For Fort Worth, a new downtown plaza with a name rich in history

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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kennedy It started with a Sioux tribal dance, and then a stolen horse, and a tourist photo.

In 1889, the future Sundance Kid was just named Harry Longabaugh.

At 20, he stole a horse, gun and saddle from the Three V Ranch in Wyoming, near the mountaintop home of the Lakota Sioux “sun gazing dance.”

By 1900, the Sundance Kid was on the getaway to Fort Worth, posing for a group photo with the Wild Bunch outlaws in a Main Street studio near what is now Sundance Square.

More than a century later, Sundance Square is on its own run.

Founded as a single block-long development of shops and restaurants along Main, the original square now unfolds into another block as a grand plaza, Fort Worth’s anchor downtown attraction for generations to come.

It’s named Sundance Square Plaza, principal partner Ed Bass has joked: “That’s what everybody will call it anyway.”

For Sundance visitors, the plaza is more than a populist victory in name.

More than 20 years ago, Washington-based Sundance architect David M. Schwarz mapped the space as a future central park.

Two decades of concerts, Stock Show parades, sand volleyball matches and Super Bowl broadcasts later, Schwarz instead has designed the final space as a public events site, more like a piazza in Italy or a zocalo in Mexico.

“We’ve learned from years of programming,” said Johnny Campbell, the Sundance president and CEO.

“We looked at the number of events and realized we needed a plaza, and one with flexibility.”

Parades still can march through along Main. The plaza can open up for a pep rally an acre wide, or narrow for a reception under one of four giant LED-lighted umbrellas more than 10 yards across.

For the NCAA Final Four on April 5-7, ESPN will broadcast around a new events pavilion on East Third Street. It’s enclosed, but the windows swing open for market vendors or events.

ESPN’s visit for the 2011 Super Bowl persuaded architects to include options, Campbell said.

“We had all these ideas about where they would do this or that, and then they had all these completely different concerns, so we made the plaza more convertible.” he said.

The third major makeover in the square’s 32-year history — the first added a movie theater and apartments, the second the Bass Performance Hall — lifts Fort Worth into competition with other midsize major cities such as Austin, Indianapolis, Nashville and Baltimore for events, conventions and tourism.

Not to mention Dallas.

“It’s spectacular,” said Jody Grant, a former Fort Worth banker and now chairman of Dallas’ Klyde Warren Park, a 3-block-long downtown greenspace and events area built above the sunken Woodall Rodgers Freeway.

“Ed Bass has fulfilled his vision. He has his town square. We don’t have anything comparable in Dallas.”

Grant studied a fresh photo of the near-finished plaza, particularly the enclosed pavilion and shaded areas.

“Those umbrellas — I’m very envious of those umbrellas,” he said.

He remembered the 1970s day when investor Sid Bass, Ed’s older brother, unveiled the original plan for the first Main Street shops, office towers and a hotel.

“There was nothing to it then, just Sheetrock and windows,” he said.

“Their vision is terrific.”

In 1849, Fort Worth’s first town center was the original fort’s parade ground.

Then, the courthouse square.

Now: the Plaza.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @BudKennedy

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