Fort Worth

Will an urban village plan revitalize this historic black neighborhood in Fort Worth?

Urban village plans in the works to revitalize Fort Worth neighborhood

Terrell Heights residents remember the heyday of the area before the I-35W was put in. Now, the City of Fort Worth is proposing plans to revitalize the neighborhood as an urban village - a multiple-use, pedestrian friendly development.
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Terrell Heights residents remember the heyday of the area before the I-35W was put in. Now, the City of Fort Worth is proposing plans to revitalize the neighborhood as an urban village - a multiple-use, pedestrian friendly development.

The street is alive with music. Swinging tunes from the latest jazz act or big band talent flow from the Zanzibar nightclub. Legendary blues guitarist T-Bone Walker picks at his guitar in a hotel. Diners chat at the Red and White Cafe.

It’s Evans and Rosedale in the 1930s and ‘40s — Fort Worth’s entertainment capital.

“Everything you could want was right here,” Sarah Walker said as she walked along the now quiet Evans Avenue on a recent morning. “This was the place to be.”

Walker and Bennie Ruth Dickens, who grew up in Fort Worth, rattled off a list of prominent black doctors, educators and business owners who lived in the Terrell Heights area, now part of the Historic Southside. They often interrupted each other, suddenly remembering the name of a restaurant on Evans or a person who lived nearby on Missouri, as they reminisced about life in one of Fort Worth’s original black communities.

Then the Interstates came, 35 and 30, slicing through black neighborhoods.

Walker said Evans Avenue and Rosedale Street remained an active community even after the freeway, but eventually businesses boarded up. Many middle income black families left, some pushed out by the highway or simply moved, Walker said.

The streets now are much different.

There’s a library branch, community center and a remodeled Van Zandt-Guinn Elementary School in the Evans-Rosedale area, but private businesses are few and include a fast food restaurant and a gas station. Much of the land is vacant, though some homes have recently been renovated.

A now decades-old effort to bring a renaissance to Evans and Rosedale is getting closer to reality. The city and developer Hoque Global will give an update on the Evans and Rosedale urban village plan at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Tarrant County Public Health Facility. It’s one of the last community meetings in a process to reshape a roughly five-block area.

Evans and Rosedale

For years the city has owned a piece of property north of the Evans Avenue Plaza and south of East Terrell Avenue, as well as two strips of land on the east side of Evans. It’s been designated the Evans and Rosedale Urban Village, one of 16 urban villages in the city. These small, densely-populated areas, like Magnolia or the West Seventh district, are designed for foot traffic.

Hoque Global, a Dallas firm responsible for several projects on the east side of the Metroplex, was selected in April to develop a master plan for the area. Through a series of public meetings, the concept has been fine tuned and now includes about seven buildings in the five-block area, though the concept may change.

In the latest renderings, the largest building is a hotel and apartment complex between South Freeway and Missouri Avenue. The hotel portion faces East Terrell Avenue with apartments facing East Dashwood Street. There are two sets of townhomes along Evans, with more apartments on Missouri.

Other buildings include an incubator for small businesses, a maker space and several commercial spaces along Evans Avenue.

The urban village includes many things the neighborhood has been intent on, said Brian Dixon, president of Historic Southside. Particularly important are the grocery store and business incubator, he said.

The neighborhood lacks access to fresh produce and has considered a farmers market, he said. It’s part of the 76104 ZIP code — labeled as the Texas ZIP code with the lowest life expectancy by UT Southwestern. Dixon said fresh food will go a long way toward boosting health in the area.

He’s also encouraged by the emphasis on small businesses.

Dixon said he sees the urban village as a gateway from the freeway into one of Fort Worth’s most historic African-American neighborhood.

“We want this area to be very different from other areas in Fort Worth,” Dixon said. “Clearfork is Clearfork. Alliance is Alliance. This is not.”

Walker said she’s happy to see the interest, but turned repeatedly to the same request: Whatever comes to Evans and Rosedale must be for those already living there and keep intact the area’s heritage. She’s concerned about apartments and townhomes, which she said don’t fit with the single-family homes nearby.

“You drive into your parking lot or your garage, behind the fence, behind the gate,” she said of apartment complexes. “You do not take the opportunity to sit on the porch and interact with the neighborhood around you.”

The effort at Evans and Rosedale has been a long time coming.

Star-Telegram archives from the mid-1990s and early-2000s feature stories about residents eager for change or skeptical city investment will matter. Since at least 2003, the city has invested about $25 million into single-family redevelopment in the surrounding Terrell Heights, according to city documents. Both the major streets saw significant landscaping in 2004, when the Evans Avenue Plaza, commemorating the city’s black history, was also built.

After the 2008 recession, investment in the area slowed, though the Shamblee Library was built in 2008 and the Hazel Harvey Peace Center, an annex for code compliance and police, among other city services, opened in 2009, said Brenda Hicks-Sorensen, assistant director of the city’s economic development department.

The city and Hoque Global don’t have a firm timeline for when groundbreaking will occur, but, she said, both hope to have designs done by the end of the year.

“Everyone is anxious to keep moving forward and get this done,” she said.

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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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