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Panther Island is a cool project, but will Fort Worth voters pay $250 million for it?

Panther Island project rendering.
Panther Island project rendering. Trinity River Vision Authority

Voters in May could be asked to approve nearly $250 million in bonds to help build Panther Island, the ambitious river walk project planned north of downtown.

The Tarrant Regional Water District board of directors will decide next week whether to call the bond election in May.

The project, which is now expected to cost $1.16 billion, includes rechanneling the Trinity River north of downtown to create an 800-acre island. Homes for several thousand residents would be built, and area businesses would be within walking distance — all positioned so they can be accessed by strolling along the river.

The bond money is needed for several reasons, officials said. For one, the water district years ago thought it would receive all the money it needed for the project from natural gas exploration and drilling proceeds, but that resource has mostly dried up.

Also, parts of the project that were originally penciled in as obligations of the federal government, which oversees the nation’s waterways and must approve any flood-prevention measures, are no longer going to be covered by Uncle Sam.

And finally, new standards have been created to prevent levee failures — as happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina — and those come at a significant additional cost.

“Some of the regulations changed, and the federal government wouldn’t pay for some of the things they thought they could pay for,” said Jim Oliver, general manager of the water district.

But if voters can be persuaded to go along with the bond election, the infusion of additional revenue will help ensure the project is completed by 2028, said Jim Lane, water district board member.

Raising $250 million through the sale of bonds makes it possible to pay for Panther Island without using tax dollars today. Instead, the bond money would be repaid over many years by property owners on the island, as property values increased in the area, year after year. The city created a tax-increment financing district — or TIF — years ago so that property taxes collected on the island would also be spent there.

“A lot of people have asked me if we can get this done,” Lane said. “I think if this passes it guarantees we can get this done in 10 years.”

The water district has published frequently-asked questions about the possible bond election on its website.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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