FORT WORTH — As a young girl growing up in the Stop Six neighborhood, Regina Blair often walked over to the old Dairy Queen on Berry Street for an ice cream cone.It is such a high-profile corner and everybody remembers what was there and how alive this part of Berry was at one point, said Blair, president of the Stop Six Sunrise Edition. Now, in place of the large glass windows of the once-thriving Dairy Queen is cracked plywood. The brick is crumbling down, and the ceiling is peeling back at the edges, leaving gaping holes for rain and animals to enter, despite the boarded-up front door. The building has been like that for at least a decade, when the city took over ownership in 2003 because of unpaid taxes. The idea that a structure can stand like that and never be addressed it shows our entire community had become numb, said District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens. The history of the Dairy Queen is somewhat unclear, Bivens said, but it was briefly a convenience store in the 1980s and has been vacant since about 1985.Bivens had planned for the building to be demolished last Thursday, and the razing of the decrepit structure was going to be a big event a signal to developers that the east side is ready for something new.But, on Monday, the hundreds of people from Stop Six who were planning to come to the celebration found out it had been canceled.I was very unhappy. Just the idea that we had planned so much, and announced it publicly. For us to have a snafu was very disappointing, Bivens said.Approval expectedThe city applied for a permit for the demolition Sept. 23, after removal of any asbestos in the building began Sept. 16, said Cynthia Garcia, acting director for the housing and economic development department.But the permit was denied because the Dairy Queen building is in the Stop Six Historic District, and approval for demolition must come from the Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission first, said Liz Casso, historic preservation officer for the city.The commission does not meet again until Oct. 14, but Casso said she does not see an issue with a permit being issued. The building itself does not have a historic designation, and the demolition is needed for new development, Casso said. Bivens is optimistic the commission will approve the demolition permit. Blair, however, said the city staff should have known to take the issue to the Historic Commission initially. That tells me there is a disconnect with the things that are occurring and have occurred in our community, Blair said. There is a disconnect and a disrespect, because city staff should have known. It is in the zoning ordinance, it is on the zoning map. I am just wondering what is going on, what is really going on?Garcia said her department did not verify if the building was in an historic district but said the permit can be issued as soon as the commission approves the demolition. Bivens said she is not deterred, saying this is the first step for economic development in District 5.If there is a call for development to come to this district, we need to be the ones to signal that call, and demolishing that Dairy Queen is our signal, Bivens said. First impressionBivens is organizing a committee to investigate what type of development should replace the Dairy Queen. Experts like Happy Baggett, who was involved in planning for Renaissance Square off East Berry Street, and Ken Newell, who developed Riverbend Business Park, have agreed to help facilitate that discussion. What happens in areas like the southeast is you have preconceptions of what those neighborhoods are, Baggett said. That is the big thing we had to fight with the Renaissance development the idea that there is no money there. Well, there is a lot of money there. Before Renaissance Square opened in April, only two grocery stores in Fort Worth were servicing the southeast quadrant of the city, largely because of those misconceptions, Baggett said. Renaissance Square, which took eight years to develop, broke some of those barriers, Baggett said. The Square is now the largest shopping center in southeast Fort Worth, with a Wal-Mart Supercenter; clothing stores like Ross, Rue 21 and Marshalls; and restaurants like McDonalds and Subway. We have proven there is a market, Baggett said. Now we just have to find the satellite locations. One of those locations could be at Berry Street and Stalcup Road, Baggett said, but it will take months to determine what type of business could go in that location. But he agreed that tearing down the old Dairy Queen is the first step. You get one chance to make the first impression. When you are bringing retailers in, you have to prove this is a good market, that these are good people, and these people will support you, he said.A better future Blair, who came back to Fort Worth in the 1980s after working in city development and architecture, hopes Fort Worth will work on developing the east side. Our plea to all of the council members is that the focus on economic development be concentrated right here, because this is the part of Berry that introduces Fort Worth to people coming from Arlington and Dallas, she said.Blair wants Stop Six to be an area the whole city can be proud of, and has been advocating for the Berry/Stalcup Urban Village in the 2014 bond package at every public input meeting the city has held so far. The Berry/Stalcup Urban Village plan was approved in 2007, and the area was rezoned in 2005 and 2008. The city council-approved master plan details needs for improvement in transportation and parks. Currently, $9 million is proposed for the funding of two urban villages in the 2014 bond package, but the city is waiting to get input from the citizens to decide which will be funded, said Eliana Guevara, administrative assistant for capital projects. Bivens hopes the Berry/Stalcup Urban Village can receive some of that funding, since nothing has been done since 2007 on the plan.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @CatyHirst