Ross Haynes bought his first house on Stella Street in Fort Worth’s Historic Southside over three decades ago.
This is the second in a series of articles examining potential solutions to the redevelopment of the Fort Worth Historic Southside.
Over time, he bought a bigger house in the neighborhood and started a bakery and a photography studio. Eventually, he let go of most of the properties and relocated to Edgecliff Village. He most recently sold his studio in hopes of building townhomes to attract more residents to his former home base.
Haynes hoped selling his properties would help ignite the redevelopment of Historic Southside. Yet, little has sparked.
After 34 years, Haynes moved from the Historic Southside in 2015, but his time there helps him realize that it isn’t always perfect: drugs, homelessness and poverty issues — that’s why it needs revitalization, he said. Residents, developers and the city agree, and they each have different solutions to the problems.
For Haynes, it’s finding more people interested in redevelopment. Or building a grocery store or health clinic. Or maybe it’s a boots-on-the-ground solution like the nonprofit BRAVE/R Together, that could unite the Historic Southside.
He just wants something.
“The community is worse off now than it was 20 years ago,” he said.
‘We can’t do anything without community’
The community is key to finding solutions for Historic Southside’s revitalization, said Shawn Lassiter, founder and executive director at BRAVE/R Together. The nonprofit acts as a liaison, connecting residents in Historic Southside, Morningside and Hillside with potential supporters.
But Historic Southside residents have built up years worth of doubt after redevelopment plans failed, Lassiter said. She has heard all of the defensive questions: What makes you different? People come in and steal our ideas and implement them somewhere else. How do we know you’re different?
Still, she needs the community to succeed.
Lassiter built a program of community ambassadors to talk to their neighbors to identify potential problems the nonprofit can help address. BRAVE/R has spent over $100,000 in monthly stipends on the program.
“Our core belief is that we can’t do anything without community,” she said.
The current redevelopment project
The project, expected to attract $70 million in investments, has been delayed multiple times. Work is expected to begin in early 2024.
The city wants to ensure that the project is consistent with the community’s expectations, Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa said.
Fort Worth has had four mayors since the first redevelopment about two decades ago. Each made promises, Haynes said, but not much has happened.
“My deal is: If the city is not going to do what they said they were going to do, then they might need to turn it over to someone that is capable of getting it done,” he said.
Redevelopment ‘just takes time’
Hoque Global’s deadline delay adds to the existing frustration of residents, who have watched the Near Southside — just across Interstate 35 — get what they started expecting 20 years ago.
Rebuilding a neighborhood is difficult once it deteriorates, said Kenneth Barr, Fort Worth mayor from 1996 to 2003. The neighborhood needs quality housing to encourage people to move into an area and be pioneers.
“It just takes time and people who are willing to invest,” Barr said.
Census info for 76104 area code
- Population: 18,956
- Median Age: 32.9
- Sex: 54% female, 46% male
- Median Household Income: $41,863
- Poverty: 31.8% below the poverty line
- Race and Ethnicity: 20% white, 30% Black, 2% Asian, 1% two or more races, 46% Hispanic
Data from censusreporter.org
The nearby Near Southside didn’t redevelop overnight. Conversations about security, from addressing dilapidated buildings to supporting businesses the neighborhood wanted to attract, started in the early 1980s, said Mike Brennan, president of Near Southside Inc.
Lassiter wants BRAVE/R to be the strong leadership for its community like Near Southside Inc. was for that area.
To that end, BRAVE/R Together has started a Business Academy to build up businesses of color in the 76104 ZIP code. So far, 60 to 80 organizations have participated — getting ready for the Historic Southside’s future, she said.
“We’re trying to help build the humans and their systems so that when the infrastructure comes, those businesses can go right into the brick-and-mortar and thrive because they have all of their resources and the capacity to sustain their organization,” she said.
Finding a shared vision
Near Southside’s redevelopment success requires consistent involvement and a shared vision among community leaders, Brennan said.
But Seth Fowler, a Realtor who tried to work in the Historic Southside, said the city, community leaders, residents and developers don’t share the same vision for Historic Southside’s redevelopment unlike successfully revitalized areas like Magnolia Avenue, River Oaks or the River District.
“That’s the kiss of death for these types of neighborhoods,” Fowler said.
An area’s redevelopment requires both efforts from public and private. The Near Southside got both — the Historic Southside didn’t, said Haynes, the former longtime 76104 resident.
“If you’re going to put apartments in, people have to want to live there. There has to be something to draw them to the area if you’re going to try to get some retail in, crime’s got to be virtually nil. There’s got to be enough houses in residential ground to have a market that’s going to utilize the services,” Fowler said.
Using the historic designation
The Historic Southside’s historic designation has limited its redevelopment, Fowler said. His clients found that renovation under the designation’s standards cost more than building a new structure.
The area’s location is a huge draw — only about a 5-minute drive away from downtown Fort Worth — but without affordable housing options, developers can’t do much. Nobody wants to build a restaurant without patrons, Fowler said.
“You have these affordable houses or micro apartments or places where people feel safe, proud and excited about, and then comes the grocery store,” he said. “And then comes the bowling alley. And then comes the hipster bars and all that.”
Brennan disagrees that the historic designation leads to undesirable outcomes. Having new houses compatible with older homes would lead to a neighborhood that has a competitive advantage in attracting new homeowners, continued investment and long-term stability, he said.
“I can tell you by comparing the houses that we’re seeing in Historic Southside versus what we’re seeing in other areas nearby that don’t have those design rules — it is a much better outcome in Historic Southside where that historic district is in place,” he said.
Economic incentives are available for keeping up with the historic designation standards, said Jerre Tracy, executive director at Historic Fort Worth.
If residents follow the city’s rules, they get a 10 year property valuation freeze on the city’s portion of their property tax bill, Tracy said.
Texas Historic Preservation also offers a state tax credit program for commercial buildings and nonprofit organizations that office in a historic building.
“It’s something that creates predictability for the entire neighborhood, and it also is an economic incentive,” she said.
Fairmount District has worked the tax credit to their advantage, Tracy said.
“All the savvy, savvy, savvy developers that understand historic preservation get the tax credits from the state of Texas,” she said.
Fairmount has a strong historic overlay, Fowler said, and — for the most part — has become a destination neighborhood. Still, plenty of homes in the area still need to be torn down.
“There’s nothing historic about something that is going to cost more to revive than it is to tear down the building,” he said.
The current efforts
BRAVE/R Together received $125,000 from the city to develop a plan within 12 to 18 months to help Evans Avenue’s economic development and beautify part of Rosedale Street, Lassiter said.
The first step is to hire a landscaping architectural firm to work with the community, she said.
Lassiter wants to return Evans Avenue to being the cultural and business hub for Fort Worth with eateries, nightlife, churches and grocery stores.
Just maybe, the community can become even better than before, she said.
Brennan has noticed evidence of reinvestment in the Historic Southside neighborhood based on the number of new homes being constructed.
“I actually think that progress is very much in the works,” he said.
BRAVE/R has invested $260,000 to fund grassroots organizations working in Historic Southside, Morningside and Hillside.
Residents living longer, having quality of life and finding community joy — they are the three indicators Lassiter uses to indicate the impact of what BRAVE/R Together has on Historic Southside.
Haynes wants the city to prioritize building a health care clinic in the neighborhood to address the state’s lowest life expectancy issue in his ZIP code.
Over 20 years, Haynes still participates in redevelopment discussions. In a few weeks, he plans to meet with the business owners in the area to figure out how to link residents to the commercial success. He physically left, but he still owns a vacant lot on East Cannon Street in the neighborhood. He wants to come back and build a house once redevelopment ignites.
The lot represents his dream for the community to come back — it’s a visual reminder that he will never leave Historic Southside.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated Nov. 6, 2023, to clarify property tax exemptions for buildings designated as historic.
Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com 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.