FORT WORTH — An improved economy has the city and business leaders hopeful that development is close for several vacant parcels along Lancaster Avenue in downtown Fort Worth.Over the years, developers have had interest in the land on the north side of Lancaster, from Commerce to Jones streets. The city obtained the land more than a decade ago when Interstate 30 was moved from above Lancaster Avenue to the south. But at that time, money to finance projects was hard to get.Moreover, the parcels are not full city blocks and may take some creativity to put them to use within the Lancaster corridor development guidelines. Whatever is built there must compliment the historic structures on the south side of Lancaster, including the U.S. Post Office, T&P Lofts building and the massive T&P warehouse at the west end of the street, for example.Instead of developing each block separately, the city believes it may be better to develop the property as a portfolio of land.In early March, the city will begin looking for a master planner to partner on all the property, acquired from the Texas Department of Transportation. The master developer would design, build, finance and manage the project. Jay Chapa, director of the city’s Housing and Economic Development Department, said the city staff is hoping to have a developer selected by summer. He will showcase the project at the upcoming Public-Private Partnership Conference in Dallas, one of the largest gatherings of economic development professionals.City officials have long thought that once the I-30 overhang was removed, Lancaster could become a majestic street. The overhang was torn down in 2001, a year after the new I-30 opened. Lancaster was rebuilt in 2005, narrowed from eight lanes to four with a median installed, and $1.7 million stainless-steel light sculptures were erected.“Now that the market seems to be coming back, it’s time to see what the private sector would do with this land,” said Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., a nonprofit booster organization. “You can create a very urbane environment along that stretch.”Nearby, work is progressing on the Lancaster Place project, a 130-unit apartment community with 20,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor and a parking garage, between Jennings Avenue and Throckmorton Street. Lancaster Place is a project of the city’s Local Development Corp., which is financing the construction of two apartment buildings with a loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.That project stalled in summer 2012, when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth backed out of the development.The scope of the project became smaller, and the city now has HUD approval for a loan. Ibañez Architects in Fort Worth is working on the design, which will be sent along with site plans and updated financial information to HUD for a final look soon. Construction on Lancaster Place could begin this fall with completion expected in spring 2016, Chapa said. The parking garage as part of that project would be able to serve other development along Lancaster, he said.
Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727 Twitter: @SandraBakerFWST