Fort Worth

Panther Island hiccups: Only one firm interested in review of $1.16B Fort Worth project

What is Panther Island?

Panther Island is a $1.16 billion plan to re-route the Trinity River and redirect flood waters around the low-lying areas north of downtown. Here's what you should know.
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Panther Island is a $1.16 billion plan to re-route the Trinity River and redirect flood waters around the low-lying areas north of downtown. Here's what you should know.

The independent review of Fort Worth’s $1.16 billion Panther Island project that city leaders say is necessary to restore confidence in the flood control and economic development effort hit a snag.

Only one firm responded to a request for bids to conduct the review.

Request for bids to conduct the review, which would analyze the Panther Island feasibility, were put out in December with the idea that several national or local firms would submit bids. In January the Trinity River Vision board, comprised of Fort Worth and Tarrant County officials, briefed six consulting firms about the scope of the review.

Virtually nothing is known about the firm’s proposal, because every page of it was marked proprietary and was not made public.

“We’re surprised as anyone,” G.K. Maenius, Tarrant County administrator and Trinity River Vision Authority board president, said of only receiving one bid.

The firm is nationally recognized and has an office in Dallas-Fort Worth, but Maenius said he couldn’t make the firm’s name or its estimated cost public.

At least four national consulting firms with offices in Dallas-Fort Worth showed interest in reviewing Panther Island in January:

AlixPartners, a corporate renewal firm.

BDO, accounting consultants.

Mercer, specializing in human resources.

Riveron, a business consulting firm.

Originally, a firm was expected to be selected by March 7 with the review done by June 19. That time line will have to adjusted, Maenius said.

The board must review the firm’s proposal, which he described as “detailed and extensive,” but also the board’s original request.

It’s possible the request wasn’t clear enough, he said.

Rather than focus on one aspect, like finances or management, the review called for by locals cast a broad net. It included “management structure, including accountability structure and staff composition and roles.”

Calls for an independent review came last fall after the federal government skipped funding the Congress-approved project, also known as the Trinity River Vision Central City project.

To mitigate flooding, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will cut a bypass channel, creating Panther Island in the Trinity River.

Though the project has missed out on 2019 funding, the project has about $9 million held over from past years. Most of that work will be done away from the downtown bypass channel in Gateway Park. To stay on the “critical path,” the minimum work to keep the project on schedule, Washington will have to kick in at least $26 million in 2020, water district officials have said. About $322 million in local money has been spent since the project’s inception more than 10 years ago. Purchasing the land needed for the channel and relocation of displaced businesses has cost about $140 million.

Meanwhile, the schedule is unclear for three bridges being built over dry land to what would be Panther Island.

Originally slated to open this year, an update last month showed the completion had been delayed again.

According to that update, the White Settlement Road bridge, furthest along in construction, should be ready for traffic by late summer 2020, North Main Street by February 2021 and Henderson Road will follow in the spring of 2021.

But on Wednesday, project managers said the time line may be adjusted again following a “deep dive” into the contractor’s progress.

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Luke Ranker covers the intersection of people and government focused on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. He came to Texas from the plains of Kansas, where he wrote about a lot, including government, crime and courts in Topeka. He survived a single winter in Pennsylvania as a breaking news reporter. He can be reached at 817-390-7747 or lranker@star-telegram.com.


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