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Fort Worth mulls NBC 5 station as new police facility

A. Lee Graham
lgraham@bizpress.net

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price supports transforming the current NBC 5 building along Interstate 30 east of downtown into a new police facility but has funding questions.

“Over-funding is a concern I’ve heard about,” said Price after hearing an update at the pre-council portion of the Oct. 15 city council meeting.

According to Police Chief Jeff Halstead, renovating the 60,000-square-foot structure on Broadcast Hill at I-30 and Oakland Boulevard would cost about $2.7 million.

“This will not utilize general fund dollars,” Halstead emphasized. Instead, he said some funding could come from his department’s seized assets fund or other resources.

“We want to make sure we can capitalize and maximize some of the funds we use when selling the current police headquarters,” said Halstead, adding that a sale has not been finalized.

The city received the Broadcast Hill building as a donation from NBC 5 after granting the station an 85 percent tax abatement on real and personal property over 25 years for its new station at CentrePort Business Park just south of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

If the city approves using the Broadcast Hill building for police use, about 242 employees – 95 from intelligence and investigations, 77 from criminal investigations and community programs and 70 from records – would move into the facility. Other department employees will occupy a new $97.5 million department headquarters and Public Safety Training Center at 505 W. Felix St., expected to open in late 2014.

Neither sex offenders nor other criminal suspects would be booked on premises, Halstead stressed.

“You do not want a facility that’s going to have a high volume of people coming in to be arrested or a holding facility or a registration for sex offenders. That will not take place at this facility,” Halstead said.

If the council approves the plan, police personnel would not occupy the building until sometime in 2015. Overhauling the structure would take between 12 and 18 months, a process that would begin after NBC 5 employees vacate the building in March 2014.
Price is not alone in harboring funding concerns.

“I would like to see where those dollars are going to come from,” said District 8 Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, referring to total renovation costs.

“The community has said yes, yes, yes, we do want this facility in our neighborhood. But we [the council] also want to be good stewards of their dollars,” said Gray, referring to a community meeting in which residents and business owners expressed support for the idea.

Councilman Sal Espino, whose District 2 covers north Fort Worth, drew a funding line. “I don’t want to use CCPD [Crime Control and Prevention District] fund money for this,” said Espino, reiterating his support for a police facility in north Fort Worth. The district is a tax-funded program used to operate some crime-prevention strategies.

District 4 Councilman Danny Scarth called the building a valuable piece of broadcast history and supports its planned use. “There’s a legacy here we need to try to preserve,” Scarth said.
District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens agreed.

“It’s a jewel,” Bivens said. “And I think other cities would like to have the challenge of what to do with such a historic building.”
Meanwhile, several months of debate ended as the council amended the city’s gas line compressor regulations.

By 7-0 vote, the council approved compressors by right in industrial zoning districts and in planned development districts. Espino and Mayor Pro Tem W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman did not vote, as they were not present at that portion of the meeting.

The compressors, which pressurize gas to be transported through a pipeline, have drawn concerns from some residents regarding potential noise, safety and pollution issues.

Only one resident addressed the issue at the meeting.
Jackie Barnd, a Specklebelly Lane resident, had voiced opposition to compressors at previous council meetings.

“Not everyone is going to be happy,” Barnd said of the council’s decision. “We didn’t get everything we wanted … but we’ll keep an eye on the gas company, though, and we’ll be back if we need to.”
 

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