Sunday, March 30, 2014
Rebirth from a Killer Tornado.
I joined a couple friends and snuck up onto a parking garage under construction today along Fort worth's bustling West 7th Street, ostensibly to photograph a train passing by the imposing facade of Montgomery Plaza, a high-end condo development.
I got the shot of the train alright, but I'm almost happier with this composition of the old Monkey Wards warehouse building, framed by the new concrete parking garage of yet another new development transforming this once past-its-prime boulevard on the west edge of Fort Worth's downtown into a very popular urban village.
It wasn't too long ago you'd never see such bustle, activity, restaurants, condos--and money!--in this area.
And it's easy to say to the day when the transformation of this area of faded retail storefronts and low-density industrial and warehouses into one of the hottest entertainment districts in the city began: March 28, 2000--14 years ago.
This was the day a tornado tore through this section of town. It wasn't a particularly large tornado--only a couple hundred yards in width--but it cut a sporadic 4-mile track from west of downtown, through the heart of the business district, and on east to dissipate in Haltom City. In this West 7th area, seven buildings collapsed, and a worker at the Montgomery Wards warehouse was killed while running across the truck storage lot. The twister moved into downtown and heavily-damaged 17 skyscrapers, breaking out windows with pea-gravel scoured off roofs and innundating building interiors with wind, debris and water that several were unuseable and had to be stripped down to bare skeletons and rebuilt. Damages reached $560 million, the 10th costliest in US history. One more death occurred east of downtown; a total of 80 were injured. The tornado touched down at Rush Hour, creating a worst-case scenario. Nearly 15 years later, this storm is mentioned in the same context as the deadly Oklahoma City storms in discussing deadly tornadoes in a dense urban area at peak commuting time.
As bad as the storm was--and not to downplay injuries or deaths that resulted from it--it ultimately a blessing to Fort Worth's economic growth since 2000.
The 1928-built Wards warehouse once housed a retail store on its ground floor, but by the time of the tornado, Wards was on its last legs financially, and the warehouse closed in 2001. A newer warehouse addition took the brunt of the tornado damage, and was torn down. It took another three years before developers purchased the Wards warehouse and began its transformation as one of the West Side's anchor developments. Tax abatements had to be negotiated with the city as well as designation of the structure for historic preservation--while still allowing a six-story chunk of the front of the building to be removed to create a promenade through the middle of the building. The upper floors now are given to loft condos; the ground level is a variety of retail stores and restaurants. Property once occupied by the damaged warehouse is now home to national chain stores and a grocery store--a necessity in the area to entice residents.
Now named "Montgomery Plaza," it has anchored the east end of the West Seventh Street redevelopment which has continued west to the city's Cultural District of museums. The area is now filling in with condo developments and retail, and now spilling east of Ward's to the new bridge across the Trinity River.
It's not overstating the importance of the March 28, 2000 tornado to call it a trans formative event for Fort Worth--certainly not in the scale of commercial development which has followed in the wake of the F3 tornado.