Fort Worth

Final Panther Island Review Recommends Management Changes

Report suggests forming nonprofit to handle economic development

Managers of the Fort Worth's troubled Panther Island project received a final consultant's report on Monday that found no malfeasance, but recommended streamlining management to focus on flood control.

The plan is to one day build a one-and-a-half mile bypass channel along the Trinity River north of downtown, creating a new riverfront and millions of dollars in economic development.

"This isn't an indictment or a 'gotcha' exercise," said Kevin Ruiz, an executive with Riveron, the company hired to do the review. "It's merely looking at opportunities for improvement."

Ruiz appeared before a joint meeting of the Tarrant Regional Water District and its Panther Island offshoot known as the Trinity River Vision Authority.

"There was no indication of malfeasance, no indication of fraud, no indication of anything other than people trying to do their job," he said.

But the report does recommend management changes, creating a risk management office and a nonprofit group to handle economic development.

A draft of the report last month suggested the nonprofit also manage recreation facilities at Panther Island. But after feedback from TRVA, Ruiz agreed the agency is best suited to handle recreation instead of passing it off to a separate group.

Ruiz suggested managers focus its messaging on Panther Island's flood control and public safety aspects -- and not economic development.

The consultant also agreed the one question looming over all this is federal funding.

The federal government committed years ago to spending $500 million on the project but have only spent about $65 million -- and none of it in the last few years, leaving the future of the entire project in doubt.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price attended the meeting as a spectator and was there just to listen, she said.

Price met with the White House budget director recently to try to get the federal money flowing again.

"We're still working on it," Price said. "There's a long road to hoe. But I'm confident we'll get to the $250 million."

That's still short of what managers said they need.

Board members said they would discuss specific recommendation in the consultant's report – like spinning off some responsibilities to a nonprofit – at its meeting next month.

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