Now that the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History has pulled its long-standing free history exhibit from the 1907 Fire Station No. 1 at Second and Commerce streets in the shadow of the City Center office towers, the property owner wants a deed restriction removed that keeps the ground floor space dedicated for public use.
The City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on removing restrictions the city imposed when it sold the building to City Center Development Co. in 1981. The restrictions included that the new owner preserve and maintain the historic facade, and that the ground floor “be forever dedicated to the public,” according to a city document.
The downtown exhibit opened in 1984 as part of the Texas Sesquicentennial Celebration, the museum said. It was updated in 2001. It was shuttered six months ago.
At the time the city put the property up for sale, two potential buyers stepped forward, including the Bass family, which built the office towers that opened in 1982 and 1984. In the ensuing years, the family’s Sundance Square arm redeveloped numerous blocks of historic buildings for shops, restaurants, offices and residences and built Sundance Square Plaza.
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According to meeting minutes from 35 years ago, when the council was deciding between the two buyers, a discussion came up on the dais about dedicating the ground floor for public use, and the Basses agreed to it to win the sale, said Jay Chapa, an assistant city manager.
But times have changed, and all sides say the deed restrictions seem a bit archaic. The museum wasn’t attracting many visitors anymore, Sundance Square sees development opportunity of that corner, and the city now wants to see something generating revenue.
The museum long ago stopped updating the satellite exhibit called 150 Years of Fort Worth History. It closed the exhibit in February and moved the materials to the museum on Gendy Street in the city’s Cultural District. Some of the exhibit is currently being used for the museum’s 75th anniversary exhibit.
“It was a privilege to tell the story of Fort Worth at such a historic location for more than 30 years,” Museum President Van A. Romans said in a statement. “However, the time is right for us to find other ways to share these artifacts and photographs.”
The Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau, though, has entered into a contract with the museum for it to provide rotating exhibits in the CVB visitor’s center at 508 Main St. Now being renovated, it is scheduled to reopen in September.
Bob Jameson, the CVB’s president, said the items going into the center won’t be as “exhibit rich” as the fire station space, but it will be a great visualization on Fort Worth’s history, he said.
“It will always have some new elements,” Jameson said. “Our intent is for it to be the starting point to anyone visiting downtown.”
Johnny Campbell, Sundance Square president and CEO, said talks with the city began several months ago regarding the deed restrictions.
Removing the deed restrictions will allow the owners to alter the building’s facade, but Campbell said Monday there is no fear of that happening. The Basses have a long track record of preservation, and this building will be no different, he said.
In the space, they’d like to see some type of entertainment use and a business that would add energy to the street corner and be open “long hours,” Campbell said. In the meantime, they have a temporary lease with a yoga studio.
“It’s actually a gorgeous building,” Campbell said. “There’s something especially romantic and attractive about historic buildings that are still in productive use. It’s so much a core of our philosophy. You can count on us preserving that.”
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