$29 million public/private Hunter Plaza venture begins

For years, local officials have been trying to change the face of public housing, getting away from the stereotypical cookie-cutter drab dwellings that once defined homes occupied by low-income people receiving public assistance for their residences.

The announced face-lift of an aging downtown property — a makeover that has been four years in development — is welcome news for potential housing residents and city leaders concerned that the vacant Hunter Plaza building at 605 West First Street would become a lasting blight on an otherwise aesthetically pleasing and booming central business district.

Hunter Plaza, a 60-year-old, 11-story former hotel converted into public housing in 1971, was shuttered in 2010 after a bed bug infestation forced the removal and relocation of its mostly elderly and disabled residents.

A $29 million reconstruction project, created by the Fort Worth Housing Authority with the help of a dozen private- and public-sector partners, will transform the building a into mixed-use, mixed-income property that will provide market rate and affordable (subsidized) residential units as well as about 10,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.

City officials and local dignitaries formally kicked off the demolition and reconstruction project Wednesday with a ceremonial “wall-breaking” event in which they knocked holes in an existing wall that would be torn down.

Rather than being an eyesore, the renovated building with its 164 quality 1- and 2-bedroom units is being hailed by leaders as a desirable property that will further the residential and commercial development of Fort Worth’s much praised downtown.

There has long been talk about the need for more affordable workforce housing in the central business district, and the refurbished Hunter Plaza will help serve that need.

In addition to the modernized residential units, community activity and fitness rooms and a 182-space parking garage, the building also will house a library that will be named for the housing authority’s long-serving former director, Barbara Holston, who retired last year.

This public/private venture appears to be a model for future public housing projects.