Enewsletter: Seeing a Renewed Trinity

Feb 20, 2004
Seeing a Renewed Trinity

SEEING A RENEWED TRINITY Special to the Star-Telegram, 2/15/04 Almost 155 years ago, Major Ripley Arnold ensconced his troops on the beautiful Trinity River bluffs what now is Downtown Fort Worth. Major Arnold and his company of Dragoon soldiers went on to establish “Fort Worth” on the bluffs at the confluence of the Clear and West Forks of the Trinity River, about where the Tarrant County Courthouse stands today. Like the Native American Indians before him who roamed the river bottoms searching for food and shelter and from his earlier scouting trips, Arnold recognized the beauty and strategic importance of the river. Unfortunately, in the ensuing years, we have not made good use of the Trinity River. For about 100 years, the river remained in much the same state as when Major Arnold arrived, primarily supporting agricultural operations that did well between floods. What is now Central Fort Worth developed around the river but the river never became the center of Fort Worth or any community. The raging Flood of 1949, which sent water up to second floor of the old Montgomery Ward Building, launched us on a 20-year, multi-million dollar levying project that tamed the raging flood waters, but which resulted in a river that more resembled a man-made channel surrounded by levees. Thanks to folks who saw something more than a channeled river, we have seen a wonderful collection of parks and trails grow up around the Trinity. Over the last 30 or so years, the river has become a fabulous center for recreation that families and individuals have enjoyed. We must continue this. During my tenure as mayor, I participated in a work session with mayors from around the country on how communities could take advantage of rivers or other water bodies. I walked away from that session convinced that our river had tremendous potential. However, with an economy that was shell-shocked by the sudden downturn of our defense industry sector, thanks to the end of the Cold War, the redevelopment of the Trinity River idea needed to wait. We first had to diversify our economy and create new jobs. I left the city government for Congress in 1996. The Trinity redevelopment continued to interest me, but such a project did not seem possible. But that changed when the Tarrant Regional Water District, Streams and Valleys, and the City of Fort Worth launched what we now know as the “Trinity River Vision Master Plan” process. To my surprise, residents and businesses throughout Tarrant County said in meeting after meeting that a bold, comprehensive redevelopment of all 88 miles of the Trinity in Tarrant County is important. Any thought that the thousands of people who participated in the Trinity River Vision master planning process are fanatics is wrong. Fort Worth’s 2003 annual citizen survey shows 68 percent of residents said they want the Trinity River to become a focal point for every quadrant of the city and county. They ranked Trinity River redevelopment as one of Fort Worth’s top three projects. The citizens are right. It is time to take the Trinity River out of the community attic and make every mile of the river an asset to the neighborhoods that surround it, an asset for the cities through which it runs, and an asset for the county. By employing a variety of techniques, we will, at once, maintain our river flood management capacity, while also restoring much of the river back to a natural look. Here is what is planned:
• Building 60 new miles of trails to compliment the 40 or so miles in place or under construction
• 32 trail heads give resident easy access to the river
• 40 neighborhood links
• Five canoe landings
• An urban lake
• 1,400 acres of nature interpretive areas
• And 4,800 acres of naturalized areas. As I look back over Fort Worth’s and Tarrant County’s history, I am struck that we have been down this road before. In the last half of the 1800s, citizens rallied to build the last miles of railroad into Fort Worth while certain government officials tried to stall the work. Over the last 20 years, the City of Fort Worth and the downtown community, and particularly the Bass family, have transformed a dying downtown into a vibrant, bustling center of commerce and entertainment. Using federal economic development money, the city leveraged many millions of dollars in private investment throughout downtown. Just think about it. In 1980, who would have predicted that Downtown Fort Worth would be home to two hugely successful movie theaters, a world class performance hall, and two major corporate campuses or that it would be a major destination for nighttime events, such as dining and entertainment? The Trinity River Vision Master Plan maps a similar course of action for the river. For an estimated $230 million to $360 million in public investment, depending on the final design—about half coming from the federal, state and other sources and half from local sources such as a taxing financing district—billions of dollars in private investment will be made along the river. It has happened in San Antonio, Vancouver and Seattle, to mention a few places. San Antonio, starting in 1926, built a by-pass river channel to control flooding and the old river channel has grown into the famed River Walk. Now San Antonio is trying to restore and enhance 13 miles of the river on either side of downtown. Vancouver has transformed its city by the design of its waterfront and made it one of the world’s most livable cities. Seattle is successfully reviving its rundown Lake Union area by replacing 80-year-old rusty factories with new office and residential buildings as well as restaurants and parks, and it is working. Both RadioShack and Pier 1 officials tell me the possibility of a downtown urban waterfront was one of the key reasons for staying downtown. Both companies want to be part of some special place. In 20 years, I expect the unsightly, mostly vacant land between Downtown and North Side Drive to be replaced by high rise residential buildings with shopping, restaurants and entertainment venues at ground level. The downtown that we know and love today will double in size and it will be a great place, positively influencing every part of Central Fort Worth. We have incredibly fortunate circumstances which allow us to move quickly.
• The cities along the Trinity and Tarrant Regional Water District own most of land needed to naturalize the river to more like its original state. In other words, we can control the river’s destiny because it is in public ownership already. Only a by-pass channel route that will enable the urban lake to be formed in whatever configuration evolves must be acquired.
• Most properties surrounding the river are ready for revitalization. The new LaGrave Field is an excellent example of what we can do through redevelopment.
• With construction on the new RadioShack and Pier 1 headquarters winding down, a revenue stream from the tax increment financing district that has been established and, when combined with funds from U.S. Corp of Engineering, Tarrant Regional Water District and Fort Worth bonds, work can now begin. We can transform the river as the heart of our community, something Major Arnold envisioned 155 years ago. Citizens see the vision. The business community sees the vision. And now is the time for those of us in positions of responsibility to see the vision. I commit to do everything I can to see that the Trinity River Vision Plan becomes reality, just as the railroads of the 1800s and the revitalization of downtown in the ‘80s and ‘90s became reality.

  By Congresswoman Kay Granger