Tarrant County College to explore options for former TXU plant

06/20/2014 6:43 PM

06/20/2014 7:30 PM

The Tarrant County College District has decided to explore selling, leasing or using the century-old abandoned TXU power plant building on north Main Street, which it bought a decade ago as part of its plan for a stunning downtown campus that would span the Trinity River.

TCC trustees voted Thursday night to issue a request for qualifications from developers and other real estate professionals to help the college district in its decision. The document is being drafted and will go out shortly, said Louise Appleman, TCC board president.

“People have presented us with ideas” over the last decade, Appleman said. “It’s time to take the lead on this.”

The decision to move forward on the property comes two months after the college and the Tarrant Regional Water District completed a land swap deal that began three years ago. Under the deal, TCC gave the water district access to land for its $910 million Trinity River Vision flood control and economic development project. In exchange, TCC received land along the Trinity River, including near its Trinity River Campus, for expansion.

The college will work with a consultant to review and evaluate responses, Appleman said. It will also ask for public input as well as suggestions from Historic Fort Worth, which has listed the 1912 property on its Most Endangered Places list seven times in the last 10 years.

The property does not have any historic designations, but Appleman said it will not be torn down. “That’s been suggested to us,” she said. “We know better than that.”

A public/private partnership on redeveloping the site is also a possibility, Appleman said.

Jerre Tracy, executive director of the nonprofit Historic Fort Worth, said the property is ideal for redevelopment and getting a business plan in place “will be the turnaround it needs. We are so happy about this decision, and proud of TCC for taking this step,” she said.

When TCC announced plans for the downtown campus, it said it might use the TXU plant, also know as the Fort Worth Power & Light Co. building for a fine arts facility or museum. The college district paid TXU $27 million for 29 acres and has an option on an additional 18 acres.

TCC has not yet exercised the option, but the water district wants the property for its project. The land is at the confluence of the Trinity River’s Clear and West forks and would become a part of the shoreline of the planned town lake. The water district has negotiated with Luminant Energy, now part of Energy Future Holdings, the former TXU Corp., on the purchase.

Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc., said he anticipates the college district will receive many responses to its request, saying he has fielded inquiries about the property. The property likely would be eligible for state and federal historic tax credits, which makes it even more desirable for redevelopment, he said.

“It will be very attractive to developers,” Taft said. “It’s a significant size to do something meaningful. I would be fascinated to see what the development community sees is possible.”

Elizabeth Louden a professor of architecture at Texas Tech University, whose graduate design studio in the fall of 2012 studied the property, said many old power plants similar to the Fort Worth site have been successfully redeveloped worldwide.

“It’s not easy and it takes a unique vision to see what it can be,” Louden said. “It’s a magnificent building. That building can be a focal point.”

The college district began collecting a tax in 2002 for a new downtown campus. By 2004, it announced plans for a 35-acre campus downtown by fall of 2007. The college eventually amassed about 47 acres on both sides of the river, and on the west and east sides of North Main Street.

The college began construction on the campus, but ran into mounting project costs and issues regarding the river levee in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that slowed construction. In 2008, in an abrupt change of plans, trustees instead spent $238 million to buy RadioShack’s corporate campus.

Some of the RadioShack property was remodeled for classrooms and offices. But the college completed only a portion of its original planned campus and scrapped the idea of building on both sides of the river. RadioShack continues to lease space from TCC.

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