Fort Worth

NBC 5 Investigates Obtains Report Panther Island Bosses Didn't Want You to See, It Recommends Big Changes

Report recommends real estate development be given to a nonprofit created by the city

Despite efforts to delay its release, NBC 5 Investigates has obtained the full 90-page report that is critical of how the billion-dollar "Panther Island" project is being managed in Fort Worth.

The report, obtained from a government source and marked "draft," recommended significant changes in how to manage the ongoing work to enhance flood control, while at the same time create a state-of-the-art entertainment district, by re-routing the Trinity River.

It said the Trinity River Vision Authority headed by J.D. Granger should continue to manage flood control improvements, but that an equally big part of the project — real estate development — should be taken over by the city of Fort Worth by creating a nonprofit.

The Tarrant Regional Water District ordered the review, at the behest of the city of Fort Worth, following rising construction costs, multiple delays and mounting frustrations over when will it be complete.

The review said the publicly funded Panther Island project suffered from "insufficient oversight and transparency," "unclear financial and management reporting," and confusion over the development's direction and priorities.

Since its inception more than a dozen years ago, the project has been managed by Granger, executive director of the TRVA and the son of U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, a former mayor of Fort Worth.

The report, and its findings, were scheduled to be released Wednesday in a public presentation to the TRVA board.

But board president G.K. Maenius said more time was needed for Panther Island's staff to ensure that the "data" in the report was accurate, and to "develop a management response to the findings."

"I know some of you may be upset for me doing that," Maenius told board members.

He was correct.

"I was expecting to get the presentation… today, on the final findings and recommendations," said board member David Cooke, who is also the city manager of Fort Worth.

Cooke was joined by board members Carlos Flores, a Fort Worth councilman, and banker James Hill in expressing their frustration that the report's public release was being delayed. Maenius initially said that could take a month.

Cooke was skeptical, saying, "If all we're doing is checking data, that should not take 30 days."

But J.D. Granger and his boss, Jim Oliver, the general manager of TRWD, argued that time was needed to closely review the report, which was put together by an outside consulting firm, Riveron.

"It needs to be looked at, cleaned up," said Oliver, adding, "There may be some things that are dead wrong. If they get out to the press, we got to take them back."

With NBC 5 Investigates and a reporter from the Star-Telegram just a few feet away, Granger added: "There may be some recommendations inside here that, you know, Channel 5 and the Star-Telegram will go ahead and hit you over the head with."

The report suggests that Oliver and Granger should remain in charge of the flood-control portion of the project but should no longer determine how real estate on Panther Island is developed.

That, Riveron said, would be shifted to a non-profit community development corporation, which would be created by the city of Fort Worth.

Rep. Granger, a veteran in Congress, is largely credited with starting the project, dating back to 2006, and is currently trying to obtain more than $400 million in federal funds to finish Panther Island.

But in Washington, the mother-son relationship has raised eyebrows, with some in Congress questioning whether a fancy development managed by a congresswoman's son should continue to receive federal funds.

J.D. Granger could not immediately be reached for comment for this story.

He has in the past told NBC 5 Investigates he does not feel his role in the project is jeopardizing funding to complete it.

"We have managed this project well over the last 12 years and actually received funds in that time period. So I think we are doing well," Granger said in November.

Oliver also declined to be interviewed for this report but sent a text criticizing NBC 5 Investigates for reporting on the review.

"Very ethical of you to release a confidential report," the text said sarcastically, adding: "Also speaks to the lack of ethics of the person that gave it to you. Then you cherry pick negative items that have not been vetted and I guarantee are totally unsubstantiated."

Oliver's text ended with, "And then you wonder why people won't talk to you."

However, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price did talk to NBC 5 Investigates, saying, "I was not happy, needless to say… and I was as shocked as anyone else that it wasn't going to be released."

"The understanding," she said, "was that good, bad or ugly, the report was going to be reviewed at the board meeting and made public."

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