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Zoning Commission Takes Up Stockyards Historic District

dydavis via flickr
Fort Worth Stockyards

Fort Worth’s Zoning Commission will weigh in on how much of the iconic Fort Worth Stockyards should be included in a historic overlay district on Wednesday. At the crux of the debate is which and how many of the buildings should have added protections because they’re important to the city’s history. 

The Stockyards are on the verge of a massive redevelopment project. California developer Majestic Realty and the Fort Worth real estate empire built by Holt Hickman launched a partnership with plans to spend $175 million developing the area. They’ll fix up some old buildings, build a new hotel, shops, office spaces and parking garages -- a million square feet in total -- and that’s got Libby Willis worried.

“It’s nothing less than preservation of the heart and soul of the city of Fort Worth,” says Willis, who has worked for years to save historic buildings in Fort Worth.

Willis wants the city’s zoning commission to opt for a more expansive historic district – one approved by the city’s Historic and Cultural Landmarks Commission. It’s much larger than the boundary initially proposed by city council, and includes not just the core Stockyards area around Exchange Street but also the ruins of the Swift company’s meatpacking operations, which today sits fenced off and dilapidated.

“The whole story is about the livestock industry and those structures represent that,” Willis says, “so to tell the totality of the story you’ve got to have all the structures.”

“Today, the stockyards are more protected than they ever have been in their history,” says Kerby Smith, who is heading up the project for Majestic Realty.

Smith says there’s no need for any historic overlay district because many of the buildings already have individual historic designations, as well as plus zoning and other codes that protect them. And Smith points $40 million his group is already spending to restore century-old run-down mule barns. The project is proof, he says, that they’re interested in preservation, too.

“We’re committed to doing that every step along the way and we don’t believe that a boundary ensures that,” Smith says. “It’s just another layer on top of many, many layers that are already on the stockyards.”

Regardless of what the zoning commission decides today, the final decision rests with the City Council, which will take up the discussion next month.

Councilman Jungus Jordan says now they’re considering whether more of the stockyards should included

“I don’t have a crystal ball to look at what the council will say but I think we all know the importance and the fact that we only get one shot at this,” Jordan says.

Jordan says he expects some pretty passionate debate about how, exactly, to get it right.

Christopher Connelly is a reporter covering issues related to financial instability and poverty for KERA’s One Crisis Away series. In 2015, he joined KERA to report on Fort Worth and Tarrant County. From Fort Worth, he also focused on politics and criminal justice stories.