Panther Island leaders address plans for La Grave Field, public space

dfwnewsa | December 4, 2023 | 0 | Dallas News , Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Panther Island leaders address plans for La Grave Field, public space
Tarrant County College Chancellor Elva LeBlanc speaks during an event focused on Panther Island development on Nov. 30, 2023. (Haley Samsel | Fort Worth Report)

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Before unveiling the latest version of the strategy for developing Panther Island, project leaders convened for a panel discussion on the project’s past and potential future with members of the Urban Land Institute.  

The $1.16 billion Central City / Panther Island project promises flood protection and economic development on 800 acres of open land north of Fort Worth’s downtown. 

The Urban Land Institute panel focused mostly on land use on the island. The audience of Dallas-Fort Worth real estate and design professionals asked project leaders about the project’s financing and plans for the public land currently available on the island. 

In September, the city and its consultant HR&A Advisors worked to meet with groups who have a stake in the project. Over five meetings they met with residents of the majority-Hispanic Northside neighborhood adjacent to the Panther Island project’s footprint, developers and residents of Fort Worth’s downtown and West 7th neighborhood.  

Part one of HR&A’s report was published in August; the final strategy will be released to the public in early 2024, Aaron Abelson, managing principal at HR&A Advisors said. Guidance will include advice on how to proceed with plans for the historic La Grave Field, public spaces and the pace of selling publicly owned land on the island. 

Former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr led the panel, and it featured representatives from three of the seven entities paying for HR&A to produce its final strategy for the island. Kate Beck, program director Central City flood control project with Tarrant Regional Water District, Elva LeBlanc, chancellor of Tarrant County College, Dana Burghdoff, assistant city manager with the city of Fort Worth joined Abelson on the panel.

Abelson said September’s public meetings revealed the importance of providing public access to the waterfront, pedestrian-friendly spaces, effective transportation into and around the island, preservation of historic places and opportunities for surrounding residents to participate in economic development.

“We really wanted to boil it down to what is important to make this successful and make this something that Fort Worth is proud of,” Abelson said. 

Public entities such as Tarrant County College and Tarrant Regional Water District own about 84% of the land on Panther Island including the historic La Grave Field, a historic former minor league baseball stadium that has been closed since 2014. 

“It is a very prominent place with a lot of history,” Barr said. 

The future of La Grave Field will be explored in HR&A’s report, Beck said. The water district wants to explore the possibility of the field for baseball. However, given the size of the property and residents’ desire for a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use environment, the water district will consider if a sports facility is the property’s best use. 

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Tarrant County College owns the historic power plant building next to North Main Street. The property has the potential to become one of the most prominent on the island, Barr said. The college district is exploring options to partner on the redevelopment of the building, LeBlanc said. 

Creating more open space and public land on the island is also a high priority for nearby residents, Ableson said. In the first iteration of the Panther Island strategy, produced about 20 years ago, just 8% of land was set aside for public space. 

The new plan will offer an updated recommendation with possibly more open space, while still aiming to balance the need to generate tax income that will pay off the debt created to build and maintain public services on the Island. New open space concepts could include a sprawling waterside park or a variety of public spaces that improve the connectivity of the overall island, Ableson said. 

“It’s an exciting element of the work, and I think it will be a strong foundation for helping the project move forward, ” Abelson said. 

To improve connectivity on and off of the island, Burghdoff said the city is exploring building two new vehicular bridges connecting major roads to the island, plus public transit connecting the island to the rest of the city. 

“A lot of that depends on development, timing and location,” Burghdoff said. 

While the city plans to keep investing in transportation and public space improvements on the island, they do not plan to provide significant incentives for multifamily housing, Burghdoff said. 

“We’re not seeing the need to incentivize multifamily development, we think the demand is there,” Burghdoff said. 

However, she said, the city would consider providing incentives to a development that would bring significant job opportunities to the area. 

In the meantime, regular “stakeholder meetings” between the public entities involved in the project continue as the city works to move public utilities currently in the path of two bypass channels. 

Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at rachel.behrndt@fortworthreport.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.

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