Life of downtown Fort Worth tax district may be extended again

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- Citing a desire to complete some long-planned downtown projects, including adding more housing and attracting a public school, the board of the downtown tax increment financing district is considering a plan to bring another $28 million to its coffers.

The plan would extend the TIF's lifetime cap, the amount it can spend on projects, to $100 million from its current cap of $72 million. The TIF has committed $70 million to projects, and the remaining $2 million isn't enough to complete some of the things the TIF has set out to do.

Each year, too, the TIF can only take in $5 million, and any additional funds are returned to the taxing entities. The proposal would eliminate that $5 million annual cap on new revenues.

"We've been thinking about it for four years," said Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., which oversees the TIF for the city. "The central plaza is the last project. When it is paid out in the next couple of years, the TIF will have committed $70 million."

If approved, this will be the second time the life of the TIF has been extended. In 2003, the cap was raised to $72 million from $50 million, the amount established when the TIF began in 1995. The TIF board will vote on the issue May 15. It will then need City Council approval before the taxing entities can vote.

TIFs divert property taxes from new development into a special fund to pay for improvements inside a defined district. The downtown TIF has been a primary source of funding for many projects, including asbestos removal during the redevelopment of the tornado-ravaged Bank One office tower into a high-rise condo project called The Tower.

Over the years, it has also paid millions of dollars in leases on six parking garages to provide free public parking on evenings and weekends. A year ago, it committed $11 million for infrastructure improvements in the public right-of-way at the central plaza under construction in Sundance Square.

Jay Chapa, the city's housing and economic development director, said the TIF has greatly influenced how downtown has been developed and that the proposed changes to the TIF would be a win-win.

"There are some projects of the original plan that have not been completed," Chapa said.

The new plan would keep two key projects -- improvements to the Third Street pedestrian corridor and affordable housing -- but add some new projects, too. Those involve public infrastructure improvements along Main and Commerce streets; providing a walkable link from downtown to the Trinity Bluff area; and improving amenities at Heritage Plaza and Paddock Park on the north end of downtown. The TIF wants to commit $12.3 million to those projects.

It also wants to have $7 million to apply toward affordable housing projects and another $9 million for additional residential and parking projects.

Taft said housing is a high priority in the soon-to-be-published update of the downtown strategic action plan, with affordable housing as one component. Few people who work downtown can afford to live there, he said, and money from the TIF could help developers bridge gaps in costs and what they charge for rent, making it more affordable for those workers.

Also on the list is $300,000 to provide matching incentives to owners of historic buildings that make facade improvements, and $1 million for a science, technology, engineering and math junior high or high school.

Formal discussions with the school district have not taken place. Downtown residents often move out of downtown after starting families because of the lack of school options, Taft said.

"We need to talk about the next step, and the next step is schools," Taft said.

As part of the deal, taxing entities would need to contribute less from their new taxes.

The plan is expected to provide the TIF with annual revenues of $4.2 million to $5.1 million from 2014 to 2022, and $3.7 million in 2023. The TIF would then be scheduled to expire at the end of 2025.

Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727

Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST

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