A review of Panther Island, the $1.16 billion flood control and economic development project in downtown Fort Worth, will be done some time in the coming year, but the scope of the investigation remains unclear.
J.D. Granger, the project’s executive director, said he welcomed an independent analysis, which would likely look at progress, management and finances.
The Trinity River Vision Authority’s board of directors, a group comprised of government officials, agreed Wednesday to move forward with the review. G.K. Maenius, the Tarrant County administrator, urged board members to submit suggestions for the scope of the review as soon as possible so they could be vetted in an opening meeting likely in December.
“We’ve got to do this in the open,” he said.
The project fell under renewed scrutiny earlier this year after The Star-Telegram reported the White House had left it out of the federal budget for this year. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and city council members called for a review of the project and suggested scaling back to focus on flood control.
On Wednesday J.D. Granger voiced support for the review. Independent reviews have been done in the past for cost estimates, the Trinity River bypass channels and bridges, he said.
“I’m optimistic it could help save money and help out with communication,” he said. “Let’s do it. Just open the books and let them come in.”
David Cooke, board member and Fort Worth city manager, said the review should look at all aspects of the project, including management and finances. Cooke emphasized the goal should be to get the project back on track to receive federal funding.
Congress approved nearly $530 million for the project in 2016. About $60 million has been contributed.
“The purpose of the review is to see if that’s really going to come true,” Cooke said. “We’re relying on that.”
The Trinity River Vision project, now known as Panther Island, will attempt to reduce flooding through central Fort Worth by cutting a bypass channel for the river north of downtown, creating Panther Island and an urban lake. Bridges that will lead to the island are being built over dry land, and federal dollars through the Army Corps of Engineers is needed to cut the bypass channel.
The Corps has said the project remains eligible for funding.
James Hill, TRVA and Tarrant Regional Water District board member, suggested some Panther Island work not immediately related to flood control be put on hold until after the review is complete. The recreation and entertainment events the authority organizes would continue.
Though the Trinity River Vision Authority exists as a part of the Tarrant Regional Water District to coordinate the Panther Island project, the authority also holds events at Panther Island Pavilion to promote the project’s tax district.
Those events are designed to be self-funded through ticket sales and partnerships, but according to a report last updated in September, they have a net loss of about $5,000 this year.
To make the distinction between flood control and entertainment more clear, J.D. Granger said the authority is exploring creating a separate nonprofit, similar to Near Southside Inc., to manage and promote Panther Island events, like Oktoberfest Fort Worth.
A decision on that move will likely be made after the programmatic review, he said.
The Trinity River Vision Authority board has not scheduled a meeting to discuss suggestions for the scope of the review, but Maenius said he’d like to put a request out to an independent, nationally recognized firm with experience reviewing projects like Panther Island by end of the year or in early 2019.