Fort Worth, Texas has enjoyed explosive population growth since the levees were built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in the 1960s.
A Fort Worth Transformation:The Creation of Panther IslandBy JD Granger, Trinity River Vision Authority
Fort Worth, Texas has enjoyed explosive population growth since the levees were built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in the 1960s. At the time these levees were constructed, Fort Worth had a population of approximately 350,000 people. Today, Fort Worth is now the 15th largest city in the nation with a population approaching 900,000. This growth brings both opportunities and challenges. One of the challenges identified by USACE in early 2000s was the need for enhancement of the current floodway system in Fort Worth due to growth and related development. Working with the local partners: Trinity River Vision Authority, Tarrant Regional Water District, City of Fort Worth, and Tarrant County and Streams and Valleys, Inc., USACE designed flood infrastructure that includes: a 1.5-mile bypass channel, three new flood gates, expanded storm water valley storage opportunities and a new dam. The design provides: flood protection for nearly 2,400 acres of neighborhoods in Fort Worth, ecosystem restoration, recreation and urban redevelopment opportunities. The goal of the project is to develop flood control infrastructure that not only makes the city safer but also provides a unique opportunity for recreation and future development. As a product of this forward thinking, Panther Island was created.
Fort Worth’s population is expected to increase by more than 50 percent in the next 20 years, and Panther Island will provide a sustainable, viable alternative to annexation and urban sprawl.
The Panther Island plan, published in 2004, delivered progressive urban design principles that helped define a new era in Fort Worth. Bing Thom, a world renowned architect from Vancouver, was instrumental in developing the plan. He, along with local planner, James Toal, of GideonToal, incorporated modern, progressive, urban ideas into Panther Island while working with project partners to keep it within the context of North Texas and Fort Worth. This vision and long term planning for Panther Island helped create the market for the urban live, work, play model that continues to grow in our urban core today.
The Trinity River in Fort Worth currently has a large oxbow just north of downtown inhibiting the flow of storm water through the area. USACE’s bypass channel will circumvent the existing oxbow creating much of the flood relief needed in Fort Worth. This same bypass channel will also create the appearance of an island, Panther Island, which will double the viable size of the near downtown area. Fort Worth is capitalizing on this opportunity creating a self-funding mechanism to fund the local share of the flood project. The newly viable area is creating taxable value that did not exist before. The property tax increment is being contributed to the project to pay the local cost share. With that goal, Fort Worth’s flood risk solution is being paid for with a new aggressive economic development initiative made up of public and private improvements that will transform a once neglected section of the Trinity River into a vibrant waterfront neighborhood, Panther Island. Panther Island will create the opportunity for housing, employment, education and recreation.
When complete, approximately 800 acres of underutilized land in the central city will be accessible for private redevelopment opportunities, doubling the size of downtown. The Panther Island project will create 12 miles of publicly accessible waterfront consisting of a river promenade, riverwalk system and a 30-acre town lake as its centerpiece. Improved roads and vehicular and pedestrian bridges will improve access; upgraded utilities will improve infrastructure; and environmental clean-up will improve the area after decades of heavy industrial use. The entire water body will be navigable allowing ferry boats to move visitors between downtown and the cultural districts. An envisioned 10,000 housing units and three million square feet of commercial, retail, and educational space will make it possible for residents to live, work, shop, play and learn near the river. These improvements will make the now dysfunctional industrial area more pedestrian friendly and connect this new district to downtown.
Panther Island has already created value for waterfront property in Fort Worth and surrounding areas. For decades, development put their back to the Trinity River in Dallas and Fort Worth. Buildings fronted major roads and dumpsters and parking lots historically fronted the river. Panther Island brought a new idea to the development community which was to capitalize on the river as an added amenity with view corridors and connections to the Trinity Trails and green spaces. Panther Island’s development standards require this orientation, set back and connection. Now, developers are voluntarily applying this standard because they understand the value of the proximity to the river. Through the planning and visioning process, project partners educated the community on how urban development could look, function and enhance quality of life if connected to the river. Additionally, events, a public beach, tubing and kayak and paddleboard rentals on Panther Island are changing public perception of the river creating a demand for living with access to these types of amenities. Since the creation of Panther Island, river programming and successful pilot projects capitalizing on being on the water’s edge have changed Fort Worth. In less than a decade there are now six additional river districts that have broken ground capitalizing on their proximity to the Trinity River in Fort Worth.
The project is under construction now. Making way for the construction of the bypass channel, nearly all of the needed property has been acquired, over 200,000 cubic yards of hazardous material has been removed and utility relocations are nearing completion. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is underway on three new signature vehicular bridges that will cross the bypass channel which are slated to be completed in 2020. USACE is in final design of the 1.5-mile long bypass channel and the first section of the interior riverwalk system is underway.
The first private multi-family development, Encore Panther Island, broke ground spring of 2018. Panther Island is truly transformational for Fort Worth. It isn’t just one policy that promotes one aspect of smart growth; it combines multiple policies, programs and projects to deliver future viability and sustainability for our region. Urban living, transportation alternatives, environmental clean-up and quality of life elements like the Trinity River Promenade and Town Lake will bring growth to Fort Worth’s central city.
JD Granger is the executive director of the Trinity River Vision Authority. He earned his Doctor of Jurisprudence from South Texas College of Law. Mr. Granger also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Texas A&M University.