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Fort Worth, partners to revisit Panther Island development plans

June 13,2022

See full Fort Worth Business Press article by Bob Francis, Fort Worth Report here.

Fort Worth government, real estate and others involved in Panther Island will gather this summer to consider development plans for the area.  

Officials say they want to revisit existing plans in case they need updating or tweaking, said Michael Bennett, CEO of Bennett Partners Architecture, who is leading the project for the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth.

“The idea is not to change what’s already started or not to do a single thing that would delay anything, but to step back and say, ‘Fort Worth is a very different place today than it was 20 years ago,’ and ask if what’s on paper from 20 years ago, all the right stuff? Or, is there anything that needs to be tweaked or rethought,” he said. 

Bennett noted that the real estate market has changed as recently as the past two years.  

“Look at the office market,” he said. “Since the pandemic many concepts about the office market have changed as work has changed. There might not make any changes, but it’s things like that we should consider as we move forward.”  

The $1.17 billion flood control project – which received major federal funding in January – will have a big economic impact on the city, opening up development or re-development of about 800 acres of property just north of downtown Fort Worth. 

According to a 2014 economic impact study, Panther Island expects to generate more than 29,600 full-time workers in the area. Developers anticipate building 10,000 housing units and 3 million square feet of commercial space. The study says Panther Island will contribute over $3.7 billion in annual economic activity to the area. 

The Panther Island project will see the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dig a 1.5-mile channel to connect the ends of a U-shaped bend in the Trinity River, between downtown Fort Worth and the Stockyards. The new channel will create two islands, known collectively as Panther Island, and remove the levees along the river. The project will open up plenty of land for development, including nearly 12 miles of waterfront once the levees are taken down.

“We’ll be creating plenty of waterfront property, but we won’t know what and when that will be available until we see the timeline from the Army Corps,” said Bennett. 

Some of the development in the area has already taken place. A $55 million 300-unit multifamily property, Encore Panther Island, was completed in 2021 at the southernmost tip of the district just across the Main Street Bridge. 

The Encore project is in the first phase of the project in the interior of Panther Island, away from where the Army Corps will be constructing the channel. 

“When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes the Fort Worth Central City project and decommissions the levee, the area for the levees on Panther Island will be able to be developed,” said Dana Burghdoff, assistant city manager. “But the core Panther Island property away from the levees and bypass channel can be developed at any time.”
After a January announcement that Fort Worth’s Panther Island redevelopment project has received $403 million in long-awaited federal funding, Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said the area will be a differentiating factor for the city. 

“To be able to develop and double the size of downtown in one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, I can’t think of another city that can say that, right now, with that amount of land that’s going to become available,” she said at a news conference following the announcement. 

Casey Tounget, associate in Transwestern’s Fort Worth office, which has some property listings in the project area, said the development opportunity near downtown “gives Fort Worth an unrivaled opportunity not found in any other major U.S. city.”

The largest landowner of land in the Panther Island area is the  Tarrant Regional Water District, the coordinator of the Panther Island project. The water district owns over 225 acres, most of that acquired for the bridges, bypass channel and the canals planned for the development, according to the district. 

A large private landowner is Houston-based Panther Acquisition Partners, a company that has acquired about 25 acres over several years. 

The opportunity to locate development adjacent to a central city lake  should generate substantial demand, said Chance Williams, vice president of commercial properties at Southland Property Tax Consultants in Fort Worth. 

“In today’s environment, locating property near an urban green space or body of water is a huge draw, and should spur development,” he said. “Look no further than Town Lake in Austin or the Katy Trail in Dallas for examples of these public assets drawing in large-scale developers.” 

While those should be huge draws, Williams said, there have not been any large property sales in the area since 2017, when Encore purchased land for its project. 

Land values ended 2017 in the $9-$15 per square foot, which was a drastic increase over prior year land values, Williams said. Since then, the values have not seen large increases, he said. That could change if a new development is announced in the area. 

Panther City District 

Although there has not been much movement on property in Panther Island, an area adjacent to the project is getting some renewed interest. 

The Panther City District, an initiative driven by businesses in an industrial and commercial area located east of University Drive and north of White Settlement Road in west Fort Worth, launched its website June 1, to foster growth in the area.  

The organization is supported by a board of directors composed of representatives from area businesses and property owners who launched the initiative. The members are longtime business leaders with investments in the area: Will Churchill of Fort Brewery; Robert Lydick of HFW Capital Partners L.P., an investment partnership; Will James of Defender Outdoors, an indoor gun range; Bryan Barrett of Keystone Group, L.P., an investment firm; and Neil Foster of Agency Habitat, a marketing agency with an on-site audio/video production facility.  The organization says there are more that 60 businesses in the area.

Churchill emphasized the area is not a public improvement district or the recipient of tax increment financing.

“We want to let the business owners see value in what’s going on here,” he said, “and then decide to partake in it and then help raise up everyone.” 

He sees the opportunity to be an alternative to development on Panther Island. 

“Most of that development is going to be new, from the ground up,” he said. “Here, we have buildings that can be refurbished; the infrastructure is pretty much here. We can be a low-cost alternative to what happens on Panther Island. We think we’ll complement each other.” 

Panther Island development information

The city of Fort Worth’s Comprehensive Plan was rezoned to provide a mixed-use district of greater density. 

For more information on development plans for the area, visit the Panther Island Central City Flood Project page