The projector screen inside Artes de la Rosa’s Rose Marine Theater lit up with messages pouring in from residents. Consultants charting the future of the Central City/Panther Island flood control project wanted to know: How can we make Panther Island authentic and unique to Fort Worth?
Responses ranged from boats and musical performances on the Trinity River to deeper reflections on the meaning of the $1.16 billion project. Some called for an infusion of Latin culture and historical markers recognizing the Hispanic and Black communities who once called the area home. Others pushed for housing affordability.
“A reflection of the diversity of our city,” one attendee wrote. “A place for ALL residents of the city.”
The call-and-response was initiated by HR&A Advisors, the Dallas-based firm tapped in January to create the first roadmap for Panther Island development in 15 years. After releasing initial findings in August, consultants are hosting a series of public meetings to gather feedback that will be incorporated into its final December report.
The first of those meetings, targeting communities in Northside, Rock Island and Samuels Avenue, was held Sept. 7. Over the next three weeks, representatives from the city and HR&A Advisors will welcome the general public as well as property owners and residents in Panther Island, West 7th and downtown.
Here is the meeting schedule
- 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)
Thanks to an infusion of $403 million in federal funds last year, the project is moving forward at a rapid pace. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to build a 1.5-mile bypass channel to reroute part of the Trinity, a move that will protect 2,400 acres of Fort Worth property from disastrous flooding and open up hundreds of acres for waterfront development.
Carlos Flores, who represents Northside on Fort Worth City Council, alluded to Panther Island’s controversial past during the meeting. Frustrating bridge construction, leadership disputes and years-long delays to obtaining federal funding soured public opinion on the project since its introduction in the early 2000s, according to previous Fort Worth Report coverage.
Residents frequently circulate misinformation about the project, perhaps out of fear or not understanding the project’s positive impact for nearby communities, Flores said.
“Facebook is its own echo chamber,” Flores said. “There’s been some misdirections along the way, but we’ve learned a lot since. It’s tracking in the right direction.”
At each meeting, residents will participate in an interactive presentation by HR&A managing principal Aaron Abelson. He provided a short overview of the project and the scope of the “Vision 2.0” report, which will address connectivity and transportation, parks and public space, infrastructure, development phases and urban design.
While discussion topics could vary depending on the meeting’s target audience, residents will respond to prompts about neighborhoods they enjoy, in and outside of Fort Worth, and their suggestions for making Panther Island inclusive to all residents. Residents can also fill out an online survey to voice their perspectives on the project.
Abelson and his colleagues acknowledged a number of themes they’ve already heard from residents, including a desire to reduce displacement of existing homeowners and preserve important landmarks such as the Henderson Street flea market. Local leaders have also called for more transportation options to and from Panther Island, including a proposal for a streetcar system.
Northside resident Noe Guevara asked about the city’s plans to make the Trinity River and local businesses, such as Panther Island Brewery, more accessible to cyclists and runners before the project is completed in 2032.
“The quickest way I get to the river is I go down Main Street, which has a bike lane, and then I have to traverse a gravel road that is not the safest for my bike or me,” Guevara said. “I know that there’s a plan for the long term of Panther Island. What are we doing currently?”
Assistant city manager Dana Burghdoff thanked Guevara for the suggestion and said the city should consider other changes to improve the visitor experience over the next decade, before the project is completed.
Other residents expressed concerns about how the city could mitigate rising property taxes as a result of the development near Panther Island and preserve the area’s strong ties to Hispanic culture.
Sergio Garza, who runs a popular Northside neighborhood Facebook group, said many of the issues affecting Panther Island are larger than just the single project, pointing to homelessness challenges in the Stockyards and Northside.
“They’re concentrating their efforts on this particular piece of land and this particular project, and sometimes the questions are not fair because it’s addressing the bigger issues,” Garza said. “There’s a lot of things that they cannot address.”
While residents may hold onto negative opinions of the project, especially from delayed bridge construction over dry land that will one day contain a portion of the Trinity, Garza understands Panther Island development will happen. He hopes to keep his group members informed about the project’s trajectory and ensure their voices are heard.
“Change is inevitable,” he said. “You can fight it, but you’re not going to win.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at email@example.com.
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