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Fort Worth’s population is inching closer to one million after adding more residents than any other city in the country in 2022, according to new Census data.
The city welcomed 19,170 more people between July 1, 2021, and July 1, 2022. This brings Fort Worth’s total population for 2022 to 956,709, according to the Census figures released May 18.
While Fort Worth’s growth is notable, it has been keeping pace with its past numbers, said Eric Fladager, assistant director of planning and data analytics for the city.
“If you go back and look at the last 20 years, Fort Worth is either at or near the top of the fastest-growing markets in the United States,” he said. “This is not out of line with what we would expect.”
When it comes to quantifying the increase, Fladager notes that it equates to around or a little over 50 people a day.
“It’s kind of like a busload of folks arriving every day,” he said.
Fort Worth remains the 13th largest city in the country and is the fifth largest in Texas, behind Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin.
New York, despite a population decrease, remains the nation’s largest city No. 1 (8.3 million) and Los Angeles is No. 2.
Fladager estimates Fort Worth will hit a population of 1 million by 2027 or 2028 if the numbers stay consistent.
“Many of the cities that are on the top list have actually lost population since 2020. So there’s not an even playing field in terms of how growth happens or does not happen,” he said.
Texas was also the only state with more than three cities on both the 15 fastest-growing large cities and towns lists in raw numbers and percentage change.
Georgetown, north of Austin, was the nation’s fastest-growing city over 50,000 in percentage change, at 14.4 %. Other Texas cities among the top 15 on that list include Kyle, Leander, Little Elm, Conroe and New Braunfels.
While population growth was notable in the major urban areas in Texas, some of the smaller cities on the edge of big metros are also growing very quickly, said Kyle Walker, associate professor of geography and director of the Center for Urban Studies at Texas Christian University.
“You see DFW and Fort Worth being attractive places to move to in part because housing costs are comparatively low, and economic opportunities are certainly available. We have a lot of amenities,” Walker said. “There’s room to grow… It is difficult to build a major city that is connected to open space. It’s rare for a city to be able to do both of those things at once.”
Fort Worth is in the process of working on its Comprehensive Plan, which lays out long-term planning strategies for the city over the next 20 years. Those numbers are valuable in that planning process.
The increasing growth rate makes this process even more important, Fladager said.
“It’s important for us, in large part based on that growth, based on the changes in economic opportunities, based on the city’s focus and the city council’s very clear focus on the quality of life,” Fladager said. “Making Fort Worth really one of the greatest cities in the country and one that folks want to come to.”
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ssadek19.
As one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in the country, Fort Worth boasts many unique characteristics that add up to an especially fertile ground in which businesses can thrive. The low cost of real estate, an abundance of land available for development, solid foundations in various key industries and a diverse talent pool all play a role in Fort Worth's economic success.
Reclaiming Fort Worth’s riverfront
One major project in the works is Panther Island, an ambitious development with huge potential. Brought about by the need for improved flood control along the Trinity River, the project will ultimately create more than 300 acres of urban waterfront property in the heart of the city. The $1.1 billion district will create additional opportunities for growth in downtown Fort Worth and its surrounding neighborhoods.
Companies choose North Texas because they want a business-friendly environment that is rich in options, incentives and growth opportunities. In keeping pace with the region’s thriving industries and corporate relocations, Panther Island will help sustain that momentum for Fort Worth, bringing even more leading companies and top-tier businesses to Fort Worth, while driving additional development – and investment – in the region.
Creating new districts around education and innovation
The Texas A&M University System is expanding in downtown Fort Worth. Building off the nationally ranked Texas A&M University School of Law, this initiative will create a three-building, mixed-use campus and research center for higher education, legal studies, corporate and academic research partnerships, and new-economy innovation. Local industry leaders like Alcon, AT&T, Lockheed Martin and Bell are discussing ways to leverage the university’s Tier 1 presence and the workforce it will cultivate.
Additionally, Texas Christian University is building a new medical campus for the Anne Marion Burnett School of Medicine, one of the newest and most innovative medical schools in the country. The campus is in Fort Worth's recently formalized Medical Innovation District, which is working to become the “most livable medical district in the U.S.,” thanks to the combined efforts of academic institutions like TCU and University of North Texas (UNT) Health Science Center at Fort Worth, academic medical centers like UT Southwestern, local biotech incubators like TechFW, Fort Worth’s major hospitals and dozens of independent clinics.
The goal is to create a multidisciplinary environment that encourages public-private partnerships, collaboration, and engagement between Fort Worth’s community of biotech and pharmaceutical entrepreneurs and its medical sector.
City of Fort Worth Economic Development Director Robert Sturns said, “It’s exciting to see Fort Worth’s colleges and universities align with target industries that have historically been critical to our city’s economic success. The expansion of these institutions will have significant, long-term impacts for our workforce and talent pipelines.”
Innovating across all sectors
Collaboration across industries and within the region has been instrumental to the continued success in North Texas. A great example of that cooperation is AllianceTexas, Hillwood’s 27,000-acre, master-planned, mixed-use community in north Fort Worth. Hailed as one of the state’s most formidable economic engines, AllianceTexas has generated more than $100 billion in regional economic impact.
AllianceTexas is also home to the Mobility Innovation Zone (MIZ), a unique testing ecosystem that combines strategic partnerships and infrastructure to allow pioneering mobility companies to test, scale and commercialize their innovations. The MIZ served as the testing location for Wing, Alphabet's revolutionary commercial drone delivery service.
In 2022, autonomous delivery company Clevon opened its U.S. headquarters in AllianceTexas. In early December Clevon completed its first U.S. delivery in a real-world setting with the CLEVON 1, the company’s eco-friendly autonomous delivery vehicle.
The MIZ is anchored by Alliance Airport, the world’s first dedicated industrial airport. Its presence is spurring innovative solutions throughout the supply chain and attracting leading companies focused on the autonomous and automated movement of goods. In the last five years, Alliance Airport has experienced incredible growth and demand, increasing cargo transportation volume by 43% year over year, earning its new ranking by the Federal Aviation Administration as one of the top 20 U.S. cargo airports.
With a rich legacy of the entrepreneurial spirit and a forward-looking approach to talent and industry, Fort Worth is where opportunity begins.
To learn more about economic development in Fort Worth and how the city capitalizes on its central location and space to leverage opportunities for the future, visit itbeginsinfortworth.com.
Fort Worth’s convention center expansion has had its share of setbacks.
City leaders began discussing the project over a decade ago. Under the original plans, phase one of the expanded Fort Worth Convention Center should be nearing completion this year. But then COVID-19 came and Fort Worth’s culture and tourism fund — the source of the project’s funding – took a big hit. Tourism revenue decreased by about $11 million between 2019 and 2020.
About $52 million in federal funds restarted the project. The money comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion law designed to help the country recover from the pandemic. The infusion of federal funds will pay for over half of the first part of construction.
Mike Crum, director of Fort Worth’s public events department, started working for Fort Worth Feb. 3, 2020 – about a month before the pandemic began to emerge in the U.S.. His first meeting was with the advisory committee for the convention center expansion.
“We had one meeting,” Crum said. “Then we had to shelve the whole thing.”
The delay and other factors, such as the planned realignment of Commerce Street and inflation, ballooned the estimated cost of the project by $324 million, almost double the estimate in 2019.
The city is moving forward, though, because Fort Worth is in desperate need of a better convention center and expanded hotel options downtown, according to Bob Jameson, president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth.
The Fort Worth Convention Center currently struggles to compete with other cities for regional and national conferences. The city in phase two will demolish the arena attached to the convention center and expand exhibit halls, ballrooms and meeting spaces to make the city more competitive.
With federal dollars immediately available to the project, the city is preparing to finalize its plan to finance the rest of the project through debt.
“We would sell $43 million in debt this May to flesh out the budget and that’ll permit us to move forward,” Crum said.
Cities can take on different kinds of debt depending on its purpose, according to the Texas Comptroller. Some require voter approval, such as bond debt. Other types of debt such as certificates of obligation allow the city to issue debt quickly without voter approval. Both types of debt allow cities to pay for capital projects in the long term.
Cities often use debt to fund major construction projects through bond elections — voters approved a $560 million bond in May 2022. And the city paid for its portion of Dickies Arena’s cost through Special Tax Revenue Bonds — a type of debt voters approved in Nov. 2014.
However, in both of those cases voters had the opportunity to vote on whether to approve the debt. That’s not the case for the convention center, at least in the first part of the project.
Hotel occupancy tax is the biggest contributor to the culture and tourism fund along with revenue collected from Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, hotel taxes paid around the Cultural District and Stockyards and, finally, venue taxes – such as for tickets and parking — which is the same revenue approved by voters in 2014 to fund construction of Dickies Arena.
All of those taxes don’t need voter approval unless they have to be increased, Crum said. That could be the case for the second part of the project, which the city expects will cost $606 million.
“We’ve not made any decisions or any recommendations, but, you know, we could bump the (hotel) occupancy tax another two percentage points,” Crum said.
City leaders will discuss any tax increases to pay for phase two of the project in October. Project leaders are continuously working on cost estimates for the second part of the project of the project, according to a presentation to Fort Worth’s City Council in January.
Hotel occupancy tax is the tax visitors to the city pay when they book hotel rooms. That tax is the primary source of revenue to the cultural and tourism fund, which finances Visit Fort Worth and partially finances Dickies Arena and Will Rogers Memorial Center, Jameson said.
The city also could sell the naming rights to the convention center, an emerging trend – such as Dickies Arena and the American Airlines Center in Dallas – that has become more lucrative in the past decade, Crum said.
City staff will give a presentation about the $43 million in debt it plans to take on this month, and is set to officially sell the debt in May.
The city also has revenue estimates for the culture and tourism funds for the next three years — funds the city will use to chip away at the debt it plans to take on for the project. The city expects to earn about $272.2 million by 2026, with revenue estimates increasing at a pace of about $3 million per year.
About $3.9 million of these funds will be used to pay down the debt for the first phase of the convention center every year for 30 years.
Fort Worth isn’t the only convention center being redesigned that is coping with rising construction costs. Dallas recently unveiled a master plan for its new Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center with a new estimated price tag of $3 billion.
Voters in Dallas approved a 2% increase in the city’s hotel occupancy tax in November to fund the convention center project and renovations in Fair Park.
While Fort Worth’s expansion won’t match the total rebuild Dallas is planning, it will allow the city to be more competitive in the race to attract regional meetings and compete for conventions on the national level, Crum said.
Despite Fort Worth’s pandemic set backs thus far, in 2021 the project received a dose of synergy from Texas A&M University’s planned downtown campus.
The project’s advisory committee made adjustments to the project’s plan based on Texas A&M’s planned development. The city will rebuild the southeast entrance to the Fort Worth Convention Center, adding about $10 million to the phase 1 budget, in response to Texas A&M’s investment in downtown, Crum said.
“From the beginning, city and county officials have talked to us about the two projects complementing one another. We see it that way, too,” Laylan Copelin, a spokesperson for Texas A&M University, said in a statement.
The downtown campus will face the convention center, the water gardens and a new convention center hotel. Urban designers are already at work planning the design of shared spaces such as roads, sidewalks and public spaces.
“All of these pieces need to be thought of together and that is very top of mind in every conversation I’ve been a part of,” Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc. , said.
Texas A&M also will invite large groups to Fort Worth for academic meetings, Taft said. That will create more room nights in the hotels surrounding the campus and convention center.
“There’s no question, those are two great synergies,” Taft said.
The convention center will have an economic impact on Fort Worth beyond the hotel rooms it will help fill, Jameson said. Tourism activity is expected to double as a result of the convention center’s expansion.
Visitors to the city spend more on food and beverage than they do on hotel rooms, all of that sales tax revenue flows into the city’s general fund to offset the costs of city services for residents, Jameson said.
“It’s a powerful segment of the Fort Worth economy and there’s an opportunity for it to grow and contribute more,” Jameson said.
City leaders approved a multi-step financing plan to make dreams of a $350 million downtown Texas A&M University campus a reality for Fort Worth on Tuesday night.
“I think it’s going to bring such a huge impact to an area of downtown that we’re trying to really revitalize,” District 9 council member Elizabeth Beck said. “I think not just for downtown and District 9 but the city of Fort Worth it’s going to be a step in the right direction”
Texas A&M, which currently owns the land downtown, will enter into a ground lease with the city. The city will then develop property on the land alongside a third-party developer, divide it into condominium units, and sublease a portion of those units back to the university until its debts to the city are repaid.
The agreement allows the city to finance the capital project without a general obligation bond, which would require approval from voters before it’s issued. At the end of the lease term, when the debt is fully repaid, the condominium units owned by the city will be transferred to the university.
A&M will also have a purchase option and right of first refusal for the non-academic units owned by the third-party developer.
Under the terms of the agreement, the city will establish a local government corporation, which will have a board of directors made up of council members, to accelerate development of two buildings: the research and innovation building and the gateway conference center building. A third, the law and education building, will be designed and constructed by A&M exclusively.
Establishing a local government corporation allows the city to issue debt and fund the purchase of the condominium ownership interest for A&M’s future units. It also erases the need for a bond election, like the $560 million bond package approved by voters in 2022. City and university officials previously told the Report that Texas A&M will guarantee any bonds issued by the city for the project, meaning taxpayers won’t be impacted.
The local government corporation may:
A request for proposals has been issued to find a suitable developer to lead the design, construction and financing of the buildings and an accompanying campus plaza. That developer will control the non-academic units of the buildings. The city anticipates selecting a developer by February, according to a report to council members.
The city will lease its portions of the buildings to A&M for academic and university purposes. The lease payments will cover all debt service and other pre-approved expenses associated with the development of the parts of campus used exclusively by A&M, according to the report presented to council.
Texas A&M officials anticipate the partnership will shorten the timetable on design and construction of the campus from over 10 years to five to six years. The university previously outlined its intentions to partner with several major corporations, including Alcon, AT&T and Lockheed Martin, as well as Tarleton State University, at the new campus.
The next step for the city and A&M is signing a master development agreement and ground leases, after the two entities have negotiated and agreed upon more specific lease terms. Those leases will have to be approved by the system’s Board of Regents.
Fort Worth City Council boasts two A&M alums in Beck and District 3’s Michael Crain, and both shared their personal excitement about the project.
“As a Texas A&M School of Law alum, it’s got even more excitement for me, because of my connection to the school,” Beck said.
“Gig Em’,” Crain said with a grin as the final vote was taken.
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.
Fort Worth’s net sales tax collections in September totaled $20,615,715, up from September 2021 by 10%.
The state saw a net collection increase of 11.9% compared to the same month last year.
The city’s General Fund net sales tax collections year to date are 119% to budget, and at 116.1% compared to the year-to-date total last year. The city’s Crime Control and Prevention District Fund sales tax collections for June are 118.6% to budget and 116.3% of the year-to-date total for the same month last year.
The City anticipates collecting $204,500,000 by fiscal year end, an increase of $21.6 million, or 11.8%, over the fiscal year 2022 adopted budget. This represents an 8.7% increase over fiscal year 2021 actual collections, and a 20.3% increase over the fiscal year 2021 adopted budget.
Sales tax revenue represents 22% of the city’s General Fund budget. This is the second largest revenue source, with property taxes being the largest.
For the Crime Control and Prevention District, sales tax revenue represents the largest revenue source.
While there is plenty of recession talk in the air, Todd Burnette, managing director of JLL Fort Worth, doesn’t see it for Tarrant County or for North Texas.
“We’re in the early phases of what I think is going to be tremendous growth in Fort Worth,” he said.
Burnette has plenty of experience with Fort Worth. He came to the city in 1986, shortly after he graduated from SMU. He is now managing director of JLL’s Fort Worth office, which he started in 2002. JLL is a global real estate services company with more than 90,000 employees.
Along the way, he has represented some of the area’s largest names, including BNSF, Lockheed Martin, Bell, Tarrant County, Frost Bank and the city of Fort Worth and negotiated more than 37 million square feet of commercial property leases, acquisitions, and dispositions.
Much of the growth and economic development he sees coming will take place in downtown Fort Worth, Burnette says.
“We’re not in the residential downtown market, but it’s starting to explode, and that will have a big impact on the office market,” he said.
Several more downtown projects are set to be announced over the next six months, and those will drive more and more people to the central city, Burnette said.
“It’s already a really cool place, but it’s becoming cooler with all these new apartments and condos that are being built downtown,” he said.
Companies are looking for ways to attract new young talent, and those young adults living in downtown Fort Worth are going to attract companies seeking a workforce.
“That, in turn, is going to open up the office market downtown,” he said.
The last Fort Worth office tower to be built in downtown was the Frost Tower in 2018. Burnette expects that to change.
“I think you’re going to see an office announcement because that’s what these companies want. They want to attract young, talented employees, and they’re going to be downtown or nearby,” he said.
Burnette compared the area to Uptown in Dallas, which he said is one of the hottest areas in the country right now.
“What they have done is attract all these financial institutions, and they’re vying for the same kind of people,” he said. “Those employees want a really cool space with some great amenities in a fairly walkable-type environment. I think that’s what you’re going to see here.”
Part of the reason for the strong market conditions in Fort Worth is the city is now attracting money from outside the area.
When he came to the city in 1986, Fort Worth was still more of a West Texas town with little money coming from outside the area for large investments, Burnette said.
“It has changed dramatically over the last five years or so,” he said. “Fort Worth is a true gem and the institutional money that’s out there is looking at projects here. That wasn’t the case just a few years ago.”
Pier 1 building, the future Fort Worth City Hall (Photo courtesy of city of Fort Worth)
Burnette recalled when he first came to the city, the downtown economy was dominated by three companies: Pier 1, RadioShack and XTO.
“Today all of those are gone, which is unreal,” he said.
Fort Worth lost retailers Pier 1 and RadioShack to changes in market conditions, while XTO was acquired in 2009 by ExxonMobil Corp., which eventually vacated the six buildings it occupied and owned downtown.
Many were fearful that that excess office capacity would hurt the area’s economy, but Burnette noted that all the buildings redeveloped into either hospitality or residential properties. JLL handled the transactions for ExxonMobil.
Burnette expects those trends to continue with the 300,347- square-foot former Oncor Building in downtown, which is currently for sale.
“Like the former XTO buildings, I expect that will become some residential or hospitality-type project,” he said.
JLL is marketing that project.
Burnette isn’t the only one touting the strength of the office market in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Andrew Matheny, research director for real estate services firm Transwestern in Dallas, said the area’s employment growth is likely to keep the economy strong here even as a potential recession looms .
“Employment may grow by 11% or more over the next 10 years, creating supportive conditions for office demand over the long term,” he said.
Burnette and JLL have been involved in the Pier 1 Tower for years, first helping Pier 1 sell it to Chesapeake Energy for $108 million in 2008. The building was then sold back to Pier 1 in 2014 and then to Hertz.
“When Pier 1 went under, we went to the city and said, ‘You need this much space and you can get this for pennies on the dollar compared to building something,’” Burnette said.
The city purchased the building in 2021 for about $40 million and will spend another $50 million or so to renovate it.
“It may be the nicest city hall in the country when it opens for half the money,” he said.
Burnette’s positive outlook is bolstered by data from JLL. In a recent report on Fort Worth office space for the third quarter of 2022, JLL notes that office activity around the city is strong, with Class A construction accounting for 88.7% of the development activity, with only downtown and the HEB/East Fort Worth submarkets without any Class A developments currently. There were 538,295 square feet of office space under construction in Fort Worth during the quarter, according to JLL.
Other analysts are seeing similar strength in the Class A office market in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“Looking at absorption rates this quarter, it is clear that tenants prefer high quality Class A office spaces,” said Matt Schendle, vice chairman of Cushman & Wakefield’s Dallas office, commenting on the company’s recent third quarter office report. “Companies want to incentivize the in-office experience for their employees and quality office buildings continue to be the linchpin for this strategy.”
While Burnette sees downtown’s office market as strong, he is particularly bullish on the southern end of downtown where Texas A&M has announced plans for an estimated $350 million campus and expansion of the current law school. Along with the new campus, the Omni Hotel has announced plans for a $200 million expansion and the Fort Worth Convention Center is set for a major upgrade.
“I don’t think you’ll recognize the southern end of downtown in a few years,” Burnette said.
Burnette said that, along with downtown, other areas of Fort Worth are seeing good office activity, such as southwest Fort Worth with Clearfork and Waterside and, to the north, the Stockyards.
“Twenty years ago Clearfork was just a field,” he said. “Now you have all this residential going in there, some high-end retail and the office space is basically full.”
Burnette expects the next big class AA-type office building to be announced for that area.
The Stockyards area has proven it can be a player in the office market as well, Burnette said.
“When Simpli.fi announced in 2018 they were moving their offices there, many people didn’t see how it made sense,” he said. “Now people can see how smart that was. The Stockyards has proven to be a great place for a workplace.”
Simpli.fi, a technology company, leased 77,000 square feet of office space in the Horse and Mule Barn building in a deal negotiated by JLL.
The biggest limit on the growth of the downtown Fort Worth market is the lack of properties with 300,000 square feet of contiguous space, Burnette said.
“We need more space, and I think it will come,” he said.
But, above all, he doesn’t see Fort Worth or north Texas experiencing an economic slowdown.
“There’s a lot of really good signs, and it doesn’t sound to me like a recession or a real estate market that is in trouble,” he said.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com. 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_.
Fort Worth’s net sales tax collections in March totaled $20,415,932, up from March 2021 by 9.7%.
For March of 2022, the year over year comparison by month reflects lower percentage growth as a result of being free from restrictions for a full year. Gov. Abbott fully lifted COVID-19 restrictions in March 2021.
The state saw a net collection increase of 12.8% compared to the same month last year.
The city’s General Fund net sales tax collections for March are 115.5% to budget, and at 117.9% compared to the same month last year. The city’s Crime Control and Prevention District Fund sales tax collections for February are 115.2% to budget and 118.6% to the same month last year.
Sales tax revenue represents 22% of the city’s General Fund budget. This is the second largest revenue source, with property taxes being the largest.
For the Crime Control and Prevention District, sales tax revenue represents the largest revenue source.
With the announcement Wednesday of more than $400 million in federal funding approved for Panther Island, Fort Worth’s long-awaited redevelopment project along the Trinity River is taking a significant leap toward becoming a reality.
For decades, Panther Island has been a pie in the sky — a river-walk dream that never quite seemed destined to secure enough funding to break ground. But now, with federal money en route, that could change.
So what is Panther Island? Here’s everything you need to know about the project that has intrigued, and irritated, Fort Worthians for years.
What is Panther Island?
Panther Island is a planned development and flood control project on the Trinity River in Fort Worth, just north of downtown and south of the Stockyards. There are several access points to the planned project area; from downtown, North Main Street takes you over the Trinity River and onto the future Panther Island.
It’s overseen by the Trinity River Vision Authority, which is an appointed board that includes members from the city of Fort Worth, Tarrant County and the Tarrant Regional Water District.
As envisioned, the project would involve the digging of a new, 1.5-mile river channel to connect a U-shaped section of the Trinity River north of downtown Fort Worth. The new channel would create two man-made islands that are collectively referred to as “Panther Island.” Construction crews would also dig a network of smaller channels within Panther Island to create more waterfront property.
Although the designs for the project often focus on the economic development, officials have billed Panther Island as a flood-control project that would protect a couple thousand acres of property from potential disaster. Officially, the project is referred to as the Panther Island/Central City project, to encompass both the development and flood-control aspects.
What's on the land now?
The entire project is about 800 acres; about half of that is on what will be two new islands. Many of the properties there are unused or vacant, previously used as manufacturing or industrial facilities.
The area is also home to a structure that was originally built as a Ku Klux Klan meeting hall, which is the only purpose-built Klan hall still standing in the country. That building, which was later purchased by a pecan company and then sat vacant for many years, was recently sold to a local arts coalition that hopes to reclaim the building.
Other notable properties on Panther Island include:
And, marking the area’s first new major development, new apartment complex Encore Panther Island opened in December.
What Will Panther Island look like?
When explaining the intended look and feel of Panther Island, officials often refer to the San Antonio River Walk, which is a pedestrian-friendly development lining the San Antonio River with restaurants and stores.
Officials envision Panther Island as a highly dense development of restaurants and shopping, as well as housing for about 10,000 residents. The new bypass channel would create an urban lake designed for recreation.
The visioning for what is now called Panther Island began about 20 years ago, as a plan to construct a bustling urban area north of downtown Fort Worth. At the time, the project was referred to as Trinity Uptown.
Panther Island Project
A 1.5-mile channel will connect sections of the Clear and West Forks of the Trinity River north of downtown Fort Worth to create Panther Island, which will actually have two islands. As it was conceived more than 20 years ago, Panther Island is intended to be a highly dense, walkable district that supports 10,000 residents as well as retail and office space.
Who's Paying for it?
Officials including U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, who has championed Panther Island, have aimed for the project to cost little for local taxpayers in the long run. But the project has used a significant amount of local money, which is slated to be repaid in the future, to get it off the ground.
Local officials have pushed the federal government to pay for the new bypass channel, because that is the flood-control portion of the project. Until recently, the project had received only $62 million in federal funds, far short of the more than $1 billion price tag for the project.
But on Wednesday, Granger’s office announced that the federal government has granted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers $403 million in additional funding for the flood-control portion of the project.
Other entities have chipped in money as well. The Texas Department of Transportation constructed the three new bridges that will lead to the eventual Panther Island (more on that below). Other costs, such as for land acquisition and cleanup, have been fronted by the Tarrant Regional Water District, which initially loaned $200 million to the project.
What work has already been done?
So far, construction has not begun on the hallmark of the project — the digging of the 1.5-mile river channel.
But there has been some progress on other aspects.
Most notably, the Texas Department of Transportation has finished construction on three new bridges that will carry traffic over the new channel, once it’s dug. The three bridges are on White Settlement Road, North Main Street and Henderson Street. The final bridge opened to traffic in September, six years after construction for the three bridges began.
The water district has spent a considerable amount of money acquiring the properties along the planned route of the new channel. The water district also has overseen the environmental cleanup of a number of properties, which were contaminated from their past uses in manufacturing and industry. In the meantime, the city of Fort Worth has been tasked with moving and setting up utilities to accommodate the new channel.
What work needs to be done?
Right now, the Panther Island bridges span dry land. The biggest portion of the project, which has not yet begun, is the digging of the new bypass channel.
Before the actual digging can begin, officials must first finish the design and contracting for the channel. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is leading the channel construction, is about halfway done with the design of the channel, the Star-Telegram reported on Wednesday.
The Tarrant Regional Water District’s now-general manger, Dan Buhman, told the Star-Telegram over the summer that it would take eight to 10 years to complete the channel, after federal funding came through. Based on that estimate, Panther Island would not become a full island until 2030 at the earliest.
So is it a development project or a flood control project?
Local officials say that Panther Island/Central City does double-duty as a flood-control and development project. When pitching to the public and potential developers, officials highlight the vision of a bustling urban neighborhood.
When pitching the project for funding from the feds, officials highlight the need to protect the surrounding low-lying areas from floods.
At least as far back as 2005, the Star-Telegram reported that the surrounding areas could be protected with a less-costly flood control option: raising the levees that already line the river. That would’ve cost about $10 million at the time. The then-general manager of the water district, Jim Oliver, told the Star-Telegram in 2005 that the cheaper option of pure flood control would be “no frills, ugly.” The Trinity River Vision Authority opted instead for a grander plan.
Why has it taken so long?
Every step of the project’s timeline has stretched well beyond its original estimates. It’s common for public projects, particularly construction projects, to take longer than planned — but Panther Island has taken that norm to an extreme.
The vision for the current version of the Panther Island project began in the 2000s. A big reason for the delay can be attributed to the lack of federal funding, which local officials continually looked for in each federal budget cycle. During the administration of former President Donald Trump, local officials including Granger indicated that the request for federal funding was indefinitely stalled — Trump’s budget office, according to Granger, had given a hard “no” to funding for the project. But it’s not just the federal funds that have delayed Panther Island.
Even the bridge construction, which was done by the Texas Department of Transportation, was significantly delayed. When the construction of the three bridges began in 2014, the department estimated it would be completed by 2018. Construction did not wrap up until September 2021.
Why is it called panthers Island?
The Panther Island project was originally called the Trinity Uptown project, reminiscent of Dallas’ trendy Uptown neighborhood.
But the development portion was renamed Panther Island as a reference to Fort Worth’s nickname “Panther City.”
The city earned that nickname in the late 1800s, after a lawyer published a column in a Dallas newspaper claiming that Fort Worth was such a quiet city that a panther fell asleep downtown and no one noticed. Fort Worthians embraced the insult and began incorporating the panther into business names and logos. The Fort Worth Police badge featured a panther beginning in 1912, and eateries, breweries and stores across the city also sport the name.
When will we know more about the project's future?
Granger and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, along with officials from the city of Fort Worth and the Tarrant Regional Water District, plan to hold a press conference on the project’s federal funding on Thursday morning. That briefing is expected to yield additional information about the project and its funding, as well as give an opportunity for more questions to be answered.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has kicked into high gear to begin work on the 1.5 mile bypass channel for Fort Worth’s Panther Island, and the city, county and water district need to act with similar speed to keep up, the project manager said Thursday. Speaking to the Trinity River Vision Authority on Thursday, Woody Frossard said his project development teams have set up meetings next week with the Corps and the city for how to move forward. Frossard works for the Tarrant Regional Water District. The board meeting comes eight days after the Army Corps announced it was allocating $403 million to construct the channel north of downtown and finish a series of man-made flood plains.
The project, first conceived in 2003, aims to bolster Fort Worth’s aging levee system built in 1960. This is the most money the agency has allocated to the project. Congress approved $526 million in 2016, but disagreements with the Trump administration over the project’s feasibility held up funding.
The allocation was made possible by the city, county and water district working together to buy land, relocate businesses, and move utilities to make way for the bypass channel, said J.D. Granger, executive director of the Panther Island/Central City Flood Project. “You did a fantastic job. You got out of the way, and the Corps had the design information to make that huge request,” Granger said. The city still needs to move utility lines on the south side of the channel. City manager David Cooke said the City Council will get a briefing about this during its Feb. 15 work session. The $403 million will cover all remaining design costs. Frossard said this is important because it will allow the Corps to move quickly to request additional funding to finish the project. The only remaining items that need federal funding are three flood gates, a dam and a pump station. Frossard estimated it will take the Corps two and a half years to design those projects to the point where it can request funding to finish construction.
The city, county, and water district must match 5% of any additional federal funding, said Sandy Newby, the water district’s chief financial officer. Newby said this money is likely to come from a specialized tax zone for Panther Island or from a 2018 bond package that allocated $250 million for the project. No additional public funding will be needed, Newby said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a work plan that includes $403 million for the Trinity River Vision/Central City flood control project in Fort Worth. The funding will allow the Corps to complete final design of all project components and construct a bypass channel.
“This is the go-time moment we have been anxiously awaiting,” Mayor Mattie Parker said. “We had confidence in the Corps of Engineers and our federal representatives. This funding announcement delivers the certainty that will make our community safer and the green light for further investment in the area. This is an incredible moment in Fort Worth’s history.”
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth said: “This is a great day for Fort Worth. Having experienced unprecedented growth since I was mayor, we are now the 12th-largest city in the nation. But with growth comes responsibility. As the leaders in flood control, I thank the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for understanding that responsibility and addressing that need for Fort Worth. Our community will be safer thanks to their hard work and tireless commitment. I also thank U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey for helping this project cross the finish line and Mayor Mattie Parker for her commitments to bring an unwavering community vision to its ultimate reality. Today Fort Worth will be safer and stronger.”
Leah King, president of the Tarrant Regional Water District, said the funding announcement addresses Fort Worth’s flood risks that are a result of a rapidly growing population that has tripled in size since the current levee system was built in 1960.
“This funding will update our levee system to reduce the risk of flooding to over 2,400 acres of Fort Worth neighborhoods. Tarrant Regional Water District is proud to be the Corps local sponsor to get the job done,” King said.