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Developers seek tax help for T&P

FORT WORTH - Four years after the lights went out in the 1930s-era Texas & Pacific Railroad Terminal building, developers are on the verge of breathing new life into the aging structure.

They want to turn the building at the southern edge of downtown into high-rise housing -- with a 4-story apartment complex and parking garage to the east -- to bring the art deco building back to its former glory.

"This is a very exciting project," said Christine Maguire, the city's community development manager. "We're seeing a lot more [redevelopment] interest from property owners along the Lancaster corridor.

"This project is truly acting as a catalyst for redevelopment in the area."

But the T&P building's developers -- Renaissance Development Co. and Wood Partners of Houston - want some help from the city.

They're asking the city to create a tax-increment financing district, also known as a TIF, along the Lancaster Corridor to help raise about $2.8 million for the redevelopment.

That money would be used for environmental remediation, to remove asbestos and lead paint, and for work on the facade of the building, at Lancaster Avenue and Throckmorton Street.

A public hearing on the issue -- and possible City Council vote -- is scheduled during the council's 10 a.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall, 1000 Throckmorton St.

"Those historical structures present real economic challenges for redevelopment," said Councilwoman Wendy Davis, whose district includes downtown. "Since I've been on the council, I've seen probably four or five deals on the T&P building fall apart because developers couldn't make them work financially.

"Unless there's some way to assist in covering the [financial] gap, that building is going to stagnate."

Money matters

The $2.8 million would be part of the $26 million the development team is investing in the project.

TIF districts freeze the taxable value of property within their boundaries and divert taxes from new construction into a special fund.

The goal is to capture some of the increased value in the 225 acres around a stretch of Lancaster Avenue, as the city redevelops and revitalizes the area.

Workers are relocating and reconstructing water and sewer lines along Lancaster Avenue from Henderson Street to Jones Street to prepare for extensive road work expected to begin next summer, said Christa Sharpe, a planner with the city's Transportation and Public Works Department.

The goal, officials say, is to make the area more friendly to pedestrians.

So they'll narrow the street, widen sidewalks, plant trees and add parallel parking along that stretch of Lancaster -- about $14 million worth of work funded by the city, state and federal governments, Sharpe said.

The work is not expected to shut the road to traffic, and will take about a year. It is expected to free up some of the land now covered by pavement, which officials hope will draw businesses to the area, further boosting the tax base.

The proposed TIF -- which would expire in 2024 -- would run downtown from Henderson Street on the west to Calhoun Street on the east and from Seventh Street on the north to Interstate 30 on the south.

Over its 20-year life, the TIF could generate more than $55 million that could be used to help projects other than the T&P building, Maguire said.

"The TIF is one of the strongest arrows in our quiver to really target redevelopment for economically disenfranchised parts of our city," Maguire said. "For a long time, this area has been bisected by the interstate.

"Now that barrier has been moved, and the market can be stimulated."

Four elected bodies -- the City Council, Tarrant County Commissioners Court, the Tarrant County Water District and the Tarrant County Hospital District -- will be asked to participate in the TIF, officials said.

The city is expected to be the first to vote on creating the district.

A slice of history

The T&P building once housed the headquarters of the Texas & Pacific Railroad. The train terminal closed in 1967, with a final run to Fort Worth from El Paso.

After that, the regional offices of the Department of Housing and Urban Development occupied the nine floors above the lobby until 1999. That agency moved to the Burnett Plaza office tower downtown.

The first-floor terminal reopened in 2001, when the Trinity Railway Express was extended to the site, but the rest of the building has remained shuttered.

Ed Casebier, managing partner of Renaissance Development, said he wants to redevelop the building because he believes it is one of the most historic structures in Fort Worth, second only to the Tarrant County Courthouse.

"The T&P terminal building was the Union Station in Fort Worth," he said. "Its history is what really got Fort Worth going."

Casebier's previous plan to turn the building into a railroad-themed hotel was abandoned after financing fell through.

This time, he teamed up with Wood Partners to renovate the building into rental apartments, to be called Alta Renaissance.

Plans include about 230 apartments -- 130 in the existing tower and about 100 in the yet-to-be-built structure east of the current building, Casebier said.

If the TIF moves forward on schedule, Casebier said construction could start in January and be finished in the first quarter of 2005, coinciding with work along Lancaster Avenue.

"This will be great for downtown, especially with the improvements about to begin on Lancaster," Casebier said. "We're looking for a real renaissance along this end of downtown.

"Once Lancaster starts to blossom, and development occurs, you won't recognize this end of downtown in five to 10 years."

ONLINE: www.fortworthgov.org
Anna M. Tinsley, (817) 390-7610 [email protected]

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Anna M. Tinsley