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Explainer: Inc. organizations help develop Fort Worth’s neighborhoods

May 23,2023


See the full Fort Worth Report article here.

The names are associated with some of Fort Worth’s most popular areas, such as Downtown Fort Worth Inc. and  Near Southside Inc. Soon, the Historic Stockyards might also have an organization that ends in Inc. 

But what exactly do these organizations do? And how common are they?

Karabi Bezboruah, associate professor of public affairs and planning at the University of Texas at Arlington, described them as nonprofit business districts that can build trust with a community while an area there is being developed. 

Known as place management organizations, they have become more common as cities become larger, making it harder for a local municipality to do focused development work in a specific area. That’s where groups like these come in.

“All these organizations sort of bridge the gap between the public organizations and the nonprofit development sector, but they also use resources from both the public and the business sector to promote economic growth in a particular community,” Bezboruah said. 

There are over 2,500 place management organizations like this across North America, including Canada, said Cathy Lin, director of research for the International Downtown Alliance. They can be found in both large and small communities and their focus is based on their size.

Combating declining urban centers 

The origins of these groups can be traced to the 1960s in Toronto, Canada, when downtown business owners banded together to create the Business Improvement Association, Lin said.

“At that time, there was a lot of decline in the center cities. People were shopping more in suburban malls, and the business owners downtown — the different urban neighborhood districts — decided to band together and they would pay an additional assessment to come in so that they could invest in education and more programming specifically for their area,” Lin said.

A movement to bring back real estate to downtown areas picked up in the 1980s and 1990s. The original place management organizations were structured like chambers of commerce, which members could join. 

“The opposite of clean and safe is dirty and dangerous. No one’s going to invest or live or shop in a place that’s dirty or dangerous,” said Maggie Campbell, CEO and president of the Downtown Arlington Management Corporation.

Fort Worth currently has several such organizations: Downtown Fort Worth Inc. which focuses on the city’s central business district; Near Southside Inc., whose boundaries include Interstate 30 to the north, Interstate 35W to the east and West Allen Avenue to the south; and Camp Bowie District Inc. which extends from University Drive to Lackland Road and includes portions of West 7th Street and Byers and Lovell avenues. 

Mike Brennan, president of Near Southside Inc., said the organization was created in the 1990s, at a time when this part of the city had suffered from decades of decline and blight, slowed growth and declining population. 

“There was a collaborative effort led by the City Council members at that time in partnership with leaders of the hospitals and other major institutions and employers in the district and some neighborhood leaders — all focused on a shared mission of turning things around in the Near Southside,” Brennan said. 

Lin said these organizations tend to work in the background by bringing all involved parties to the table when it comes to making an area the best it can be.  

“We’re not coming from the government. We’re not coming from profit-making businesses. But we have connections to all of these different groups,” she said. 

Organizations like these are becoming more common, said Bezboruah. She and her colleague, associate professor Emily Nwakpuda, recently received a grant from the city of Arlington to study nonprofit organizations and how successful they are. 

Advocacy and planning

After Near Southside Inc. was established with its own set of bylaws, board of directors and staff, work started. Brennan said the organization partnered with public improvement districts and tax increment financing zones to tackle projects to redevelop the Near Southside.

Tax increment financing is an investment by a city in a specific area that allows it to capture future tax revenues generated in the district to fund infrastructure projects there. 

Downtown Fort Worth Inc. is currently working to redevelop Heritage Park, which will partly be funded using tax increment financing. 

“The partnership allows the staff of the nonprofit to serve as a direct extension of the city staff,” Brennan said. 

For example, Near Southside Inc. recently helped bring to life the new Fire Station Park on Hemphill Street. 

Downtown Fort Worth Inc. also raised money to develop, build and currently maintain the JFK Tribute.

Many of the projects and efforts done by these place management organizations are funded in part or in whole by dollars from public improvement districts or tax increment financing. 

Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., described them as tools used to advance a public need. 

“There’s usually some shortcoming that needs to be addressed,” he said. “Often, as in the case, in a lot of downtowns across the country, the downtown has improved dramatically, but the level of surface expectation in the downtown area is so high because competition is so high that the property owners are willing to pay a special assessment to maintain those levels of service that are above the city standard.” 

Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at sandra.sadek@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter at @ssadek19

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.