Fort Worth

Butler Place redevelopment gets boost with hiring of a master developer

Butler Place housing project on the near east side of downtown Fort Worth.
Butler Place housing project on the near east side of downtown Fort Worth.

Planning for a 42-acre tract on the eastern edge of downtown Fort Worth that for nearly eight decades has served as the Butler Place housing projects is moving forward .

After several months in the works, Atlanta-based Columbia Residential was chosen by the Fort Worth Housing Solutions board on Monday to serve as the master developer in the redevelopment of Butler Place, one of 52 public housing complexes built as part of the Works Progress Administration work-relief program.

Butler Place is bounded by Interstates 30 and 35W and U.S. 287. While the property has been renovated over the years, the complex needs a major overhaul. Fort Worth Housing Solutions sent out a request for proposals for a master developer in August 2016.

“Now we can begin exploring in earnest the real and tangible possibilities that the future holds for the people and property of Butler,” Naomi Byrne, Fort Worth Housing Solutions president, said in a statement. “We are dedicated to rehabilitating the face of public housing and this project will only elevate Fort Worth’s reputation as a national leader in the care for its citizenry as well continued economic opportunity.”

Columbia Residential is working with local commercial real estate developer Happy Baggett, principal of HB Properties. Columbia is also working on housing at Renaissance Square in the southeast Fort Worth Stop Six neighborhood, developed by Baggett. Called Columbia Renaissance Square, the first phase of 140 units of mixed-income housing is slated to be completed later this year. A second phase of 120 units for senior living is expected to begin this year.

Fort Worth Housing Solutions is also redeveloping Cavile Place, on the city’s east side, the city’s other housing project dedicated to low income people.

Noel Khalil, Columbia’s chief executive and founder, said, “Our goal is to provide sustainable high-quality housing for current and future residents within a revitalized, connected neighborhood that is an essential part of the Fort Worth fabric.”

Part of the redevelopment will involve improving resident access to nearby commercial centers, the housing agency said.

Columbia Residential has assembled a design team, including Dallas-based JHP Architecture & Urban Design and Fort Worth-based MultaTech Engineering.

Displacing residents

As a redevelopment begins — and that could be as early as 2018 — Butler Place residents will move to other Fort Worth Housing Solutions properties and back to Butler when new units are available. Butler currently has about 900 residents.

In December 2015, a panel of urban planners and real estate experts selected by the Washington-based nonprofit Urban Land Institute was asked by the Fort Worth Housing Solutions to help determine what should be done with Butler Place in the changing face of public housing in the U.S. The experts called for demolishing all but a couple of the buildings that could be turned into museum space.

Those experts suggested a pie-in-the-sky, 70-acre deck over the rail yards that bisect the housing development from downtown as a way to open more developable land, as well as end the isolation of Butler Place and its residents from access to goods and services within a walking distance.

They also suggested rebranding a redeveloped site as Terrell Hill. Butler Place is near the historic I.M. Terrell High School, the city’s first high school for black students. It’s being redeveloped to host the school district’s magnet programs.

Columbia Residential, founded in 1991, said it develops and manages multifamily affordable housing communities for moderate- to low-income families. It’s developments are in Texas, Louisiana and Georgia.