A $40 million dollar plan is being eyed by city leaders in an effort to give new life to a downtown park.
Heritage Plaza hasn’t had visitors in more than a decade after it was closed in 2007 due to safety concerns. Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth, Inc., said the city began reviewing public paces in the early 2000’s after four people drowned in Fort Worth Water Gardens.
“Heritage Plaza had some fundamental life safety issues that needed to be addressed – so they put a chain-linked fence around it and unfortunately, that chain-linked fence has been up every since,” Taft said. "There were some Americans with Disabilities Act issues. There were engineering issues."
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Heritage Plaza sits on the natural bluff to the Trinity River, located northwest to the Tarrant County Courthouse. It serves as a connection between the downtown and the river.
Heritage Park, which includes the plaza, is considered downtown’s largest open space at 112 acres. Taft said the roughly $40 million plan to reopen the park is not only bring it back to its “glory days” but to also improve it.
“Improved landscaping, a couple of wall edits that will make people feel safer when they’re going in and out of it and a whole new lighting package with LED, waterproof LED’s. There’s a lot of fun we can have with lighting at night,” he explained. “The bigger question is ‘why didn’t the plaza work long term?’ The answers to that question are kind of a bigger scope. It’s isolated. There are some barriers to get into the Plaza. Once you get into the Plaza, it’s the only thing to do right there and it’s somewhat disconnected from downtown, both downtown and the river – which are two things we want to connect.”
City council members are expected to vote March 17 on a design agreement with Downtown Fort Worth Initiatives, Inc. and to appropriate $1 million from the 2014 bond program to match the organization’s funds for designing park improvements.
According to city officials, the rest of the funding would be through a proposed public-private partnership. The city would pay $19 million of the costs with $12.5 million coming from a planned 2022 bond program. The remaining would come partners such as the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and other donors.
About $30 million of the projected cost would cover construction costs, according to Taft. Though, he told NBC 5 the numbers were not finalized as of Friday and they could be "overshooting" the estimated cost.
“That includes significant road and sidewalk repairs on both sides of the courthouse, an easing of the curve around Paddock Park where we see a lot of traffic accidents,” Taft said. “It will be the place that people go to stand and enjoy the courthouse and get a picture of themselves in front of the spectacular Tarrant County courthouse. The water features will be working again, the landscaping will be upgraded and cleared out. That will be this beautiful garden downtown on the bluff.”
Nora Campos lives in Fort Worth and said she would welcome reopening of the plaza.
“It would be nice to just go and see the people kayaking and now they have that riverboat, so that’s actually pretty nice. There’s a lot of fishermen and stuff,” Campos said.
If all is approved, restoration for the plaza could begin within the next two years with the park reopening in June 2024, coinciding with the city’s 175th anniversary.
“I think it’s a very happy coincidence. I’m not going to lose a minute sleep if we don’t hit deadline, but it would be great if we did. This city will do something to celebrate the 175th anniversary, and it would be great if this could be part of that package,” Taft told NBC 5.