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Fort Worth champions environmental efforts at new City Hall. Some residents want more

January 31,2023

See full Fort Worth Report article by Haley Samsel here.

One of the most sustainable elements of Fort Worth’s new City Hall is also one of the most obvious: The former Pier 1 building, which will be home to a reimagined council chambers and all city departments, already existed.

“The city of Fort Worth could have built a building in downtown instead of repurposing this one,” said District 9 councilwoman Elizabeth Beck. “It’s safe to say that it will all be recycled because it was there before we bought it.”

Inside the Central Library’s auditorium Jan. 25, Beck and the team overseeing the new City Hall renovation spent two hours explaining how city officials approached the design and construction process with environmental impact in mind. Facing delays from a federal permitting process, the new council chambers are expected to fully open at the building on 100 Energy Way in early 2024.

A few dozen people, including city staff members, participated in the workshop, which asked attendees to consider their own definitions of “sustainability” and how Fort Worth could reflect those values.

Brandy O’Quinn, an economic development consultant in Fort Worth and leader of the North Texas Electric Transportation Compact, urged the city to be a model for encouraging environmentally friendly construction methods and other behaviors, like using energy-saving lighting or recycling.

“To change policy in our city, I think the city needs to walk the walk and be the initial ones doing it and showing: ‘This is what it looks like,’” O’Quinn said during the meeting. “You have to make an investment on the front end, but in the long term, this is a journey that pays for itself.”

The tower was built as the Pier 1 building in 2004, but underwent a name change when Chesapeake Energy brought its headquarters there. When an investment group bought Chesapeake’s stake in 2014, the building was renamed Pier 1 Imports Building. The city acquired the tower for nearly $70 million in 2021.

Architects and project managers of the new City Hall pointed to steps they’ve already taken to address environmental concerns, including donating floors of office furniture left behind by Pier 1.

“Across America the last four years, especially since the pandemic, there’s been a rise in old office furniture and putting it into the dump and treating it in ways that are not really sustainable,” said Tanyan Farley, vice president of client solutions at Athenian Group, the firm managing the project.

With the help of nonprofit The Welman Project, which provides resources to educators, the city donated about $138,735 worth of furniture to 156 teachers and nonprofit staff. About 17% of the office furniture was sold at auction.

Providing more green space to downtown
The new City Hall will also feature native plants, which require less water than classic lawn grass to survive. While some attendees pushed back on the city’s plans to plant grass in the tower’s plaza, Beck said it was crucial for residents in the West 7th area to have access to green areas beyond Trinity Park.

“We want some more green space for people to compensate,” Beck said. “We want to make it a space where you see people having picnics or throwing a football or those kinds of leisure activities at City Hall. The idea is to not make it feel like a place you have to go to or you don’t want to go to.”

Fort Worth officials are also exploring how to bring the city’s recycling program inside the tower and potentially compost food waste from the building at another location.

City Hall has committed to participating in the Lights Out Texas initiative, which asks large building owners and residents to turn off their outdoor lighting in an effort to prevent bird collisions during spring and fall migration seasons.

A push for employees to use public transportation
Ann Zadeh, who represented District 9 on City Council between 2014 and 2021, encouraged city officials to consider how their decisions will encourage 900-plus city staff to use public transportation or bicycles to get to work — rather than driving cars. Emissions from vehicles in North Texas have more than doubled since 1990, contributing to poor air quality in the region, according to a 2019 analysis.

As long as Fort Worth “subsidizes” cars by building more parking spaces, getting employees to use public transportation will be an uphill battle, Zadeh said.

“Obviously (driving) is the easiest way to get around Fort Worth right now,” Zadeh, an urban planner who leads the nonprofit Community Design Fort Worth, said. “Any improvements or additions of parking, I think, need to be done in a way that they can be made into something else and hopefully in the future we won’t need all of that parking.”

Fort Worth is considering its options on that front, Farley said. The city could add a Trinity Metro bus stop near the building, create more bike storage options and bring Fort Worth’s bike sharing program to the site.

Giving council chambers more space and natural light
In the meantime, City Hall designers are excited about the possibilities of bringing natural light into the council chambers through large windows and making the space feel more “transparent,” said Mark Dabney, associate principal at the architecture firm BOKA Powell.

The design and construction team has taken steps to ensure the safety of people inside the chambers, which sits a floor above the plaza.

“This is not a Roman gladiator pit like the city council chamber we have now, where you walk down the aisle down into the round area and look up at everybody,” Dabney said. “This will be a space that everyone can be comfortable in. It’s inviting, and if you’re there to speak, you’ll be at eye-level with everybody else in the room.”

Location Mentioned: Central Library