Does Fort Worth need a new City Hall? City considers new buildings, selling library

August 16,2019


See full Fort Worth Star-Telegram article by Luke Ranker here.

The future of Fort Worth’s downtown public library and City Hall could be in question, but the city wants plenty of public feedback before moving forward with a plan to consolidate and sell city property.

As Fort Worth looks forward to the next 25 or even 50 years, City Manager David Cooke said, it needs to rethink how it uses municipal space, especially if it wants to grow downtown. The city owns 11 downtown properties and leases additional office space. Cooke and his staff are in the early stages of soliciting feedback on selling some property, including the Fort Worth Central Library, and consolidating the library and City Hall into a new, modern building between East Lancaster and Texas Street.

“These are the public’s, the citizens’ buildings. They should reflect the values of our city in this decade,” Cooke said.

The first of several public sessions began Thursday with presentations to the Downtown Fort Worth Inc. staff and board. Others are planned with Tarrant County College, Trinity Metro and Sundance Square. Cooke said he hopes to not only educate people about the city’s plan but to also find out what other institutions and developers are planning and look for possible partnerships. He hopes a solid plan for the city’s downtown property will take shape over the next year or two.

“The time is now to start this conversation in earnest,” said Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc.

He said he understood the city’s need to modernize and consolidate for efficiency and thought the plan would add “needed anchors and energy to the south end of downtown.”

The city has danced around the idea of consolidating buildings, modernizing City Hall and selling the public library for decades.

Cooke said the city has been approached about the library’s two-block complex at 500 W. 3rd Street repeatedly, but conversations have not moved forward. Its location could make it a prime addition to Sundance Square properties.

Regardless, it likely won’t remain a library in its current form. The two-story building eats up two city blocks, but is only active on the Third Street side where the single entry is.

“That’s not smart use of downtown space,” Cooke said.

Manya Shorr, library director, said she was excited about the idea of modernizing the central library.

The building, she said, faces two problems. It’s too large, making it difficult to use appropriately, and it’s removed from bustling areas like the Sundance Square plaza.

“When a central library is done right, it should be where people live, work and play,” she said. “We’re just a little too far away right now.”

Altogether, building a new city hall with a library and the necessary parking garage could cost as much as $151 million, according to the city’s estimate. Cooke cautioned, however, that that price could change since design work has yet to be done and it’s unclear how much the city would recoup for selling property.

The work would be part of a possible 2022 bond package and be done along with plans to continue revamping the Fort Worth Convention Center.

Cooke didn’t have estimated values for city property Thursday, but the Tarrant Appraisal District showed a possible market value for the library at more than $14 million. The city hall annex at 908 Monroe St. had market value of nearly $5 million and a city estimate showed $11.5 million to $13.5 million in property tax value over 30 years if sold.

The city also spends a lot more to lease space than in makes in leasing its own space.

Between two downtown police buildings and space at La Gran Plaza, Fort Worth spends nearly $700,000 on office leases. Meanwhile, in its leases with Verizon, the Railroad Commission of Texas, Fort Worth Sister Cities International and Hertz Rent A Car, the city receives less than $145,000.

In any plan, the city will retain ownership of the City Hall property at 200 Texas St. The emergency operations center will also move out of downtown to separate it from other government buildings.

City Hall is reaching an age where it may no longer serve the needs of staff or residents.

Opened in 1971, the building was expanded in 1982 and underwent a roof remodel in 1987, according to Star-Telegram archives.

Mayor Betsy Price in May 2018 said the city should begin looking at a new city hall.

“We’re busting at the seams,” she said then.

In this preliminary plan, the new city hall and library would take up city-owned space south of the city hall toward Lancaster Avenue. No design work has been done, but Cooke speculated it could include a plaza or park. The Texas Street building would then serve as an annex, possibly for downtown police operations.

Cooke repeatedly said the idea of selling, building or moving city buildings is in the very early stages.

“There is nothing set in stone,” he said. “We want to hear a lot of feedback, suggestions, creative ideas.”

Those interested in providing feedback can email FWConnection@fortworthtexas.gov.


Location Mentioned: Central Library