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Fort Worth, Texas, located on the North Texas plains, is subject to frequent, and sometimes devastating, floods. The West Fork Trinity River, which winds its way through the city, has long been a conduit for those extreme weather events. Starting in the early 20th century, the river has slowly but surely been corralled with hard infrastructure, like dams and levees, to tame its unpredictable conditions—and yet, the flooding has persisted.

Now, in a change of course, Lake|Flato Architects, the San Antonio– and Austin-based firm led by David Lake and Ted Flato, winners of the 2024 AIA Gold Medal, and HR&A Advisors, a real estate and economic development consultancy based out of New York, have unveiled a new strategic vision for Fort Worth, centered on a 450-acre riverbend site, dubbed Panther Island, that seeks to harness, rather than control, the long errant waterway.

Fort Worth Panther Island.

The scale of the proposed Panther Island redevelopment could fundamentally reshape downtown Fort Worth.
Image courtesy Lake|Flato Architects, click to enlarge

Plans to remake Panther Island date back to 2004, when city and county officials, in collaboration with the Army Corps of Engineers, proposed to excavate a 1.5-mile bypass channel across the district’s northern border to allow for the removal of existing levees, which, in turn, would take hundreds of those acres out of the existing flood plain. That construction project, with over $400 million earmarked by the Federal government as of last year, is expected to continue through 2032.

Over 75 percent of the potentially reclaimed land is publicly owned, offering the Fort Worth community a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape their city center. To that end, over the last two decades, several proposals have come forward as to how the property could be developed to support a new mixed-use district, like the Trinity Uptown Plan (2004); the Panther Island Form Based Zoning District, most recently updated in 2016; and the Panther Island Canal Design Guidelines (2016). Central to those strategies is the introduction of promenaded canals and a 70-odd-acre interior lake to manage stormwater runoff.

Fort Worth Panther Island.

An inland lake and numerous canals would serve to mitigate stormwater run off. Image courtesy Lake|Flato Architects, click to enlarge

The strategic vision laid out by Lake|Flato and HR&A—the firms were hired at the beginning of 2023 by an executive and steering committee consisting of the City of Fort Worth; Tarrant County; Tarrant County Water District; Tarrant County College; the river advocacy organization Streams and Valleys; Downtown Fort Worth, Inc, a public space and planning advocacy group; and the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth—builds upon those precedents. Following dozens of stakeholder meetings and neighborhood-focused workshops, the new plan offers several suggestions to update the Form Based Zoning District. “It’s been eight years since the last vision project, so this most recent review reexamines where and how the masterplan will start,” said Lake|Flato director of urban design and planning Justin Garrison. “What are the mechanisms to do so financially? And what exactly is the surrounding community looking for?”

The proposed updates by the firm largely focus on the expansion of open spaces across the site, from approximately 9 percent to 15 percent of total land area, as well as greater connectivity between them. That objective goes hand-in-hand with the proposal’s speculative treatment of the edge conditions between new development and the surrounding and intersecting bodies of water, that, according to the design team, could serve as soft-edged promenades, linear parks, boardwalks, and green spaces.


Several different edge conditions (1) are recommended for the redevelopment, which would see the introduction of pedestrian pathways and public transit, and abundant open space (2). Images courtesy Lake|Flato Architects, click to enlarge

While a start date for the development of the publicly owned land is yet to be announced, the strategic vision does offer guidelines to ensure that it is, to some degree, equitable. These provisions include a leasing preference for small businesses over large chains or franchises in ground-floor commercial spaces; a partnership with the nearby Tarrant County College to develop training programs to maximize local worker participation in construction efforts; the expansion of city-led home repair programs in surrounding neighborhoods, and preferential housing for residents displaced in nearby gentrifying areas.

There are already private developers eyeing opportunities on Panther Island, but, until the bypass canal finishes construction, and the levees are demolished, the bulk of publicly owned land will remain in the flood plain. Until then, Lake|Flato, HR&A, and a panoply of state and local governments and agencies, will have to marshal their resources to get the job done. “It’s a rare opportunity to be able to develop this much land close to the city center,” says Garrison.