UPDATE: This is a longer version of the story that appeared in today's Star-Telegram print edition.
The YMCA is looking for another route into the site it wants in Southeast Fort Worth’s Renaissance Square development, after the City Council’s denial of a rezoning on its East Berry Street site at least temporarily blocked the Y’s plans to consolidate two aging branches into a flashy new one.
The council late Tuesday voted down the Y’s petition to rezone its McDonald branch to allow apartments. The Y, with the rezoning, would have swapped the site for one in Renaissance and set out on a $7 million fundraising campaign for a new branch.
“We have got to take a step back and explore (with Renaissance) other options to try and acquire that land,” Tony Shuman, the YMCA of Metropolitan Fort Worth CEO, said Wednesday. “In my heart of hearts, I don’t feel investing in our current site is a good use of resources.”
The Y estimates consolidating the McDonald branch and the Southeast Y at 2801 Miller Ave. into one new branch would generate the sale of 3,500 memberships, compared to 200 at McDonald now, and 2,500 it could generate by renovating McDonald, Shuman said. The Miller site has a preschool and youth programs, but no fitness members.
The council vote could carry other opportunity costs for the district, which has long been starved for development and only recently seen encouraging signs in the Walmart-anchored Renaissance Square and other new projects.
Hap Baggett, who led Renaissance Square’s launch and represents a group that wants to redevelop the McDonald site into as many as 200 apartments that would be targeted at young professionals, left Tuesday’s council meeting irate over losing the zoning case and being denied the opportunity to speak in a snafu over the signup procedures.
“My track record is two blocks down the street,” he said, referring to the distance between Renaissance Square and the McDonald Y. “And I don’t get the opportunity to speak.”
Baggett, who said he signed up to speak online Monday but learned after Tuesday’s deadline that the city didn’t have his information, said he’s pulling back the $40 million in development projects he was planning for the district beyond Renaissance Square.
“As of tomorrow, they’re dead, they are gone,” he said Tuesday night. “I’ve been in this business 40 years, and that’s the most insulted I have ever been. And these people know me. If they’re going to treat me like that, they can kiss my ass goodbye.”
He said his group will finish Renaissance Square, and then “Hap Baggett is gone.”
Remaining to be done in Renaissance Square, he said: 13 acres of townhome, 20 acres of single family, the Y site, and medical and office.
“I’m gonna get the Y done, come hell or high water,” he said.
The council, on a motion by Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, who represents the district, denied the rezoning on a 7-1-1 vote, with Councilman Sal Espino voting against denial and Mayor Betsy Price travelling and absent.
Gray and opponents, led by Kenneth Spears, pastor of the First St. John Cathedral church across from the McDonald Y, said they feared more apartments in the district after other apartment developments had gone bad.
Gray and Councilman Frank Moss, who represents the Southeast district that’s home to the Southeast Y, also raised concerns about the planned closure of that branch. Moss said the Y had led him to believe the branch might remain open.
“That caught me off guard,” Shuman said. “I’ve had that conversation with him.”
The council meeting was charged. Spears packed the chambers with protesting residents to overwhelm leaders of several neighborhood associations who lined up behind the rezoning.
After the vote, one neighborhood opponent confronted Baggett in the corridor outside council members and contended neigihborhood leaders didn’t speak for the residents. “Money talks, BS walks,” the man told Baggett after a brief verbal altercation broken up by a city marshal and a Baggett colleague. “See ya.”
Spears said apartments have never done well in southeast Fort Worth, no matter how promising the initiial plan.
“They dress them up real well,” he said in an interview after the vote. And then after a certain period, quality and occupancy declines, and “they’ve had to revert to Section 8 and whatever they can do to get people in there.”
Spears said he doesn’t believe the district will lose the new Y as a result of voting down the rezoning.
“They can still work the plan,” he said. “Our prayer is something better than apartments.”
Spears denied his critics’ contention that he opposed the rezoning because he wants the scenic hilltop site for his church.
“I don’t want the property,” he said. “I would like to see the property occupied so it adds value to the community.”
Gray, whose mediation of the dispute became a flashpoint during her recent successful re-election campaign, asked the council to deny the rezoning without predjudice, meaning the same case in theory could be immediately filed again. Gray said she made the motion without predjudice to encourage discussion between the Y and other stakeholders.
“I wholeheartedly support the YMCA in building a new facility that will provide an array of services,” she said.
But on the plan for apartments, she said, “I’m concerned that we’re looking at a short-term benefit for the YMCA that becomes a longterm detriment for the community.”
The 35,000-square-foot Renaissance site, on seven acres next to Mitchell Boulevard Elementary School, would include a fitness center, multipurpose rooms, aerobic and teen centers, gymnasium with walking track, 100-child preschool learning center and a small pool. The Y has also been talking to the city about teaming up on an aquatics center at the new branch.
The Renaissance branch would benefit from better proximity to neighborhoods, the elementary school, and partnerships with healthcare companies interested in coming into Renaissance Square, Shuman said.
Had the council voted for the rezoning, Shuman would have then traded the 14-acre McDonald site for the one in Renaissance, which he said the developer has discounted to $1.4 million from $1.8 million.
Shuman said he could inquire into an even deeper discounted price, or a “payment option.”
The Y would want a solution in time to launch a capital campaign next Spring, which would keep it on track to open the new branch three and half years from now, he said.
Shuman isn’t certain what other uses might work on the McDonald site, given the topography that presents challenges for redevelopment. “We don’t know what else could go there, unless it’s a like use,” he said.
In a companion zoning case approved unanimously by the council Tuesday, Baggett “downzoned” a large part of Renaissance Square to remove 392 apartments.
- Scott Nishimura, Star-Telegram Fort Worth City Hall reporter