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West Fort Worth study could pave way for revitalization

 

A. Lee Graham
lgraham@bizpress.net

Spurring economic development, housing options and public transportation alternatives in West Fort Worth has Jim Ryan excited.
“Anything that benefits the base is going to benefit us,” said Ryan, economic development director with the city of White Settlement.
“The base” Ryan referred to was the Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, which could see more nearby restaurants, retail outlets and housing options as the result of an ongoing study examining ways to bring more business into West Fort Worth and neighboring communities – including White Settlement, River Oaks and other municipalities surrounding the Joint Reserve Base.
The idea is to support development compatible with base operations.
A $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is funding the study, with a $200,000 local match from the Regional 
Transportation Council. The goal of what officials call Planning for Livable Military Communities is to attract businesses to the area to maximize its existing cultural and retail resources.
“It’s a team effort,” said Ryan, one of several municipal leaders serving on a committee for the initiative.
With the North Central Texas Council of Governments spearheading the effort, Tarrant County and several municipalities have joined in: Benbrook, Fort Worth, Lake Worth, River Oaks, Sansom Park, Westworth Village and White Settlement.
Ryan and other committee members schedule public meetings and provide data from their respective communities to the council of governments.
With the Joint Reserve Base and Lockheed Martin’s aeronautics division skirting its perimeter, White Settlement realizes those facilities play roles as employers and community anchors. Anything to provide housing options or new restaurants would be welcome, said Ryan, not only for employees of the base and Lockheed but also for White Settlement’s 16,469 residents.
The same holds true for the 7,437 folks calling River Oaks home.
“Economic development is extremely important for these communities,” said River Oaks City Administrator Marvin Gregory. He insists that a mixed-use concept such as Fort Worth’s West Seventh Street development could work in his city.
“It’s being talked about a lot here,” Gregory said. “The city doesn’t want apartments, of course, but I think … mixed use is key.”
Ryan has seen what just one employer can do. Weir SPM, White Settlement’s top employer, has 1,300 employees, according to the White Settlement Area Chamber of Commerce. (The White Settlement Independent School District is a distant second with 613 employees.) Ryan points to Weir SPM, which manufactures hydraulic fracturing pumps, as proof that his community can draw, and retain, major employers.
“They have taken over the entire light industrial area,” Ryan said.
Ensuring economic vitality in surrounding communities as well as the Joint Reserve Base is the focus of the study, said Dan Kessler, assistant director of transportation with the council of governments.
Though progress has slowed since a May 9 community meeting in River Oaks – “We have been focused on transportation corridor improvements,” Kessler said – the effort is expected to pick up momentum between now and year’s end.
Also part of the redevelopment effort is Ridgmar Mall. Officials have discussed modernizing the West Fort Worth shopping hub, but no specific plan has been proposed, said Kessler. He emphasized that while the HUD grant seeded the study, no funding has been identified to pay for physical improvements that could be proposed between now and December.
“Me, personally, the biggest things are commercial development and transportation,” Gregory said. “I think this study is a step in the right 
direction.”
 

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