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Fort Worth Housing Authority celebrates new chapter for Hunter Plaza

The $29 million redevelopment of the Hunter Plaza public-housing tower in downtown Fort Worth was heralded by city and civic leaders Wednesday as the new face of affordable housing in the city.

The 11-story structure at West First and Burnett streets, owned by the Fort Worth Housing Authority since 1971, closed four years ago after a bedbug infestation. More than 200 elderly and disabled residents were moved and the building was sealed and fumigated.

Faced with the possibility that the structure would become a white elephant if it sat unused, the housing authority sought to figure out how it could help downtown’s growth, Terri Attaway, chairman of the authority’s board of commissioners, told a crowd gathered for a ceremonial “wall-breaking,” which involved officials hammering holes in an interior wall that will later be removed.

“It was a challenge, but we took care of it,” Attaway said. “A major rehab was the most practical and beneficial solution. The next generation of Hunter Plaza means far more than additional housing units and retail space. It really means a strong partnership that will help to spur growth, development and opportunity in the area which will complement and strengthen downtown’s thriving business and residential success.”

Councilwoman Ann Zadeh, whose district includes downtown, called the project amazing.

“Our central business district is home to residents of all walks of life, and it continues to meet the needs of those who want to live here,” she said. “In about a year, I know we will stand here and celebrate and applaud the efforts of our team, who are making this dream a reality.”

Asbestos is now being removed from the building. Over the next year, the tower will be rebuilt from small rooms with kitchenettes into 114 one-bedroom and 50 two-bedroom apartments ranging from 550 to 850 square feet.

Former residents of Hunter Plaza will be given the first option to move back into the building, which will provide affordable as well as market-rate apartments.

Naomi Byrne, the housing authority’s president and CEO, said it took 13 partners from the public and private sectors to make the project work financially through grants and loans and state and federal tax credits. Housing credits are tax incentives used to encourage the use of private equity in affordable-housing development.

The project also includes 10,000 square feet of retail space and a four-story, 182-space parking garage.

“It’s definitely going to be modern, it’s going to be urban and it’s going to be swanky,” said Byrne, who expects the building to lease up in 90 to 120 days after opening.

The project is scheduled to be completed in December 2015.

The building was constructed in 1954 as the Fortune Arms Hotel. The housing authority bought it and converted it into public housing.

The new project will preserve the facade and some interior elements, including the main lobby, corridors and original door frames, considered to have historical significance. The apartment units will feature exposed concrete columns and ceilings.

The building will also have media, community activity and fitness rooms and a business center. A library will be named to honor Barbara Holston, who led the housing authority for 24 years until her retirement this year. Holston championed educational programs for its clients.

Working on the project are the BOKA Powell architecture firm, Carleton Development, Sedalco Construction and Quimby McCoy Preservation Architecture.