It’s past time to get moving on the renovation of Fort Worth’s historic T&P Warehouse

December 13,2019

See full Star Telegram Guest Editorial by Andy Taft here.

The Fort Worth City Council signaled recently to the owner of the T&P Warehouse that the massive Lancaster Boulevard building’s dilapidated state is unacceptable. It was the right move.

At about 600,000 square feet, the T&P Warehouse is one of the largest historic structures in Fort Worth, and it is the last grand historic building in downtown to be redeveloped.

The council has been firm that the preservation and redevelopment of this building is a priority, and members have consistently supported efforts that would help accomplish that mission. Two notable efforts were the relocation of Interstate 30 and the reconstruction of Lancaster.

Additionally, in 1995, the council granted the building a historic site tax exemption that eliminated the city’s portion of the tax bill as a measure of relief to the owner while renovations were planned.

What followed were years of announcements, false starts, multiple extended deadlines, countless well financed and motivated suitors and market cycles rich with opportunity. Yet the building still stands empty. And there is no redevelopment momentum in sight.

In fairness, the construction of Lancaster Boulevard and the new Lamar underpass created legitimate cause for some delays. But those delays cannot be used to justify the condition this building has suffered for so many years. They also cannot excuse the current lack of progress at a time of tremendous downtown development activity.

For whatever reasons, Cleopatra Investments has been unable or unwilling to redevelop the T&P while significant developments in downtown, the Near Southside, the West 7th area, the Stockyards and the Riverside Arts District on the east side have risen around it. These are urban areas are every bit as challenging to redevelop as downtown – if not more so.

This building can and should have been renovated years ago, and the level of interest remains high. It absolutely can be brought back into productive use. But years of heroic, yet unsuccessful attempts to work with Cleopatra led the Lancaster Tax Increment Finance District to terminate a significant incentive agreement in 2016.

In 2017, the city, in an effort to at least stabilize the historic building, required the owner to bring it up to minimum code compliance. The owner performed mandatory but temporary compliance work to protect the building from the elements, including window coverings, trespass prevention, roof work and basement water pumping.

There was more the city could do, and ending the tax exemption was an appropriate measure. It eliminates Cleopatra’s ability to carry the building “on the cheap” – leaving the citizens of Fort Worth to subsidize this significant real estate holding.

With no demonstrated development capability in place, the exemption actually served as an incentive to do nothing at all. Clearly, this is not what anyone wanted. We all want to see the building saved and used productively.

It is time for action, and the City Council took the right step. Now, Cleopatra should take steps that cure the deplorable condition of this landmark building.

Our recommendation is to either partner with a responsible developer experienced and capable enough to undertake such a monumental project or accept one of the many purchase offers made by those who can.