city of Fort Worth were in the audience as residents expressed their desire for Panther Island to feel connected to the vibrant, family-centered culture of Northside.
Anette Landeros, president and CEO of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the local businesses her organization serves are excited to see foot traffic increase in the area as a result of Panther Island’s growth. Most of all, they want to see development built for locals to enjoy, Landeros said — not a tourist-centric district like downtown San Antonio’s River Walk.
“Are there going to be local concepts in Panther Island as well, or are they going to be larger attractions that are not necessarily run by local folks?” Landeros said. “Small local businesses here are equally invested in seeing a Panther Island that meets the needs of our communities.”
Community members are also concerned about being priced out of Northside as new residents move in and property taxes rise with increasing home values. Development of empty lots is a positive change for the neighborhood, Richard Perez said, but the higher cost of living is a threat for many neighbors.
“Hopefully taxes won’t jump too high for us and our neighbors,” he said.
Gladys Guevara, vice president of the Northside Neighborhood Association, said she worries about the future of community staples like the popular Henderson Street flea market and the Golden Gloves boxing gym. The consultant team must consider plans for those businesses as they move forward, she said.
Find more Panther Island stories here.
“Those have a lot of meaning and impact for the community,” Guevara said. “I actually used to sell at the Henderson flea market while I was in middle school. My family had a business. This flea market is going to be engulfed by the progress around Panther Island, but where will they go after this? What is the future for them?”
For those businesses to successfully transition to a new location or a brick-and-mortar store of their own, they will need significant support, Landeros said. The city and other project partners will need to give the Hispanic chamber and other organizations more advance notice on potential retail opportunities so they can educate business owners about the process, she added.
“Explaining the process is very important for the Hispanic community. We don’t move unless we feel we’re well informed and fairly informed,” Landeros said. “It can’t be tomorrow, 15 retail spots, apply now. We will be outpaced.”
Creating space for the next generation
The future of LaGrave Field, an abandoned minor league baseball stadium now owned by the water district, also weighs on the minds of Northside residents. Sal Espino, an attorney who formerly represented Northside on Fort Worth City Council, would like to see it rehabilitated into a new home for school teams and the adult baseball league, Liga del Norte.
He is also pushing for more investment in infrastructure, including public transit, to sustain the area.
“To be welcoming and inclusive of the local community, you need linkages,” Espino said. “We have a bus that runs every 15 minutes, but not everybody rides that bus. Can you do a higher capacity transit? Can you do a streetcar connecting downtown, Panther Island, Historic Marine and the Stockyards?”
For Jason Escobedo, an architecture graduate student at UT-Arlington who grew up in Northside, Panther Island’s decision-makers are shaping how younger people will be able to experience their neighborhood over the next several decades. Escobedo studied the history of parks and public space as part of Chiessa’s class.
He wants his future children to have a chance to enjoy a swimming pool and parks at Panther Island the way he used to at Marine Park.
“That does so much for the community in terms of the bond we create and the strength of who we are,” Escobedo said.
Patricia Perez’s vision for Panther Island also centers around the next generation of Northside residents, who often inherit homes from their elders as her husband did. Residents should be able to enjoy the Trinity and move about the community freely without needing a car, she said.
“If that is where we are headed, (I hope) that my children have the desire to come back and stay and make this their community, and they don’t want to go anywhere else in the country,” she said.
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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