TIF spending helps downtown Fort Worth thrive

Posted Saturday, Apr. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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The 1998 plan for a tax increment financing district to pay for $50 million in downtown Fort Worth public improvements said it would spur $438 million in new taxable development by 2025.

A 2003 revision raised the spending cap to $72 million.

Now, as the TIF spending approaches that cap, taxable values in the original district have risen by $460.7 million.

It's hard to argue with success.

The TIF, administered by Downtown Fort Worth Inc., has delivered for the city in spades. Under a thoroughly planned and deliberately executed spending program, it has enhanced the appearance of downtown and paid for infrastructure and parking improvements that have enabled the area to thrive and become a powerful draw for visitors from across Tarrant County and well beyond.

Next month, the TIF's governing board of elected officials from the taxing entities long committed to support it will consider a plan to extend the spending cap again, this time to $100 million.

If that extension is adopted, plans call for spending the extra $28 million on further infrastructure improvements along Main and Commerce streets, a walkable link between downtown and the burgeoning Trinity Bluffs to the northeast, and improvements to Heritage Plaza and Paddock Park on downtown's north end.

Some of the money would be used to subsidize construction of more affordable housing and other residential and parking projects. Spending is planned to help owners of historic downtown properties pay for restoration projects, and more would be set aside to help draw a science, technology, engineering and math junior high or high school downtown.

The plans are ambitious -- but again, you just can't argue with the success downtown has had with the help of TIF projects.

Prospects were far from bright in the early 1990s. Four gleaming new office towers were built in the early 1980s, but a decade later it had become clear that downtowns were suffering from trends then spreading across the U.S.

Banks, utility companies and corporate headquarters, traditional downtown tenants, were downsizing. Few department stores still called downtown home. Business "back office" work was moving to less expensive locations.

Suburbs were thriving, large "corporate campus" developments were popular outside central cities, and smaller cities were offering incentive packages to draw corporate relocations.

In 1993, Fort Worth drew up a downtown strategic action plan to meet these challenges head-on. The TIF grew out of that plan.

The TIF's founding documents list specific goals that included:

Establish a downtown residential community.

Draw visitors with unique retail and entertainment venues.

Expand areas for day and night activities.

Maintain a pedestrian-friendly on-street environment.

Provide parking.

Downtown visitors today will find that those goals have been met.

Downtown residences are plentiful and in demand. Shopping and entertainment opportunities are abundant and unique. The on-street environment is attractive and safe.

At the same time, says Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., the taxing entities that gave up part of their tax revenue to support the TIF -- the city, the county, the college and hospital districts and the Tarrant Regional Water District -- have seen their income go up.

TIF spending has come from the first $5 million in incremental tax revenue each year, but developments added since the birth of the TIF are now generating $7 million per year more than that, Taft said.

Now a new downtown strategic plan is in the works. The unfinished projects on the TIF's list and others like more affordable housing are targeted toward the updated strategy, Taft said.

In a few years when the new $100 million spending limit is hit, or at least by the original end date in 2025, the TIF would have to be re-evaluated or go away.

The success of downtown Fort Worth argues strongly for extension of the TIF. What's worked so well so far can be expected to continue to produce strong benefits.

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