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Mixed-use complex at Fort Worth TRE parking lot could cost $60 million

Rendering of proposed project from projection at council meeting. Photo by Scott Nishimura

By Scott Nishimura

A proposed mixed-use residential and commercial complex on a Trinity Railway Express parking lot bordered by downtown Fort Worth and the Near Southside would cost about $60 million, a panel of architects and developers estimated Tuesday.

About 75 percent of that could be covered by a loan, leaving a $15 million financing gap that could be covered by available city bond funds, money from a tax increment finance district, and federal funds, the panel said.

The proposed project - as envisioned by the panel after a two-day design workshop conducted by the Urban Land Institute for the Fort Worth T, Fort Worth Housing Authority, city, and Fort Worth South economic development nonprofit - could have two buildings fronting West Vickery, including a 10-story one with apartments, first-floor commercial, and parking.

The proposed project requirements, as given to the panel for the workshop, would include 250 one and two-bedroom apartments, 625 parking spaces for transit users, residents, and customers of the commercial space, and more than 200,000 square feet of net rentable residential space, and more than 30,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.

Fifty one percent of the apartments would be available to residents earning 80 percent of area median income or less - up to $42,150 for a couple and $36,900 for one person. Those rents would be about $1,000 a month. The project also would likely be owned by the Housing Authority, said Ramon Guajardo, a consultant to the Housing Authority on the project.

The 51 percent threshold and public ownership would allow the project to retain tax-exempt status, which would slash its operating costs in half, David Pettit, a member of the panel, said.

Under preliminarily discussions, The T, owner of the site, would continue to own the land, and the Housing Authority would own the improvements, Guajardo said in an interview after the presentation. The Housing Authority could act as the developer or bring one in on a fee-only basis, he said.

The timetable isn’t clear yet, he said.

“There is a $15 million gap that needs to be addressed,” he said. “Nobody has a checkbook to write that.”

But the major stakeholders, which earlier this year decided to move ahead with the design workshop, view the timing as good for developing the 2.1-acre site, at the northwest corner of South Main Street and West Vickery Boulevard and bordered on the north by Interstate 30 and a pedestrian tunnel toT&P Station.

Downtown’s popularity continues to push to the south, the Near Southside is rapidly redeveloping, and T&P’s train and bus connections and future terminus of the TexRail downtown-Dallas/Fort Worth Airport route make the site a strong one for transit-oriented development, they said.

Moreover, the site’s adjacency to the growing, historic South Main Urban Village means the mixed-use development can be a catalyst to the future, pedestrian-friendly redevelopment, they said.

Next steps would be a formal agreement between the T and Housing Authority, a Housing Authority request for proposals from developers, and hunt for funding.

The architects and developers spent the last two days holed up inside the Amphibian Stage Productions building on South Main interviewing stakeholders, reviewing data and sketching out 3-D massing drawings of what the site could look like.

Buildings in the drawings feature no architectural detail, but include all of the required uses presented to the panel, which unveiled their results to a full house of visitors Tuesday night at night at Amphibian.

The panel envisioned what the corridor from West Lancaster Street through the T&P Lofts and down its tunnel to the train tracks and farther south to the parking lot could look like as transit use builds in the future, with more restaurants and bars and even food carts in the tunnel.

“We’re trying to create a project that will look to the future,” Michael Bennett, of the Bennett Benner Partners architecture firm and a panelist, said.

The panel proposed a 10-story building and smaller two or three-story building. The two buildings would front Vickery and face each other across a pedestrian-friendly street coming off Vickery, and leading to existing transit parking beneath the I-30 overpass.

The residential portion of the larger building would be built on top of a 205,000-square-foot podium garage, with first-floor commercial on Vickery. The podium would elevate the residential portion of the building, to minimize obstructed views from the I-30 overpass.

The garage would include underground and above-ground parking - 300 spaces for a transit park and ride and 325 for residents and retail customers. One of the project requirements will be to replace all of the 100 spaces it removes, and add more for residents, retail customers, and users of the district.

An “amenity deck” on top of the garage would include a swimming pool, green space, and trees.

The ground floor commercial space would ideally be taken by retailers, the panelists said, but they acknowledged there’s demand for small office space. Fitness and other services are possiblities, as is “live-work” space, they said.

T buses, which run loops from Vickery, through the existing parking lot, and back onto Vickery, would pick up and drop passengers on Vickery under the panelists’ plan.

The panel’s team of “number crunchers” estimated the average square footage of the apartments at 850. The affordable rents would run at $1.18 per square foot, and the market rate apartments at $1.55, for gross annual rents of $3.7 mlllion, they estimated.

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