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Reopening Heritage Plaza Park in downtown Fort Worth may require more private donations

January 19,2021

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

Funding is taking shape to breathe new life into Heritage Park and create a scenic walk from the historic Tarrant County Courthouse down the bluffs of the Trinity River, but more private donations may be needed before the downtown Fort Worth park becomes reality.

Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., said Tuesday about $17.6 million has been identified to revitalize the Heritage Park Plaza water features, create a plaza in Paddock Park north of the courthouse and improve pedestrian access. Some of that money has not been fully allocated, he said. The project, which includes a fountain north of the courthouse and a grand staircase down the bluff, is expected to require about $40 million with construction estimated at less than $30 million.

That leaves about $12.5 million still needed to construct the improvements.

At a Fort Worth City Council briefing last March, Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa said that money could come from the 2022 bond program. But Taft wants more private donors to come forward before voters are asked to support a bond initiative. The original funding proposal called for the city and Downtown Fort Worth Inc. to split the cost, but Taft is hopeful his organization can take on more than 50% of the funding burden.

“The more we can raise, the higher likelihood that we could get this on the bond program and the voters will vote for it,” Taft told the Star-Telegram.

He briefed the Tarrant Regional Water District board of directors Tuesday morning on the plan, but did not ask the agency for funding. The district oversees uses of the Trinity River.

So far about $8 million has been allocated for pedestrian improvements. Sidewalks along Weatherford and Belknap would be widened at the corners. The “bump outs” would result in the loss of a few parking spaces but would shorten the walk across Weatherford and Belknap. Tarrant County has committed $1 million and the Regional Transportation Council, part of the North Texas Council of Governments, has committed about $7.3 million.

A potential funder, who Taft would not name, is interested in funding the estimated $3 million for work to Paddock Park, which is little more than a median between East Belknap and North Main. The short stretch of East Bluff Street that forms a loop from Commerce Street to Houston Street would be blocked at the entrance to North Main Street. A large fountain or other water feature would take the street’s place, forming a long public plaza north of the courthouse.

Across the street, restoring Heritage Plaza could cost $2.5 million plus $1.3 million for new landscaping in front of the plaza, according to an itemized budget proposal submitted to the city last year. But plans go beyond reopening the Lawrence Halprin-designed plaza, which closed in 2007 due to safety concerns.

A series of terraced gardens would create the “Spanish steps of Fort Worth,” Taft said, imagining a popular open space. A preliminary cost estimate came in at $1.7 million, thought figure could change.

“I think it doesn’t take much imagination to see how enjoyable the view from these stairs would be: how people would exercise on them, they would have lunch on them, they would have dates on them and fall in love on the stairs, they would propose and get married on the stairs,” he said. “There is nothing like this in the city of Fort Worth, and we have an opportunity to use the bluff itself as a remarkable civic space.”

A gently sloping, zig-zag canopy walk would provide scenic access to the river landing for those who can’t use the stairs. Taft said the Regional Transportation Council has indicated serious interest in providing up to $5.3 million for an Americans with Disabilities Act-complaint walkway. Another $1 million may be available in the form of a Texas Parks and Wildlife grant.

Downtown Fort Worth Inc. and the city would also like to come up with about $9 million for annual and long term maintenance, again possibly split between the two organizations. That money would be placed in an endowment fund.

Taft says conversations with possible donors are ongoing. Those who want more information can visit Downtown Fort Worth Inc.’s website or call 817-870-1692.

Locations Mentioned: HERITAGE AND PADDOCK PARKS PROJECT, Tarrant County Courthouse